Give and Take

February 12, 2013 - 5:00 am

“Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them.”—Exodus 25:2

The Torah portion for this week, Terumah, is from Exodus 25:1–27:19 and 1 Kings 5:12–6:13.

One of the most powerful scenes in Schindler’s List, an epic movie about the Holocaust, comes at the end of the movie. Oskar Schindler, entrepreneur turned humanitarian, has to flee from the Nazis and says farewell to the 1,100 Jewish workers who he had saved.

In a dramatic moment, the workers present Schindler with a golden ring inscribed with a quote from the Talmud: “He who saves one life, saves an entire world.” Schindler looks around and says, “I could have done more!” The workers replied, “You have done so much.” Schindler says, “I wasted so much money!” Back comes the response: “One thousand, one hundred people are alive because of you. Generations will be born because of you.”

For Schindler, it was a moment of clarity. All along he felt that the money he spent ‘buying’ Jewish workers and sparing them from death was giving away his money. But in the end, he realized that he was receiving so much more than he gave away. Schindler realized that his other money was “wasted” compared with the money he had spent on saving lives. All the material things that Schindler had bought with his money would be gone forever. However, the lives he had saved would bring forth generations to come for all eternity.

When God told Moses to collect contributions from the children of Israel, He said, “. . . bring me their sacred offering . . .” But if we translate this verse literally from the original Hebrew, we get this: “. . . take me their sacred offerings . . .” The Sages question the use of the word “take.” Surely the word “give” would have been a better choice.

The Sages beautifully explain that when it comes to giving to God’s purposes, one never really gives; we only take. To give to God is to receive eternal reward. Although the Israelites would give contributions toward the Tabernacle, they would receive rewards from God that would pale in comparison. So, “take” is more accurate than “give.”

Interestingly, the word ‘give’ in Hebrew, natan, is a palindrome. Natan is spelled the same way forward and backward. According to the Sages, this indicates that the act of true giving flows in both directions. The giver is also the receiver. For as much as we give to each other, we receive that much and more in return from the Lord.

This understanding should bring us closer to the kind of clarity that Oskar Schindler had at the end of the Holocaust. All the money that we own is temporary, but our good deeds are eternal. As a wise man once said, “All that I really own is what I’ve given away.”

How might you experience the gift of giving — and receiving — today?


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