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Private Offerings

Friday, 15 February, 2019 - 10:55 am

In his famous description of tzedaka (charitable giving), Rambam enumerates the degrees of tzedaka. It’s better to give tzedaka anonymously – with neither the benefactor nor the beneficiary aware of each other. This, writes Maimonides, is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven, without ulterior motive and without the blemishes of pride or shame.

The Talmud tells of great rabbis that would throw money into a poor man’s home and run away; of others that would drop coins behind them for the paupers to take. In the Holy Temple there was an anonymous fund to which people contributed anonymously – and the funds of which were distributed anonymously.

We can easily understand the value of modesty in giving as it pertains to the laws between man and his fellow.

But, what about modesty in giving to G-d? If G-d knows exactly what’s going on inside of me, is modesty necessary? Is it a virtue?

***

In last week’s parsha Teruma we learned about the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its holy vessels, such as the menorah and altar. In this week’s parsha Tetzaveh, we continue in this theme as we study the priestly garments. The High Priest was required to wear an 8-garment uniform and ordinary kohanim wore 4 vestments while officiating.

At the end of the parsha, the Torah suddenly revisits the holy vessels and tells us about the second altar, referred to as the Inner Altar, the Incense Altar or the Gold Altar (as opposed to the Outer Altar in the courtyard, also known as the Copper Altar).

Why doesn’t the Torah discuss the Inner Altar in Parshat Teruma with the rest of the keilim (vessels)?

***

In contrast to the Outer Altar, which was in public view, the Inner Altar was inside the Holy section of the Mishkan (and subsequent Beit Hamikdash), visible only to the priests. Furthermore, only the priest that was actually administering the incense offering was allowed to be present during the ritual. Even other kohanim were prohibited from observing.

By teaching about the Inner Altar after learning about the rest of the Mishkan, and even after learning about the delegates that carried out the duties, the Torah is emphasizing the zenith of divine worship. The incense offering, according to the Mystics, represents the holiest of acts in the holiest of spaces.

And, by insisting on its privacy, the Torah telegraphs that our deepest connection with G-d is accomplished without fanfare and broadcast.

When only Hashem is aware of my essential bond, devotion and sacrifice for Him – it is then that I have reached the height of my union with my source.

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