EVERYTHING BEING EQUAL
The construction of the Tabernacle, the traveling sanctuary known as the Mishkan, by the Jewish people in the desert was carried out with the participation of every adult in the form of a donation.
The construction of the Tabernacle, the traveling sanctuary known as the Mishkan, by the Jewish people in the desert was carried out with the participation of every adult in the form of a donation. The Talmud (Tractate Megillah 29b) teaches that three different donations were actually requested at this time. 1) A one-time contribution of silver coins in the denomination of half shekels which would be melted into sockets for the beams supporting the Mishkan structure. 2) An annual contribution of a half shekel, to be used to purchase animals for the daily communal sacrifices. 3) A one-time general donation of various items, such as gold, silver, and copper for the construction of the Mishkan itself. These three contributions are alluded to in the three repetitions of the Hebrew word "terumah contribution" in the beginning of this week's Torah portion.
As we study the structure of the Mishkan which was eventually erected, we observe that the sockets, being its foundation, were an integral part of the entire structure. If so, why was it necessary to conduct a separate collection of silver for the sockets, when it could have been included in the general donation of silver for the construction of the Mishkan? Additionally, the donation for the sockets was fixed: one half shekel per head; no more and no less. In contrast, the general donation of materials for the construction of the Mishkan was left to the discretion of the donor. What was so special about the sockets?
The following thought may help us understand the reason for this: The Mishkan was the home in which the Divine presence would dwell, as stated in this week's Torah portion, "And they shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I shall dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). However, the verse seems to be implying something more, as it concludes in the plural form ("I shall dwell among them"), while the first half of the verse is in the singular. Our sages teach that besides a commandment to construct a physical edifice, this is also a charge to each and every Jew to sanctify himself, thus being transformed into a G-dly temple, befitting the dwelling place of the King of all kings. Hence, the plural term "them" applies to every single one of "them" the Jewish people.
It stands to reason, therefore, that a close examination of the Mishkan structure provides a significant message in the construction of the personal Mishkan within ourselves. To this end, we focus on the sockets, the Mishkan's foundation. The sockets were obviously an essential component, yet not a highly visible one. In our personal Mishkan, this corresponds to the traits of humility and subservience. The attribute of humility in our G-dly service may not be characterized as the most exciting or noticeable of characteristics, and certainly not as exciting as the characteristics of emotion, passion, and thought; therefore, it would be placed as the foundation of our own edifice of Divine service. Nonetheless, humility and subservience are the foundation of the entire attachment and bond with Hashem, whom we wish to have dwell in our own personal Tabernacle. This is demonstrated by the structure of our daily prayers. The first words a Jewish person is instructed to recite upon awakening are the words of the modeh ani prayer, which express our gratitude to Hashem. In addition to a gesture of appreciation, this short prayer suggests a submissive awareness and a humble recognition of a Force and Power greater than us. This is also pertinent in the study of Torah, which requires a humble acknowledgment of Hashem if we are to be successful in its study.
In our quest to create a structure to house the Divine presence, we do not stop at the foundation, of course. Taking our lesson from the rest of the Mishkan, we encounter additional components, like beams and curtain-like covers, which correspond to our other human characteristics, such as intellectual and emotional traits. The foundation and base of the physical and spiritual Mishkan, however, remain the sockets representing humility.
We can now understand why the contributions of silver for the sockets were not included in the general donation for the Mishkan and why there was a fixed amount of a half shekel for this purpose. Since the subservient attitude (the sockets) is the foundation of the Divine service, it is treated separately from the other components of this service. This separateness is expressed through the single, fixed donation of a half shekel. This teaches that although there are obvious differences among us when dealing with the "higher" form of service (like intellectual and emotional) and we are quite diverse in our spiritual and financial status, when it comes to the basic foundation, we are all equal, as we humbly donate just one half shekel per person, in subservient recognition and devotion to the Almighty, blessed be He.
Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefillah, director of outreach at Chabad of Georgia, and a teacher at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy middle school.
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