“And God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and let them take for Me a contribution, from every person whose heart is willing, you shall take My contribution'” (Exodus 25:1-2). The portion of Terumah begins with God asking Moses to solicit voluntary contributions for the building of the Tabernacle. The verse emphasizes that the donations should be given willingly by those truly motivated to participate.
Many commentators point out that the phrase used in the verse – “let them take for Me” – seems counterintuitive. If God is asking the people to “give to Him,” why does the verse state that they are to “take for Me”? The answer sheds light on the very nature of benevolence and is easily understood by anyone who has experienced the warm feeling of giving. By giving of one’s time, money, or energy to others, one is actually receiving as well. In other words, by assisting others we often take or receive more than we give, as our hearts fill with sentiments of love and goodness. This is confirmed by the Sage’s statement that the poor man who receives charity does more for the rich man than the rich man does for him (Vayikra Rabbah 34).
Many Chassidic rebbes in a play on words (a derash) read the term “take for Me” as “take Me.” By giving to others, we take, as it were, God into ourselves. By imitating God whose essence is identified with love and giving, we experience the Divine attribute of sustaining the world with goodness. In fact, one of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot is to imitate God. The Sages explain that to imitate God means to imitate His attributes: just as God is merciful, so should we be merciful; just as God is gracious, so should we be gracious (Sifrei, Parashat Eikev).
The concept of God telling man to “take Me” is actually embodied in the obligation to do mitzvot. A mitzvah is a reflection of God’s will and goodness, for all the mitzvot were given with humanity’s good in mind. The last two letters of the word mitzvah, vav-heh ( וה ) are identical to the last two letters of God’s essential four-letter name. In one of the Kabbalistic alphabets (called atbash) wherein letters are exchanged for each other according to a set pattern, the first two Hebrew letters of God’s name, yud-heh ( י-ה ) are exchanged for the first two Hebrew letters of the word mitzvah, mem-tzaddi ( .(מצ This exchange teaches that by performing a mitzvah we grasp an opportunity to connect and unite with God.
One of God’s name’s – Alef-Heh-Vav-Heh ( א-ה-ו-ה ) – is embedded in the Torah’s opening verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” as an acronym composed of the initial letters of the Hebrew words “the heavens and the earth” ( את השמים ואת הארץ ). The numerical value of this Divine name is 17, the same as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “good” (tov). God’s goodness is woven into the very fabric of creation and is manifest in the heavens and the earth.
The Maggid of Mezerich, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s successor, interpreted the words recited in the Morning Service, “the world is full of your possessions,” as “the world is full of ways to possess God.” By giving we not only help others but we acquire goodness for ourselves. Even more, by imitating God and His constant attribute of sustaining the heavens and the earth we “take” God, and as a result activate the spark of God within us.