Thursday, February 7, 2019



It’s literally the million-dollar question (perhaps more) that every organization, corporation, religious institution, and educational institution constantly grapples with:
How can we get people to be more involved?

In an article that appeared in the Atlantic in February 2018[2], it was reported that Amazon was offering its employees up to $5,000 to walk away from their job with the company. The more obvious reason for the incentive was to encourage unhappy employees to leave. But on a deeper level, it would cause employees to remain with the company for longer than they otherwise might have. By resisting a lucrative offer to leave, the employees that remained would feel more invested, and therefore more committed, to the company.
People do not like feeling cognitive dissonance, and contradictory beliefs. When they are confronted with paradoxical emotions/beliefs, they will try to rationalize one belief to make it fit with the other. Therefore, if a person refused the $5,000 offer, they would then convince themselves that they really enjoy working at Amazon, even if they weren’t completely thrilled before.
So aside for weeding out disgruntled employees, the offer actually increased overall employee satisfaction and commitment to production. 

Parshas Terumah begins with Hashem instructing Moshe, “And you shall take for Me a terumah (donation) from every man whose heart motivates him...” The commentators ask why the pasuk says that they should take a terumah, and not that they should give a terumah?
 The Medrash[3] states: “At the moment they (Klal Yisroel) said na’ase v’nishma (we will do and we will hear), G-d said to them, “And you shall take for Me a terumah”.
What’s the connection?

IKEA is known for its self-assembly furniture. There is a certain level of pride one feels when he puts something together himself, even if he is a complete amateur and was only able to construct it with the included instructions. This is known aptly as the IKEA effect.
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely conducted a series of experiments to test the extent of the IKEA effect, to determine how much we overvalue what we make.
Arieli gathered volunteers to make origami models by intricately and elaborately folding paper. He then asked them how much they were prepared to pay to keep their own model. The average response was 25 cents. When he asked other people in the vicinity what they would be prepared to pay for the models, the average answer was five cents.
It demonstrated that people were prepared to pay five times more for something they made themselves. Arieli’s conclusion was that although the effort invested into something does not just change the object, it changes its creator’s perception and how much he values that object. The greater the effort involved, the greater the love for what was made.[4]
Rabbi Jonathon Sacks notes that the construction of the Mishkan marked a turning point for the Jewish nation in the desert. Until that point, the nation had been the recipients of G-d’s magnanimity. He brought the plagues, He split the sea, He brought down the manna and produced the water from the rock, and although they fought against Amalek, it was G-d who ultimately miraculously brought about their victory.
But then G-d instructed Moshe to inform the nation, “And you shall make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them.” Now G-d was commanding them to create something for Him. It was not because G-d needed a home on earth. As the prophet Yeshaya states: “Heaven is My throne and the earth My footstool. What house, then, can you will build for Me?”[5] Rather, it was G-d granting them the ability to create an abode for Him to enhance their own measure of self-worth.
Everyone whose heart desired could contribute: “gold, silver or bronze, blue, purple or crimson yarns, fine linen, goat hair, red-dyed ram skins, fine leather, acacia wood, oil for the lamp, balsam oils for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense,” jewels for the breastplate, etc. Some invested their talents and acumen. Everyone had the opportunity to take part: women as well as men. It was produced by the entire nation, not just the elite.
For the first time G-d was asking them not just to follow, but to be active - to become builders and creators. That made the Mishkan that much more beloved to them.
The word terumah doesn’t only refer to something donated, but also to something that’s raised up. Those who built the Mishkan raised up their gift to G-d, and, in the process, discovered that they themselves had been raised up.

Rav Eliyahu Schlesinger[6] explains that a person loves something that he toiled and invested in. The more time and effort he dedicated to it, the deeper will be his value and connection to it.
At Har Sinai, G-d held the mountain above the nation and told them that if they accepted the Torah all would be well. But if not, they would be buried under the mountain.[7] There was a certain degree of coercion when they originally accepted the Torah at Sinai. One can be forced into physical compliance, but one cannot be forced into emotional compliance. Thus, at Sinai the nation was bound and committed to the performance of mitzvos, but they did not yet achieve emotional and internal connection to their newfound status.
When they uttered na’aseh v’nishma, demonstrating complete allegiance to G-d, G-d replied by telling them to invest in the Mishkan. G-d did not need their contributions, but when they gave the necessary materials, they were taking for themselves the feeling of connection and love for G-d, and there can be nothing greater or loftier.
The haftorah for parshas Terumah[8] relates that when Shlomo Hamelech was commissioning the construction of the first Bais Hamikdash, 30,000 men were drafted, 10,000 of which were dispatched to Lebanon for a month. There were an additional 70,000 porters, 80,000 quarriers, and 3,300 supervisors. By having so many Jews involved in its construction, it ensured that the nation would feel deeply connected with the Bais Hamikdash.    

The month (months) of Adar and the holiday of Purim are a time of deep joy and celebration. The terror of Haman’s threat jolted the Jews out of their auto-pilot performance of Torah and mitzvos, revitalizing and rejuvenating the inner spark within them. They again felt invested and deeply connected to Torah and to each other. That is what we celebrate.

“And you shall take for Me a terumah”
“And I will dwell amongst them”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Terumah 5778
[2] “Why Amazon Pays Some of Its Workers to Quit”, Alana Semuels, February 14, 2018
[3] Shemos Rabbah
[4] Dan Ariely, The Upside of Irrationality, Harper, 2011, 83-106. His TED lecture on this subject can be seen at:
[5] Yeshaya 66:1
[6] Sefer Eileh Hadevorim
[7] Shabbos 88b
[8] Melachim I, 5:26


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