Making everyone’s contributions count
TorahParshas Vayakhel

Making everyone’s contributions count

Exodus 35:1 – 38:20

“The [contributions for] the construction work [of the Tabernacle and the holy vestments] were enough for all the construction that needed to be made; there was a surplus.” Shemos 36:7

There is an inherent contradiction in this verse: The contributions were either enough, or there was a surplus. Sforno suggests that if the contributions had been just enough, the craftsmen would have been under intense pressure not to waste anything. The Torah says that there was extra, so that they did not need to worry about using it all before completing it. Why would they not be precise in measuring the materials? The instructions included very precise measurements. Naturally, the materials were used in exact measure. One making an exact recipe goes to buy ingredients in the amounts she needs. She does not need to buy extra — unless she thinks she might make mistakes. Is it possible that this would have been on the minds of the construction workers of the Mishkan?

Or Hachaim poses more questions, which are not readily answered by Sforno.

• The terms, as mentioned, mean the opposite of each other. Either it was enough, or it was too much!

• The Torah does not usually say, “not only enough, but more than enough,” especially if the two have different meanings. Moreover, if this is what is meant, the Torah just could have said it was more than was needed.

• The entire passuk is superfluous. The Torah just told us two pesukim earlier that the people were bringing too much material. Those tasked with collecting it would not have complained about this until there was a surplus. Why does the Torah devote a full passuk here to the same theme?

• We could add: Why were the collectors so worried about a surplus? Could it not be put to some good use — especially if, as Sforno says, they would not wish to be constrained by the exact measures? It certainly looks like there was way too much.

Or Hachaim suggests something beautiful:

The Torah demonstrates how much Hashem loves each and every one of the Children of Israel. Indeed, they brought too much material. There would be a surplus. Some donors would be disappointed. They might think that their contribution did not make it into the construction. They could feel that they did not have a share in the holy project. Hashem miraculously caused the surplus to be absorbed into the Mishkan and Bigdei Kehuna, so that nothing was left over at the end.

The extra verse is to impress upon us such sensitivity. Those who feel left out of a project, specifically a communal project, can feel lonely, excluded and abandoned. There must be a way to graciously accept the contribution of every single member of a community.

Perhaps Sforno would agree with this idea. On completing the work — having had more than enough to avoid skimping — the craftsmen saw that the materials were exactly enough. There was nothing left over. They saw this as a testament to Hashem’s sensitivity. They knew full well that there had been a surplus. Yet, every participant was able to claim that his donation, no matter how small, was used in the project.

A similar situation arose every year when the shekalim were collected. Every man had to contribute his coin toward the temple service. The entire collection was always far too much to be used for the holiest service. There was a procedure known as Terumas Halishka. The entire collection was housed in a lishka, a chamber in the temple compound. At three junctures during the year, three hampers were scooped out. These coins were designated for the holiest service. The remainder was used for other communal services. There was always some surplus in both the Terumas Halishka, and the remainder, also known as Sheyarei Halishka. These were used for yet other aspects of communal services. An individual could think that his coin would not become part of the holiest service. This was a fallacy. Once the coins were donated to the lishka, the entire collection became consecrated as the donation of the collective Israel. Terumas Halishka represented everyone. It even included coins that were on the way but had not yet arrived.

Nonetheless, one prominent family would wait until the procedure of Terumas Halishka and throw their coins right to the person scooping it out. He would push their coins into the scoop. The Talmud asks: What was their point? The coins would all become part of the collective Israel’s donation! The answer: to make the members of this family feel good.

There we have the lesson of the passuk, per Or Hachaim, being put into effect: to make each individual feel good. In this week’s readings, the precision of the materials for the Mishkan and Parshas Shekalim coincide. It must be an opportune moment to learn this lesson. PJC

Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabonim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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