"S peak to Bnei Yisrael and have them take for Me an offering” (Shemos 25:2). 

The Alshich asks a famous question: Why does the pasuk say to take a donation and not give a donation? 

There’s a mashal about two people who get drunk. One drinks for the pleasure of drinking. He’s called a drunkard. The second drinks to ease fear or sadness. Since there’s a reason for his drinking, he’s not called a simple drunkard. 

Within every action, one must understand the purpose of the action — to be able to define the action itself. (Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, Sefer Aperion)

I was engrossed in marking papers in the teachers’ room, when Chaya Roth swooshed into the seat next to me.

“Problems?” I asked, my mind still on my essays.

“It’s Nechama Stein again. I’m telling you, that girl could give chutzpah lessons to a talk-show host! The class was acting up, so I asked, ‘Do you want to calm down or should we have an impromptu quiz?’ and she raised her hand! Raised her hand to answer a rhetorical question!”

I bit the top of my red pen, trying not to smile. It wasn’t the first time the topic of Nechama Stein had come up among my colleagues. To hear her described, you’d picture some sort of wild-eyed maniac with a viper of a tongue, yet she was simply a petite girl with deep dimples and the knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But I wasn’t about to argue with Chaya while there was still steam coming out of her ears.

We see this difference explained in Chana’s words to Eli HaKohein after he thought her to be a drunkard. She said, “No, my master, I am a woman of broken spirit. Wine and strong drink I have not drunk, and I pour out my heart before Hashem. (Shmuel I 1:15) 

Technically, Chana should have first denied Eli HaKohein’s suspicion that she was a drunkard, and then explain that she was a woman of broken spirit. But according to what we clarified above, she wanted tell Eli HaKohein that he was wrong about her, regardless of whether she drank or not. Therefore, she prefaced her words by saying that even if she had been drinking, she wouldn’t have been considered a drunkard since she was broken in spirit. Even so, she hadn’t touched wine, so he was mistaken on both accounts in accusing her as a drunkard.

A few days later the infamous Ms. Stein was mentioned at a meeting for seventh-grade homeroom teachers.

“Something has got to be done. It’s incredible that a girl of her age can get away with this kind of back talk. I told her she needed to apologize for the way she spoke to me earlier and she asked, ‘Why?’ Why does she need to apologize!”

“I also find her undermining discipline,” another teacher chimed in. “She really needs to learn a lesson.”

It was one thing to stay quiet while one colleague was steaming. Another to sit by while Nechama was getting burned at the stake.

“Personally, I don’t find Nechama chutzpahdig. Spacey, maybe. A bit clueless in social nuances. But usually her responses are innocent, even if they sound cheeky. We’re quick to call this kid chutzpahdig, when what she probably really needs is help with language and auditory processing.”

The number of raised eyebrows nearly had me faltering. “I’m not trying to be chutzpahdig to all of you here. But I think we need to look at the source of her words, rather than the words themselves.”

Back to the Alshich’s question. Now we understand that Bnei Yisrael’s donations to the Mishkan were defined by their purpose. Hashem doesn’t need us to give Him anything. However, we needed to donate by taking from what was ours.

That was years ago and I’ve lost track of Nechama. But she popped into my head last week when my six-year-old nearly made my eyes pop out by answering me with tremendous chutzpah.

“Excuse me?” My eyes narrowed dangerously, “I think you need to apologize.”

“For what?”

It was a good thing my eyes hadn’t narrowed completely because I suddenly tuned into his and saw, not anger, but glazed fever. Not back talk, but bad cough.

I tucked him into bed, grateful I had the chance to catch myself and act before I reacted.
Sometimes, it’s not what we say, it’s why we say it that counts.  (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 580)