With parashat Terumah, we begin to read about the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary, and its furnishings. With the exception of the episode of the Golden Calf, the rest of the book of Shemot — five parshiot — is occupied with the Mishkan, first the instructions for making it and then the implementation of those instructions.
It’s not the most gripping section of the Torah, particularly because both the Mishkan and the Holy Temple that replaced it have been gone for almost 2,000 years. So commentators, both ancient and modern, have looked for moral and ethical lessons that can be learned for the approximately 400 verses that deal with the Mishkan.
One such commentary is by Rabbi Abraham Twerski, who is not only a chasidic rabbi but also a well-known practitioner and professor of psychology, who has written a number of books combining Torah and psychological insights.
Twerski notes that the Torah says, “Take for Me [gifts for building the Mishkan]” rather than “give Me” and then tells this story:
One of my patients, a woman who was recovering from alcoholism, confided in a friend that her furnace had broken down in the midst of a frigid spell and that she had slept three nights in an unheated apartment. Her friend said, “You could have stayed at my house for those three nights.” She responded, “I don’t like to impose on anyone.”
I called this patient and I told her that I was disappointed because I was hopeful that she could be helpful to newcomers in recovery. She said, “Please, you can call on me at any time.” I said, “I’m sorry, but I cannot. Anyone who cannot accept help has no right to give it.”
This story struck me because I have had similar conversations with members of my congregations. There have been those who were getting up in years. Some of them could no longer drive or didn’t drive at night. Others had health problems and could use a hand with errands or shopping. But, invariably, when I offered help on behalf of the congregation, I heard: I don’t want to be a burden; I’ve spent my life helping other people and I don’t want to think of myself as someone who needs help; I’ll manage.
There is a time for everything. There is a time when we should be independent and self-sufficient, and a time when we should accept help and even ask for it. People who cannot accept appropriate help are invariably people with unwarranted low self-esteem…. some people may refuse legitimate help because they do not wish to feel beholden to a benefactor.
Perhaps this is why the Torah uses the expression “Let them take for Me” rather than “Let them give to Me.” We should indeed be willing to give, but we must also be able to take when it is necessary.
As I have said to a number of people over the years, “It’s not fair for one person to hog all the mitzvahs — let somebody else have a chance to do a few.”