Tora Thoughts: Parashat Terumah 5778
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
The Law and the Love
Parashat Terumah is the first of a series of five parashot that deal with the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, in the desert. The Hebrew word Terumah means “offering.” It is written at the beginning of this parasha: “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering” (Exodus 25:1-2). This offering was intended for the building of the Tabernacle.
This week’s parasha comes right after Parashat Mishpatim, literally “rules,” which includes a long and somewhat dry list of laws. Our sages ask, why do these two sections of the Torah come one after the other? One of the answers is:
In order to teach us that it is not enough to behave according to the “rules,” it is not enough to observe all the prohibitions (the negative mitzvot). It is also expected from each one of us that we also “give our offering”—that is, also observe the positive miztvot. And furthermore, each of us is expected not only to behave according to the strict compliance of the law, but to act with “generosity,” helping our neighbors with tzedakah and good deeds.
Last Shabbat, I mentioned in my sermon that in Judaism love and compassion are praised and encouraged, but they are not enough if we want to build a fair society. We also need laws that guarantee that everybody’s rights are respected, even when people are not so inclined to love each other. However, the lesson we learn in this week’s parasha is that even the best laws are not enough if we don’t add to them a good heart and help each other, beyond what the law demands. Isn’t this a beautiful lesson?
In an ideal world we wouldn’t really need laws, because we would take care of each other, love each other, and help each other. But human beings are not ideal beings; they don’t behave in ideal ways. Therefore, we need laws to ensure that nobody is oppressed or “left out in the cold.” However, the Torah adds, even the most advanced legal code administered by human beings is not enough to build and keep a just society; people must also behave with compassion and help each other.
Strict laws and good deeds complement each other, they actually need each other. This is one of the central values of our Torah, a value that is so important to understand and put in practice every day. Judaism is neither a tradition of laws only, nor a tradition of good deeds only. Judaism is a tradition built on the wise combination of laws and good deeds. In Judaism, law and love must walk together!