There were 603,550 Israelites who contributed their half-shekels. The silver was melted down and used to make the adanim — sockets for the Mishkan boards. This resulted in a surplus of 1,775 shekels. Those were used for the hooks, caps and bands of the pillars around the courtyard. The Midrash relates: Moshe never handled the materials. However, to show his honesty, he still volunteered to give an exact accounting of the used materials. He was shocked to discover that there was surplus silver and was concerned that he would come under suspicion of pilfering it. He had forgotten about the hooks, caps and bands. Hashem showed him that the surplus had been used for the hooks, etc., and he calmed down.
Meshech Chochma says no one really suspected Moshe of pilfering, nor did he worry about that. Rather, he suggests that those who thought that their shekels had not been used in the construction would be jealous of those whose shekels had been used. (We find something similar when the firstborn were redeemed by corresponding Levites. There was a surplus of firstborn, who had to redeem themselves with money, and there was a risk of jealousy.)
How would anyone know whose shekel was left out? Besides, didn’t everyone realize that the shekels would all be placed in a large melting pot and become public property? Everyone was equal!
The Torah says: “The [materials for the] work was exactly enough, and more! (36:7)” Which was it? Or Hachaim says there
really was more than enough. Hashem knew that some people would complain that their donations were not used, so a miracle happened and there was exactly enough. This raises the same question: Didn’t everyone understand that when a donation is given it becomes public property and the Mishkan was constructed from this public property? It was not a collective private enterprise, with individual gifts to specific parts of the project. No one had the option of a plaque on the section that he donated. What was the concern?
Indeed, this mistake was perpetuated through the Kohanim. There is a rule that a Kohen’s offering must be burned and may not be eaten. Some of the public offerings had to be eaten, such as the omer first-barley offering. The Kohanim refrained from donating their annual shekel based on the misconception that the public offerings were collective private offerings. They were mistaken. Once they donated, the money would become public. The offerings bought with it would not be considered partnership offerings in which Kohanim had a share, but communal public offerings.
A similar question arises regarding the practice of the Princely House of Raban Gamliel. The shekalim were collected and placed in a chamber in temple complex. Three times a year, some were scooped out — called Terumas Halishka — to use for the communal offerings. The remainder were used for more mundane needs.
The family of the prince would wait to donate their shekels until the designated trustee would come to scoop the Terumah. They would toss their coin toward the scoop and the trustee would shove it in. The Talmud asks: Why would they need to do this? All coins were equal! The answer is “To make them feel great (nachas ruach)!” It would give the appearance that they were privileged to have their personal coins used for the korbanos (see Shekalim 3:3).
This is what bothered Moshe. Some people would be upset — mistakenly, but nonetheless upset. He wanted to make everyone feel great. This is why Hashem made a miracle that there was no surplus. This is the extent that one must go to, to ensure that people who wish to have a share in a communal effort feel great about it. Even if their share really does help, but they do not feel nachas ruach, they must be accommodated. Something can always be done to make every individual feel great about his share in the effort. It may well be that the only way is through a miracle. The nachas ruach is so important that it is worth making a miracle and changing the laws of nature! PJC
Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.