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Title: Because God Wants Them

Major Focus: Fear of God

Minor Focus: Sanctuary, building, movements

Abstract: The people were asked to bring expensive gifts for building a Sanctuary, for no other reason than God's having asked for it. In so doing, they came to truly "own" these possessions.

Format: Midrash

"God said to Moses, 'Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept these gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them.'"

Exodus 25:1-2

Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter used to say, "'For Me -- for the glory of My Name!' This means that you should not make an offering because you want your gifts to cause God's Divine Presence to dwell in your midst, but only for the glory of God's Name. There should be no other reason, no other motivation in your actions. You should bring these gifts and offerings only because God wants them."

Human beings are in no position to "give" anything to God. Whatever a person brings, already belongs to God. Through the act of giving, using one's possessions to perform a good deed for the sake of God, a person comes to truly acquire those possessions. God gives us things to use. We come to "own" them only by using them to good ends. God gave us the earth as an outright gift. We may be the caretakers and custodians, but God owns it. We "own" the earth only by using it in God's service.

Thus it was with the Sanctuary that God asked Moses to have the people build. Through the act of dedicating their possessions to God, they came to truly acquire the property as their own. If the relationship between Israel and God was going to be a true partnership, a "marriage," then it had to be a relationship based on love and trust, not on force or duress. The relationship between God and Israel is a matter of the heart. Perhaps that is why God told Moses that people should give according to the prompting of their heart. Perhaps that is why the first and last letters of the Torah spell the word "lav," heart.

Challenge Questions

  1. Rabbi Alter emphasizes the commandment side of God's request for a Sanctuary, rather than the voluntary side of the request, as emphasized by some of the other commentators. Which interpretation of God's request do you favor, and why? Is there any way to reconcile those differences?
  2. How do we come to "own" things, by using them in God's service, according to Rabbi Alter? Can you think of specific examples of that concept?
  3. Does Rabbi Alter contradict himself by saying the relationship between people and God is a partnership or marriage, that love and trust are far more important than force or duress, and yet God said "for Me!" meaning, do it only because I say so. Is it fair to make such a forceful demand on one's partner? If so, under what circumstances?
  4. What do the first and last letters of the Torah spell? What might that have to do with this verse?