Parshas Terumah tells us about the fundraising campaign which took place for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle.) The Torah says (25:2), “And they shall take for Me contributions, from anyone whose heart is infused with altruism, you should take My contributions.”

Rashi tells us that when the verse says, “for Me,” it means, “for My sake,” as opposed to doing so for ulterior motives. This element is similarly reflected when the verse stresses that it must be out of sheer good will. Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (Da’as Chochmo Umussar, Ma’amar 115) infers that this was a critical condition to having one’s donation accepted for the building of the Mishkan. It had to be given wholeheartedly, purely for the sake of the Mitzvah (God’s commandment), devoid of any ulterior motives.

Rabbi Levovitz ponders this point: What kind of ulterior motives could there be in giving a contribution to the Mishkan? No one was given large plaques noting their generosity. There was no dinner honoring those who contributed to the project. There was no kick-back for one’s involvement. What personal benefit could one have had from this?

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz explains that even giving to the Mishkan for the sake of gaining closeness to God is already a deficiency in the ultimate feelings of benevolence. The building of the Mishkan had to be without the slightest of selfish intentions, as lofty as they may be.

This is a tremendous power man possesses. Despite the fact that people by nature are pleasure-seekers, a person has the ability to concentrate his feelings of benevolence and do a deed with pure altruism, without a trace of self-interest. Although this component is not a condition for performing other Mitzvos, this is still a matter we must all strive for in doing Mitzvos.

The Mishnah says (Avos 1:3), “Do not be like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving reward. Rather, you should be like servants who serve their master with no intention of receiving reward.” Performing Mitzvos with pure intentions for the sake of serving God, and not for ulterior motives, is the ideal way of serving God. The Rambam says that if someone performs one single Mitzvah properly, with pure intentions, it is sufficient to earn him eternal life in the World to Come.

And this is why God has given us so many Mitzvos. Being that there are so many Mitzvos, it is inevitable that a person will perform at least one Mitzvah in his lifetime with proper intentions, and through this deed, he will merit to enjoy the World to Come.

One year, no proper hadasim (branches of the myrtle bush) were to be found around Vilna for the Mitzvah of shaking Lulav (the Mitzvah we perform on the holiday of Sukkos when we take the Four Species, one of which is hadasim). One man, who was close to the Vilna Gaon, happen to pass the home of a gentile woman, and he noticed that she had beautiful hadasim growing.

He immediately asked her to buy some of her hadasim, but she adamantly refused. Apparently, she had designated these hadasim for an adornment for her daughter who was about to get married, and no price would convince her to change her mind. But when she heard that the hadasim he was seeking were for the Vilna Gaon to perform a Mitzvah with them, she changed her mind. The Vilna Gaon was known even among the gentiles as a holy man. She agreed to give him the hadasim for free, but on one condition – the reward of the Mitzvah would go to her. This was a tough deal, but there were no other suitable hadasim to be found.

When the man apprised the Vilna Gaon of the situation, the Gaon responded, “Do I need reward?! My main objective is to fulfill the will of my Creator. Here I have a golden opportunity to do so without any ulterior motives at all!” It is said that that year the Vilna Gaon exuded more happiness than ever in doing the Mitzvah.

Even if we find it hard to push aside our personal interests and do things out of sheer benevolence for the sake of Heaven alone, it’s not a matter of all-or-nothing. There can be many different levels of purity in our intentions, and each level we achieve in this area in performing a Mitzvah is invaluable. It would be a worthwhile investment to put some conscious effort from time to time into the matter by tapping into our feelings of altruism and working on achieving some level of purity of heart in doing a Mitzvah.

Parshas Terumah by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (

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