Shabbat-Table Talks: Terumah

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.



By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


[This week’s Table Talks is dedicated in memory of Abraham M. Shamah a”h.]


Value: Contributing to the society in both unique and uniform ways. Society is formed by the contributions of its members. These contributions take the form of unique contributions that each person can make to the society based on his special talents, abilities or opportunities. We also must contribute in ways that are uniformly expected of society’s members. The contributions requested of Israel in order to build the sanctuary serve as a model to explore the nature of the unique and uniform contributions that we can make to our society.


Background: In last week’s perasha, we read how Moshe went up to Mount Sinai and how he would stay there for forty days and nights. Our perasha begins with Hashem’s words to Moshe upon the mountain. Hashem’s speech to Moshe contains instructions to build the Mishkan—Hashem’s “tent of appointment” with Moshe and Israel. The instructions are spelled out in over five chapters of the Torah. These instructions contain two separate and different calls for contributions by Israel. Let us look at the way Hashem described these two requests.


Method: Tell your children and guests that you will read two sections that talk about contributions in order to build the Mishkan. Let them know that you are looking to compare and contrast the two descriptions. Ask them to think of ways in which the two contributions are the same and ways in which they differ. Clearly inform them which is the first section and which is the second by saying, “I will start reading the first section;” “that was the end of the first section;” “Now I will read the second section,” etc. Offer to reread some of the verses if necessary, always taking care to mention whether the verse comes from the first or second section.


Text: First Section--Exodus 25:1-9 (from our perasha, Teruma)

Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Tell the Children of Israel to bring Me a contribution: you shall accept the contribution from every person whose heart so moves him. And these are the contributions that you shall accept from them: Gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple and red yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, tehhashim skins, acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; onyx and other stones for setting, for the ephod and the breastplate. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.


Second Section—Exodus 30:11-16 (From Perashat Ki Tissa—read last Shabbat for Shabbat Sheqalim)

Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: When you take a count of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, each shall give Hashem a ransom for his life on being counted, that no plague shall come upon them through their being counted. This is what everyone who is counted shall give:  half a shekel of the “sanctuary shekel” –twenty grains to the shekel—half a shekel, a contribution to Hashem. Everyone that is counted, from the age of twenty and upward, is to give Hashem’s contribution. The rich are not to pay more and the poor are not to pay less than half a shekel when giving Hashem’s contribution, to ransom your lives. You are to take the silver for ransoming from the children of Israel and are to give it over for the construction-service of the Tent of Appointment, that it may be for the children of Israel as a remembrance before Hashem’s presence, to ransom your lives.

According to Perashat Pequde (Exodus 38:25-31), this silver was used primarily for the bases of the Mishkan.


Analysis: Method—first ask that someone remember all the things that are the same and another all that are different. Begin the discussion by asking, “which things are similar in these two sections?” (The materials are used for the construction of the Mishkan, called a “contribution,”).

Then ask, “Which things are different?”

A)    Types of materials contributed (first was varied, second was all the same)

B)    Nature of contribution (first was completely voluntary, second was mandatory—on threat of retribution).

C)    Purpose of contribution (first section, so Hashem can dwell within the people; second section; to count the people and so that Hashem will remember the people and not have a plague come upon them.)

Ask: “why were both kinds of contributions necessary?” (There are some things that everyone can and must contribute—a minimum requirement to be counted as one of the people. There are other things that we can be unique and give what we are able to or what we think is beautiful—within the limits of the list of the needs.)


Ask: what would happen if everybody only gave what he or she had to give? (The Mishkan would not be built and it would not be beautiful.)


What would happen if everyone only gave what he or she wanted to, but no one gave what he or she had to?


Summarize by saying: To build the Mishkan there were two kinds of contributions necessary. One was supposed to be the same for everyone and everyone had to give a small amount. The other could be whatever you wanted and only if you wanted. One was uniform and you have to give it, the other is unique and you can give if you want.


Discussion: Help your children make the jump from the Mishkan to society by taking small steps. First, consider that the family is the Mishkan. Say: Now let us think of our family as a kind of Mishkan. What do you think are the two ways of giving to the family? What are the things that everyone in the family must give? (Examples, love, honesty, helping each other.) What are the things that each one can give whatever talents they have? (Learning, making a living, parenting, encouraging, humor, music, acting, having fun, art, adventure etc.)


How would the family be if everyone only gave what they had to? (Rather dull, only minimally functional). Giving the things that we want to give and that we have the talent to give makes for a uniqueness that makes our family different. It makes the experience of living in our family different from living in any other family in the world.


What would happen to the family if everyone only gave what they wanted to and no one gave what they had to? (The family could not function at all.)


How do we manage the things that have to be done in a family?

Do we think enough about the possibilities of contributing more uniquely to the experience of living in our family?


Now let’s make the question a little bigger. What are the things that we must do in our community (or society, or nation, or mankind) and what are the things that we can uniquely contribute to our community (or society, or nation, or mankind)?


Only by combining both kinds of gifts, those that we must do and those that we can uniquely contribute do we make for a functioning, yet creatively progressive society.


To read last year's Table Talk click here.


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