The parshah of Terumah kicks off a series of five Torah portions dedicated to the construction of the Tabernacle. Given its prominence, it is important for us to delve into the concept of the Tabernacle—exactly what it is, its purpose, and its significance.

Let’s begin by examining the opening verses of our Torah portion:

The L-rd 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. And this is the offering that you shall take from them … 1

Rashi explains that since the word “offering” appears three times in the verse, it signifies three specific offerings:

  1. The half Shekel contributed by every Jew—rich and poor alike—which was used to construct the sockets forming the foundation of the Tabernacle walls.
  2. Another half Shekel, which financed the communal sacrifice fund. This fund, to which every individual contributed equally, ensured that each person had a stake in every communal sacrifice.
  3. The third offering comprised 13 materials listed at the start of our parshah—gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; linen, goat hair, and so on. This offering had no fixed amount; each person contributed according to their goodwill. 

A fundamental question arises: If G‑d desired a Tabernacle, why didn’t He provide the materials and funds Himself? Why did G‑d turn Moses into a fundraiser?

I am reminded of the adorable story of the rabbi who gets up before his congregation and says, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we’ve located all the money we need for the building campaign. Mazal tov! The bad news is it’s in your bank accounts.”

Why was it so important for every Jew to contribute a half Shekel to the sockets and communal sacrifice fund? And why did every Jew need to contribute to the general building campaign?

Divine Partnership

The answer to these questions lies in the theme of the Chassidic discourse “Basi LeGani.” The Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, had this discourse published on the day of his passing, the 10th of Shevat, 5710 (1950). Every year thereafter, the Rebbe would expound upon this discourse, providing additional explanations and insights.

The central theme is G‑d’s desire to dwell within each and every Jew. When instructing Moses about the Tabernacle, G‑d states, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them.”2 Not in “it,” (the Tabernacle) as one might expect, but in “them,” meaning within each and every one of us.

The Talmud relates that Tineius Rufus famously challenged the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, arguing, “By giving charity to the poor, are you not going against G‑d’s plan? G‑d obviously wanted this fellow to be poor, otherwise He would have granted him wealth!

“How foolish!” countered Rabbi Akiva. “G‑d created the world and created humankind to partner with Him. The act of assisting the poor is one of many ways we partner with G‑d in the ongoing process of creation.”3

Every Jew contributed to the construction and operation of the Tabernacle because G‑d allows us to be His partners. To fulfill G‑d’s desire to dwell in the physical world, we create a physical Tabernacle. Simultaneously, to fulfill G‑d’s desire to dwell within each and every Jew, we must become spiritual Tabernacles.

Upon completing the construction of the Holy Temple, King Solomon eloquently declared, “Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this Temple that I have erected!”4 How can the infinite G‑d dwell in a physical edifice in a material world? The answer is that this is G‑d’s will, His desire. G‑d desires to be within the most physical component of creation, because the ultimate intent of creation is the physical world.

When the Tabernacle was erected, G‑d was pleased and said, “I have come to My garden.” The term “My garden,” as explained by the Rebbe in his annual discourses, implies that G‑d had returned to His favorite spot, His place of delight. This is because when G‑d created the world, the mainstay of the Divine presence was here on earth.


While the central service in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple) involved animal sacrifice, the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, taught that it is not enough to bring animal sacrifices—we need to offer our very selves.

“When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the L-rd, from animals, from the herd, or from the sheep shall you bring your sacrifice.”5 The wording of this verse indicates that a proper sacrifice to G‑d must come from you—meaning we must offer a part of ourselves. In the Tabernacle, physical animals were sacrificed. In our personal Tabernacles, that translates to sacrificing our own inner “animals”—our passions, desires, delights, and pleasures.

In this context, all men are not created equal. Some people’s animal souls are like oxen—goring, violent, possessive, and out of control. For others, their animal souls are like sheep—calm and quiet, content with very little. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s spiritual disposition, everyone must offer and sacrifice their animal soul for G‑d.6 This, indeed, is the very purpose of creation.

Gold-Standard Giving

The first of the 13 required materials listed in our parshah are gold (zahav), silver (kesef), and copper (nechoshet). These materials represent three types of contributors.

Zahav, or gold, symbolizes the gold standard of charity—the highest level of giving. The word zahav is an acronym for “zeh hanotein bari,” meaning “This is someone who donates while healthy.” He’s fine; he has no challenges, problems, or emergencies. Such a person gives charity because it’s the right thing to do.

Kesef, or silver, is an acronym for “kisheyesh sakanah podeh,” signifying a contributor who turns to charity when facing a difficult situation. While it is commendable to give charity in times of challenge, it does not reach the gold standard of giving.

The third contributor is nechoshet, or copper, which stands for “nidvat choleh sheamar tenu.” This refers to someone who is very ill and wants to bequeath money as a merit for himself in the Next World.7

While all charity is noble, we should aspire to give at the highest level—with sacrifice. Why? Because the greatness of charity lies in the fact that no activity demands a person’s full investment like the process of earning money. People invest their proverbial blood, sweat, and tears into making a living. When we take our hard-earned money—funds that could have been used to purchase food or some other vital necessity—and contribute it to G‑d, there is no greater act of generosity.

Pillars of Jewish Life

The four primary vessels in the Tabernacle were the Ark, the Menorah, the Table, and the Altar. If we are to live as Jews, if we are to survive as a nation and bring about the next generation, we must prioritize these four key components.

  1. The Ark. The Ark contained the Tablets with the Ten Commandments. (There’s an opinion that the Ark also contained a Torah scroll). For G‑d to dwell within us, we need the Ark, we need Torah. We need to study, acquire and transmit its teachings. How do we do that? Like the cute line they used to say when I was a kid, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” How do you acquire Torah? Study, study, study! 
  2. The Menorah. What does the Menorah symbolize? King Solomon says in Proverbs, “For a mitzvah is a candle.”8 To embody the Menorah, we must perform mitzvot. Simply discussing mitzvot is not enough; the act itself is critical.

    A poignant story emphasizes this point. Many years ago, a rabbi was encouraging an individual to put on tefillin. “I’m not sure,” the fellow said to the rabbi. “I need to do my research first. If I’m convinced after I study and understand the mechanism behind the mitzvah, then I’ll put them on.”

    “Let me share a parable,” countered the rabbi. “Consider someone who, G‑d forbid, develops an infection. His doctor tells him he needs to take antibiotics, but the guy says, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute, doctor! Not so fast. First, I’m going to enroll at UCLA. I’m going to go to medical school and pharmaceutical school. I’m going to study all the ins and outs of antibiotics, and I’m going to see exactly what they do and how they work. When I’m convinced that antibiotics are good for me, only then will I consider taking them.’ Every doctor will of course tell this man to start with taking the antibiotics and then study them, because if he doesn’t take the medicine, he may not live long enough to take any classes.” 

    To really live as a Jew, we must actually perform mitzvot. This is the Menorah – the light of the mitzvah. 
  3. The Golden Table that held the Showbread. This represents the home, the table of a Jew, which must be holy. How do we keep our table holy? By surrounding it with guests. When we are hospitable—feeding those who are needy materially, spiritually, or emotionally—this uplifts the entire home and brings tremendous blessing. 
  4. The Altar. The significance of the Altar, as mentioned, is the idea of sacrifice. The key component to Jewish survival is sacrifice. We cannot survive—and we certainly cannot thrive—by doing only what is pleasant or convenient. We must sacrifice.

And so, let us always remember that G‑d could have provided all of the funding and materials for the Tabernacle Himself, but He wanted our participation. He wanted our partnership, our gift—the gift of us.

The word terumah is also related to the Hebrew word for “uplifting.” Contributing to G‑d’s Tabernacle, sacrificing for G‑d’s ultimate plan of Basi LeGani, of dwelling in this world, uplifts us. It elevates our homes and our lives. How do we contribute? How do we sacrifice? By constructing a Tabernacle within ourselves and enriching our lives with Torah, mitzvot, hospitality, and light.

May we indeed merit to see the fulfillment of the many promises G‑d gave us: that this bitter exile will come to an end, Moshiach will finally arrive and bring about an end to poverty, an end to war, an end to strife, an end to terror, an end to disease, and an end to cruelty.

May we experience it speedily in our days. Amen.