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In Parshat Terumah, we are introduced to the mitzvah of building a mishkan, a tabernacle,

where the presence of God will rest among Bnei Yisrael.

I would like to investigate a halacha which pertains to the mishkan which I think has
relevance to our performance of mitzvoth in our daily lives.

In order to collect the proper materials for the construction, Hashem commands Bnei
Yisrael to make donations to the effort.

"‫תרומה‬ ‫לי‬ ‫ויקחו‬ ‫ישראל‬ ‫בני‬ ‫אל‬ ‫"דבר‬

Speak to Bnei Yisrael and take for me a donation.

Rashi notes that an extra word is used in this pasuk: ‫לי‬ ,‫תרומה‬ ‫לי‬ ‫ויקחו‬, for me.
Why is this word necessary? Rashi explains: ‫לשמי‬ ‫לי‬- for my sake. The donation must be
for my sake, God says.

Rashi introduces an important concept here- the concept of ‫לשמה‬. What is ‫ ?לשמה‬Lishma
indicates a certain purpose or intention that goes into the donation. It must be specifically
for the purpose of the mishkan itself. However, there is an additional aspect to this
concept, namely that this purpose is actually an essential component of the donation.

This concept of lishma as an integral part of the mitzvah is not unique to these donations
to the mishkan. The tosefta to masechet megilla says that vessels which were originally
made for another purpose may not be used in the beit hamikdash, in the temple. For
example, one may not take a pitcher or knife from home and donate it to the beit
hamikdash. It is simply not acceptable. Even stones which had been hewn for another
purpose may not be used for the construction of the temple.
More common examples are tzitzit, tefillin and sifrei torah. For any of these to be kosher,
they must be made with a particular intention- for the sake of that particular mitzvah.
This concept of lishma is so essential that even the strings of the tzitzit must be spun
lishma, the leather used to make the boxes of tefillin must be processed specifically for
the purpose of tefillin, and the hides used to make the parchment of the sefer torah must
be tanned ‫תורה‬ ‫ספר‬  ‫מצות‬ ‫לשם‬, for the explicit purpose of the sefer torah.

While it makes sense that we should have particular intentions regarding mitzvoth, Rav
Shimon Schwab points out that this idea of lishma as an essential component of the
mitzvah stands in stark contrast to a principle that we generally understand when it comes
to mitzvot:

‫לשמה‬ ‫בא‬ ‫לשמה‬ ‫שלא‬ ‫שמתוך‬ ‫לשמה‬ ‫שלא‬ ‫ובמצוות‬ ‫בתורה‬ ‫אדם‬ ‫יעסוק‬ ‫לעולם‬

One should always involve himself in Torah and mitzvoth, even not for their own sake,
for from performing them that way one will come to perform them for their own sake.
For example, one is credited with giving tzedaka even if he does so only in order to
impress his neighbors with his generosity, even if he does not care about the poor person
on the receiving end of his donation.
A surgeon fulfills the mitzvah of saving a life, even if she performs surgery not out of a
sense of idealism, but rather in order to record the results of her innovative techniques as
part of a groundbreaking study.

The gemara teaches us that mitzvoth performed for ulterior motives still have value,
because by engaging in these mitzvoth, one will eventually come to fulfill them lishma.

We can also suggest another reason why doing mitzvoth shelo lishma is okay, and that is
that mitzvoth have intrinsic value.

Although it is certainly appropriate and sensible that one should perform the mitzvoth
because of the higher value associated with them, one cannot deny that when they have
been fulfilled, even for selfish reasons, one has, in fact, accomplished something
objectively positive, and for this he deserves credit.

This is certainly true for mitzvoth ben adam l’chaveiro- one would not deny that a
convict performing community service hours is still doing an act of chesed, even if he
only does so in order to avoid a jail sentence.

But this is even true for mitzvoth ben adam lamakom- mitzvoth between man and God-
such as keeping kosher. Why is keeping kosher intrinsically valuable? One could argue
that it is valuable because God commanded it, and performing God’s command has value,
even if you don’t have that in mind at that precise moment.

So we have seen that it is preferable to do mitzvoth lishma, but, generally speaking, the
lishma aspect is not essential to the fulfillment of those mitzvot.

If so, then when we return to our original point, we have a problem. We were introduced
to the concept of lishma as it pertains to the donations to the building of the mishkan, to
the construction and upkeep of the beit hamikdash, and to mitzvoth such as tzitzit,
tefillin, and sefer torah. But in all of these cases we explained that the lishma aspect was
not simply an ideal, but rather an essential ingredient in the proper fulfillment of the
What is unique about these mitzvoth that transforms the lishma aspect from an ideal to a

The gemara’s point about performing mitzvoth shelo lishma, not for their own sake,
really is about actions. Actions can be intrinsically valuable, even without the preferred
lishma aspect.

But our examples are objects. What gives these objects their value?
What makes the strings of the tzitzit different from loose threads hanging off of a shirt?
What makes the leather straps of tefillin different from the leather reins used to lead a
What makes the structure of the beit hamikdash and mishkan fudamentally different from
a warehouse buliding?

The difference is in the intent- the lishma.

By spinning thread for the exclusive purpose of use in tzitzit, we infuse this thread with
kedusha, sanctity, thus transforming it from mere thread into tzitzit.

I think this idea of lishma, which is a halachic idea, which is a technical legal aspect of
certain mitzvoth, has powerful ramifications as to how we relate to mitzvoth , Judaism,
and God Himself..

Lishma teaches us that we have the power to create kedusha in the world.

The paradigm for this power is found in our parsha with the mishkan. God commands: "
‫בתוכם‬ ‫ושכנתי‬ ‫מקדש‬ ‫לי‬ ‫"ועשו‬- they will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”.
We usually think of the mishkan, or the beit hamikdash, as a place where we go to
experience God, spiritually, in the most intense manner. God comes down to earth, as it
were, and infuses our life with meaning and kedusha.
But what is so beautiful about this command to build a mishkan is that we have to build
it. We must play an active role in bringing Hashem into the world.
"‫מקדש‬ ‫לי‬ ‫’"ועשו‬- make me a temple, then "‫בתוכם‬ ‫"ושכנתי‬- - then I can live among you.

It is our obligation, and our privilege to bring God into our lives.

This is highlighted by the lishma aspect of building of the mishkan.

If we don’t make this building kadosh, if we don’t make it worthy of Him, then the
building is worthless. But when we do, the mishkan, and later the beit hamikdash,
becomes the holiest building in the world. It becomes the house of God.

I think this helps us understand the ideal of lishma as it relates to mitzvah observance as
well. In contrast to objects, mitzvoth have intrinsic value, either because of their ethical
quality, or simply because of God having commanded them.
But the concept of lishma infuses our mitzvoth with an extra measure of kedusha.

Of course it is appropriate to do acts of chessed even with less than pure intentions, but
how much greater is the act when we do it lishma? Of course it is acceptable to observe
Shabbat merely as a day of rest, but how much more meaningful is it when it becomes a
day of spiritual renewal.

The role of the mishkan is to serve as a source of kedusha, from which we can draw
spiritual energy. God is the source of kedusha, but we are entrusted and empowered with
spreading that kedusha throughout the world and into our daily lives.
Shabbat Shalom.