What We Have to Offer

Marc Chagall's "The Prodigal Son"

A teaching of Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, from Beis AharonParshatTerumah.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי       Speak to the Children of Israel and have them take for Me a terumah; from each person whose heart is willing they shall take My terumah. Exodus 25:2

The word terumah could be said to have two meanings: “separation,” as according to Targum Onkelos (1), and “raising.” And truly, it is impossible for anyone to lift himself and bind himself to G!d until he has first separated from every material thing.

[It is as if G!d says,] ‘If a person wants to take Me, that is, have Me dwell in him, then he should make himself a sanctuary,’ and then the light of the Holy One of Blessing will dwell in him, as it is written, “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in you” (2). He must first separate from every object of earthly desire, and then he can raise himself up and rise heavenward, and he himself will be a tabernacle for G!d, who will dwell within him. This is the meaning of “Take for Me a terumah.”

And how does one do this? Me’et — “From each person whose heart is willing take My terumah.” The letters of me’et spell emet, “truth” — one must unite and cleave with truth, and the form of truth will vary from one person to another, as it says, “From each person” (3). If one unites with all these qualities I have described, then he can receive “My terumah.” Understand this.


1) The authoritative Aramaic translation of the Chumash; since its composition (2nd c. according to the Talmud, 4th-5th c. according to scholars) it has been recognized as a primary way to understand the Torah, and Torah commentators frequently take its interpretations into account. Since it was written in post-exilic times in an exilic language, the Hasidim saw it as having special, even divinely inspired, insight into a post-exilic understanding of Torah.   2) Exodus 25:8;  The word betocham is usually translated “in their midst,” but from the time of the earliest midrashim it has also been understood as “within them.    3) According to this creative rereading, the verse would read “The truth of each person whose heart is willing will take My terumah.”

Jeff says…

First, a story of Aharon of Karlin, the founding Karliner rebbe, whose teaching are collected in Beis Aharon.

A man came to the rebbe and complained that his son had given up his Torah studies. Rebbe Aharon said, “Leave him with me for a while.” Without a word, the rebbe held the boy to his heart, not letting go until the father returned. Then Rebbe Aharon said, “I gave him a good talking to. From now on, he will not be lacking in perseverance.” That boy grew up to become a rebbe in his own right, Mordechai of Lechovitz, and whenever he told this story he would say, “That is how I learned to convert a person.”

What’s the connection to this teaching of the Beis Aharon? I imagine what the rebbe could have said, and what many rabbis today, faced with people abandoning Torah, do say: “Don’t you know this is The Truth? We’ve been learning and living Torah for 3,ooo years and now you’re going to stop? What about Jewish continuity?!” Instead, the rebbe didn’t say a word, but with his actions told the boy, “I love you. I trust you. I don’t need to tell you my take on the truth. I have faith that you’ll find your own true way of becoming G!d’s sanctuary.” May we all have the same love for and faith in one another.

This entry was posted in Aharon of Karlin/ Beis Aharon, Hasidic Masters, Parsha, Terumah. Bookmark the permalink.

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