By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“So, too, any terumah (gift) … that the Israelites bring to the kohen, it shall be his. A man’s holies shall be his, and what a man gives to the kohen, it shall be his” (Bamidbar 5:9–10).
‘“So, too, any terumah’: Rabbi Yishmael said, Do [people] bring terumah to the kohen? Is it not the kohen who makes the rounds for it at the granaries? Why, then does the Torah say ‘that the Israelites bring to the kohen?’ These are the first fruits … the verse has … taught about the first fruits that they are to be given to the kohen” (Rashi, based on Sifrei).
‘“It shall be his’—can a kohen forcibly take his presents? We learn: ‘A man’s holies shall be his,’ which informs us that the owners receive benefit (the owners have the prerogative to give it to any kohen they so choose)” (Sifrei).
Torah Needs Flour: The Optimal Route
One of the problems facing the head of any Torah institution, no matter how righteous or learned he is, is the issue of “flour” that is so vital to Torah. It would seem that, optimally, the spiritual world would be self-sufficient and not need to rely on the masses. The current situation can degrade Torah, which seems to be at the mercy of philanthropists. Worse yet, this can set the stage for those who study Torah but have corrupt character traits: who flatter the wealthy and even distort the Torah to find favor in their eyes.
Some will say that this is just the way the world works. The world of spirit is not self-sufficient; it needs to connect with the material and earthly in order to exist. The problem with this answer is that it misses one very important detail: G-d didn’t come to an existing world and try to introduce His Torah into it. G-d Himself created the world in the best way possible, tailored to achieve His ultimate goals. What follows is that the world was created in a way that leads to its most complete rectification, in keeping with the Divine objectives. Thus, the current system for supporting the Torah world is actually optimal—at least at this stage of the world’s existence. We will now attempt, with G-d’s help, to understand the idea behind this system.
It seems that G-d wants the world not only to be a world of Yissachars, Torah scholars devoted solely to Torah study. He also wants Zevuluns, those who study Torah and observe mitzvot but do not engage in the world of sanctity for the majority of the day. To a certain extent, it is the Zevuluns who put into practice the goal of the world’s creation. They can infuse G-dliness into the physical world. They need the Yissachars to guide them how to achieve this, however. The bond between the two is vital, not only so that the Yissachars will have what to eat and not only so that the Zevuluns will receive merit for the world to come. This bond is critical to facilitate the creation of an abode for G-d on earth, which is the goal of the world’s creation.
The problem that could arise would not stem from the Zevuluns, who also possess lofty souls that pine to do their jobs in the world. They receive ample reminders that their wealth is transient, and that they need to also concern themselves with eternal life. The main potential problem is with the Yissachars, those immersed all day long in the world of spirituality. If they were to be completely unburdened by the troubles of this world and receive manna on a regular basis, they would never feel a lack. They would stay cloistered in their spiritual ivory towers and not go out to influence others. In this way, the goal of the world’s creation would not be implemented, G-d forbid.
To avert this problem, G-d created a system in which people of spirit are reliant on people of the material world. Both are equal partners in the same enterprise whose entire goal is to reveal G-dliness in the world. Kohanim and Levi’im did not receive a portion of land, since G-d is their portion. This is so they devote themselves to teaching Torah to the Jewish people: “They shall teach Your laws to Jacob and Your instructions to Israel” (Devarim 33:10). They need to go to the granaries, or at the very least be dependent on the gifts of farmers for their sustenance. On the other hand, the owners of the produce can choose to whom they give the gifts. Specific kohanim and Levi’im cannot force farmers to give them the terumot and ma’aserot. Since the goal is to foster a relationship between the spiritual and physical forces within the Jewish People, it needs to be formed between those who can create or enjoy a spiritual bond. The produce owner can give these gifts to the spiritual guide to whom he feels close and from whom he receives personal guidance that helps him perform his job in rectifying the world.
This system holds true for the relationship between kohanim, Levi’im, and the rest of the Jewish People. It is also the relationship between the Torah world, Torah scholars, and the rest of the nation. Both partners in this relationship mustn’t be fooled by the exterior mechanisms governing it. Torah scholars need to keep in mind that they are supposed to receive money from G-d, but He wanted the money to reach them through human beings in order to rectify the world. In light of this, flattery certainly has no place here. On the other hand, the donors should not believe that the Torah scholars are indebted to them for their gracious handouts. Donors aren’t doing Torah scholars a favor; they are simply fulfilling their part of this important deal, which has the power to bring the world to its complete rectification.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. Recently, the Institute opened an English department to cater to the English-speaking public living in Israel and abroad. For additional information and inquiries, e-mail email@example.com or call 972-8-684-7325.