Parshat Pekudei begins with a survey of the money and materials donated to the Mishkan. It is the Torah’s way of teaching us the need for financial transparency.
We learn something about Jewish nature from both last week and this week’s parsha.
Hashem told Moshe to ask Bnei Yisrael to make contributions. Some brought gold, some silver, some copper. Some gave wool or linen or animal-skins. Others contributed acacia wood, oil, spices or incense. Some gave precious stones for the Cohen Gadol’s Chosen.
An interesting side point: one of the fabrics used for the Mishkan that is mentioned in this week’s parsha is the techelet which is blue dyed wool. Blue was the main colour of the Cohen Gadols clothing. So too, blue is the main colour of the old city of Tzfat, where we are spending Shabbos.
A remarkable fact was the way Bnei Yisrael willingly gave:
The people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the Mishkan left what they were doing and said to Moshe, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work Hashem commanded to be done.”
So Moshe gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the Sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. (Ex. 36:3-7) vayakhel
From these pesukim we see a group of people who longed to give, they even brought too much, and Moshe had to tell them to stop. It seems strange because previously we have seen Bnei Yisrael as argumentative, ungrateful and quarrelsome.
In the parsha before this week, Parshat Ki Tisa, Bnei Yisrael were anxious. Moshe had been up the mountain for a long time. Was he still alive? Had some accident happened to him? If so, how would they receive Hashems word telling them what to do and where to go? This is why they demanded a calf – it was to be an object through which they would be able to hear the instructions of Hashem.
Aharon, according to many explanations, realised that he could not stop the people directly by refusing their request, so he decided to use a stalling technique. He did something with the intention of slowing them down, believing that if the work could be delayed, Moshe would reappear. This is what he said:
Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” (Ex. 32:2)
According to the Midrash he thought this would create arguments within families and the project would be delayed. Instead, immediately thereafter, we read:
So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. (Ex. 32:3)
Again the same generosity is seen.
The Mishkan was something holy, and building it was a huge mitzvah. The egel hazahav was close to being an idol, it was a terrible sin. However, Bnei Yisraels response was the same in both cases. The sages point out:
One cannot understand the nature of this people. If they are appealed to for a calf, they give. If appealed to for the Mishkan, they give. [Yerushalmi Shekalim 1, 45]
The common factor in both cases was generosity. Jews may not always make the right choices in what they give to, but they still give.
The Rambam points out:
“We have never seen or heard about a Jewish community which does not have a charity fund.” [Laws of Gifts to the poor, 9:3]
The nature of Judaism is to give, it has been seen from the times of Moshe up until today.
This idea from the parsha is fitting with the upcoming holiday of Purim. On of the most important laws on the day of Purim, is to give half a shekel to poor people. The reason we give half a shekel is to remind us that we will never be complete unless we are part of a larger community. Two halves make up a whole, teaching us that we all can join together, become united through doing a special mitzvah. We can follow in the footsteps of previous generations and keep Bnei Yisraels giving nature going.