פרשת תרומה - Parshat Truma
Overspending in the Temple?
Rabbi Hanoch Haimowitz
"An Etrog sold for $300!" scream the newspaper headlines, and everyone immediately says: isn't it better to buy a simple Etrog and give the rest of the money to charity? Such claims are often heard with regard to various hidurey Mitzvah – where one pays more to observe the same Mitzvah more extravagantly. But is it true? Is it really more of a waste to invest money on a Mitzvah than on Mitzvot than are bein adam lachavero – between man and his fellow man?
In our Sedra we come across what seems to be an absurdity: G-d commands Moshe to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. On one hand, it is no more than a tent; on the other hand, many items in it are made out of pure gold. The two extremes of the Mishkan are somewhat strange. When King Shlomo builds the Temple, it is much more elevated, ravishing and extravagant. In his days, there is more of a correlation between the golden items inside the Temple and its general appearance.
Is Shlomo's temple considered more spiritual? Does its extravagance truly elevate it? Or was the overspending in the Temple considered wasteful, and the same money would have been better spent on Mitzvot between man and his fellow man?
The Italian commentator Sforno, in his commentary on Parshat Pkudey (Shmot 38:24), says the following harsh words:
"העיד על קצבת הזהב והכסף והנחושת שנכנסה במלאכת המשכן, שהיה דבר מועט מאד בערך אל העושר שהיה בבית ראשון". ויותר ממנו העושר שהיה בבנין הורדוס . "ועם כל זה יותר התמיד מראה כבוד ה' במשכן של משה ממה שהתמיד במקדש ראשון, ולא נראה כלל במקדש שני. ובזה הורה שלא קצבת העושר וגודל הבנין יהיו סבה להשרות השכינה בישראל, אבל רוצה ה' את יריאיו ומעשיהם לשכנו בתוכם".
"The amount of gold, silver and bronze used in the building of the Mishkan was much smaller in comparison with that of the First Temple". And even more went in to the one built by Herod. "And yet G-d was seen more often in Moshe's Mishkan than in the First Temple, and not at all in the Second Temple. And this goes to show us that the amount of wealth and size of the structure are not the reason for G-d's existence among Bnei Israel, it is their faith and good deeds that he requires to dwell among them".
He goes on to say that the more extravagant the Temple was, the less holy it was. If we analyze the difference between the Mishkan and the First Temple, we will understand things better. The Mishkan and its items were built htrough donations given by the Bnei Israel:
"דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי".
Speak to the Bnei Israel that they may bring me an offering. From every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering.
Shlomo, on the other hand, taxes the people in order to build the Temple:
"וַיַּעַל הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה מַס מִכָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיְהִי הַמַּס שְׁלֹשִׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ"
And king Shlomo raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men.
The taxes were so heavy, that when Rehavam took the throne after his father, Shlomo, passed away, the People of Israel ask him to unburden them and lift some of the taxes:
"אָבִיךָ הִקְשָׁה אֶת עֻלֵּנוּ וְאַתָּה עַתָּה הָקֵל מֵעֲבֹדַת אָבִיךָ הַקָּשָׁה וּמֵעֻלּוֹ הַכָּבֵד אֲשֶׁר נָתַן עָלֵינוּ וְנַעַבְדֶךָּ"
Your father made our yoke grievous. Now, therefore, make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve you.
One might say that this is the root of the difference between the Mishkan and the Temple. The Mishkan was built because the Bnei Israel wanted it, and reflected their financial status, whereas the Temple was built through harsh taxation that did not match up to the People's wishes.
This explanation also sheds some light on the way the Hashmonaim, the Hasmoneans, conducted themselves when they returned to the Temple after it had been desecrated by the Greeks:
"כדרך שעשו בית חשמונאי; ... שפודין של ברזל היו וחופין בעץ, העשירו עשאום של כסף, חזרו והעשירו עשאום של זהב"
In the manner of the House of Hashmonai; … there were iron rods covered in wood, and when they became wealthier they made them of silver, and when they became wealthier still they made them out of gold.
The Hasmoneans were regular people and therefore took the People's financial status into consideration. They refrained from placing a financial burden on the People, and make the Menorah out of the material the People could afford at each stage. This is the right ratio between investing in Mitzvot but also investing in mitzvot shebein adam lachavero. One should be mindful of what the People want and are able to afford. And it seems this attitude should guide us in our ways.
Rabbi Hanoch Haimowitz is the rabbi of the Heichal Hanna community in Petach Tikva, and the deputy head of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Rishon LeZion.