Coerced to Follow Your Heart's Desire?..... Parashat Terumah Exodus 25:1--27:19

Coerced to Follow Your Heart's Desire?
By Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff

Parashat Terumah
Exodus 25:1-27:19
Haftarah (Prophets) 1 Kings 5:25-6:13

One of the reasons that I called my blog "Inspirational Torah" is that I hoped it would inspire people! However, and perhaps less obvious, is that, I myself, have to seek inspiration to say something meaningful about the Torah portion each week. This week that inspiration came from Rabbi Benny Lau* in his book Ethnachta, a collection of drashot (published in Hebrew) based on his weekly column that appeared in the newspaper Haaretz. Since these books are not currently available in English, I will do my best to share some of his ideas in English, as well as adding my own chiddushim (innovative conclusions).

This week's portion, Terumah, is the beginning of a series of parshiot (weekly Torah portions) about the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle/sanctuary). This week's Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) comes from 1 Kings and deals with the building of the Bet Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, more than 480 years after the Exodus/building of the Mishkan, according the book of Kings. 

The Torah portion begins by noting that the sanctuary and its implements would be donated according to each person's generosity or free will to contribute. Not only were the Mishkan and its implements all donated in accordance with individual generosity and the free will of each individual, but the very fact that God asked the People for a contribution rather than demanding a particular offering is noteworthy.  

Exodus Chapter 25 Verses 1-2
The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Tell the Israelite People to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart moves him [new JPS translation].

שמות פרק כה 

(א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְקֹוָק אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי:

This stands in complete contradistinction to this week's Haftarah (reading from the Prophets), where Solomon's Temple was built by Israelite forced labour. All of the labour that went into building Solomon's Temple was done under complete coercion.

1 Kings Chapter 5 Verse 27
King Solomon imposed forced labour on all Israel; the levy came to 30,000 men. 

מלכים א פרק ה 

(כז) וַיַּעַל הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה מַס* מִכָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיְהִי הַמַּס שְׁלֹשִׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ:

The JPS renders the word mas מס (which literally means a levy or a tax) as forced labour. 

See also Biblical Dictionary:

 *I. מַס 1 K 5:27  body of forced labourers, task-workers, labour-band or gang, also  forced service, task-work, serfdom, slave labour

We see a clear distinction between the Torah and Haftarah accounts of  the building of the Mishkan vs. the building of the Holy Temple. This disparity illustrates the dichotomy between the offerings brought to the Tabernacle in Parashat Terumah -- from a place of total beneficence -- compared to a totally coerced tendering of services for the building of the Temple by way of forced labour imposed by King Solomon. Is there a third option besides either  (1) relying solely on people's generosity of spirit or (2) relying on absolute coercion? 

We find an allusion to a third option in Targum Yonatan* (and, no, I am not the author of this translation, though my name is Yonatan!) 

*Targum Yonatan (Hebrewתרגום יונתן בן עוזיאל‬) is an Aramaic translation of the Torah and Prophets. Its origins are from the Land of Israel, and the Talmudic tradition attributes its authorship to Jonathan ben Uzziel, a pupil of Hillel, lived  in Jerusalem in the time of King Herod. 

                           Kever (Tomb) of Yonatan ben Uzziel in Amuka, the Galilee, Israel

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Let's return to the original text and compare it to the interpretation offered by Targum Yonatan:

שמות פרק כה 
(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ... 

Targum Yonatan -- Aramaic Translation
תרגום יונתן שמות פרשת תרומה פרק כה פסוק ב 
(ב) מַלֵּיל עִם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִסְבוּן קֳדָמַי אַפְרְשׁוּתָא מִן כָּל דְּיִתְרְעֵי לִבֵּיהּ וְלָא בְּאַלְמוּתָא 

Targum Yonatan [Translation into English]
Tell the Israelite People to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart moves him and not by violent means


Targum Yonatan, in his translation of the verse, adds the highlighted words above: "and not by violent means." This seems to be saying that a person should give according to their own sense of generosity of spirit, without others using violent means of coercion (to make him give charitably!). 

Why would the Targum Yonatan insert this seemingly out-of-place addition in his translation of the Torah? How could a gift given by generosity of heart be coerced by violent measures and why would one charged with offering a direct translation of the Torah add this clause?! What is the connection? Perhaps it is connected to the dichotomy we have seen between the two types of contributions in the Torah reading (freewill for the Mishkan) vs. the Haftarah (forced labour for the Bet Hamikdash/Holy Temple) respectively.  

It would seem that Yonatan in his translation (commentary) is drawing a distinction between King Solomon's coercion and God's (Moses') message: a request for a freewill offering to build the Mishkan. But what is the Targum alluding to? How could a freewill offering possibly be brought about by violent coercion? 

Rabbi B. Lau suggests that Targum Yonatan is alluding to yet a third category that is referred to as "כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני"
"[We should] compel a person until he says, 'I want to'!" (The Rambam/Maimonides, 12th century). 
An appropriate example would be a community member who verbally committed himself to making a large donation to the synagogue, but later had a change of heart and reneged on the commitment. In this case, the religious court can "compel" him to give the money. What is interesting is that the Rambam sees this procedure as doing that person a favor, in that we are simply coercing him to follow his heart's true desire to do the right thing!

In explaining this concept, the Rambam suggests that when a person chooses not to do the right thing, not to perform a mitzvah, for example, not to honor a promise or contribution, that person is being attacked by his own evil inclination (yetzer hara). The real coercion, therefore, is by a dark inner force. That said, compelling this person to do the right thing (i.e. honoring his pledge) is not actually an act of coercion, since we are merely helping the person follow their heart's true desire (which is to do the right and the good). Can it be that sometimes we, too, compel ourselves to follow the wrong path, a path of miserliness or selfishness? If so, how might we be compelled to follow our heart's true desire?

We live in an era of unprecedented autonomy in a modern free world (for most of us reading this anyway). It, therefore, defies our most deeply held beliefs to even entertain the thought that anyone or anything should compel us to do anything. We will not let anyone tell us what to do, will not be coerced by anyone in any way; but what if it is me who is forcing my hand not to follow my heart's true desire?

                           Rational Thoughts May Override Our Spirit of Generosity

Sometimes we give of ourselves and of our resources with great generosity of spirit; and sometimes we have no choice but to give or serve society in some way; for example, when we are called for jury duty or reserve military service (miluim). But, sometimes, in our heart of hearts, we want to give of ourselves voluntarily: to give tzedaka, to volunteer, to give of our time and resources, but then we don't! Why not? The root of the yetzer harah (the evil inclination) is FEAR, a survival instinct: we fear that if we give of our money or time there will not be enough for ourselves. We operate from a lonely place of scarcity. In the end, this fear paralyzes us and prevents us from actualizing our mission in this world! What is that mission? To follow our heart's true desire; that is, to help and to heal, heeding our good inclination (yetzer hatov) and, thereby, doing tikun (repair) within our broken outer world, as well as our broken inner world (ourselves). 

I believe that this is the greatest challenge of our time: pushing ourselves in the right direction, that is, doing the good and the right thing -- moving toward God by forcing ourselves to do what our heart truly desires. 

This Week's Challenge:
The challenge I would like to offer each and every one of us this week is to give! Give to your heart's desire! Don't hold back! Give to your community! Give to your friends and family. Give of your time, give of your resources; give of yourselves. Give until you can honestly say "רוצה אני" I want to!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yonatan


*Binyamin Tzvi (Benny) Lau (born October 20, 1961, Tel Aviv) is an Israeli Orthodox rabbi, community leader, activist, author, and public speaker who lives in Jerusalem. He is also the head of the Human Rights and Judaism in Action Project at the Israel Democracy Institute. Previously, he was the director of a number of programs at Beit Morasha in Jerusalem, including their Center for Judaism and Society, their Institute for Social Justice, and their Israel Institute for Conversion Policy. He is also a well-known writer, and makes frequent appearances in the media.


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