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“Take from yourselves a portion for G-d, everyone who’s heart motivates him shall bring”
Moses requests donations for the materials for the construction of the Mishkan (tent of meeting). He collects gold, silver, precious stones, animal skins and yarn, as well as incense and olive oil for the Menorah and for anointing. The princes of each of the twelve tribes bring the precious stones for the High Priest’s breastplate and ephod. G-d appoints Betzalel and Oholiav as the master craftsmen for the building of the Mishkan and its vessels.
It was a special honour for Betzalel to construct the Mishkan. If a person does a Mitzvah with the purest of intentions, solely to perform G-d’s will, then such a Mitzvah will be so special that it will leave a permanent mark in the world. Most of the items of the Mishkan which were also used later in the first Temple, were lost during the Temple's destruction, and were replaced by new ones in the second Temple. Only Betzalel's Ark remained. Although many people engaged in creating the Mishkan's other holy vessels, the Ark was fashioned solely by Betzalel. Since the Ark had figurines on it, only an extremely pious man could build it. If the sculptor entertained even the slightest thought that the figurines were even remotely associated with idolatry, the sanctity of the Ark would have been invalidated. A matter as delicate as this could only be entrusted to Betzalel, a skilled and pious craftsman.
Betzalel's family was renowned for fighting idol worship; his grandfather Chur had been killed trying to ward off the sin of the golden calf. Because of his wisdom and purity of thought, G-d called upon Betzalel by name in the Torah to be in charge of the entire building of the Mishkan. Moreover, so well did he perform the task that was his sole responsibility, the building of the Ark, that Divine Providence protected his work throughout history.
The Israelites contribute so much to the building operation that Moses begins to refuse donations. The Sforno tells us that Moses did not instruct the people not to bring any more items, but rather that they should discontinue doing additional work. Some of the people had already completed doing work for the Mishkan, and had they been told not to bring what they had already prepared, they would have been extremely disappointed. Moses, therefore, worded his announcement in a manner that would not cause them anguish.
Moses is teaching us a great lesson here. If someone does something for you which ultimately proves to be superfluous, be considerate to his feelings. Do not tell him that his efforts were not actually needed, since this will cause him needless disappointment. Consider the following story:
Someone came to the home of Rabbi Yitschok Elchonon Specter to inform him about some good news. Rabbi Specter thanked him. A few minutes later, another person came and told him the same news. Rabbi Specter thanked that person also. Within a short period, several more people came to tell the Rabbi the same news. Without mentioning that he already knew, Rabbi Specter listened politely and thanked each one.
A person who was with the Rabbi asked him why he did not mention that he had already heard the news. “The people who came to tell me the good news derived pleasure from relating the information,” said Rabbi Specter. “I didn’t want to derive them of that pleasure.”
Throughout the parsha, the words “As G-d commanded Moses” appear over and over again. Twenty-two times. At the end of every single detail of the Mishkan, “As G-d commanded ... as G-d commanded Moses ... as G-d commanded Moses.” Why this seeming redundancy?
One guaranteed way to increase sales of a product is to put a flash on the box saying “New!!! Improved!!!” Inevitably, the veracity of this claim is in inverse proportion to the number of exclamation marks which follow it. We have an almost insatiable desire for “new.” Our society is founded on the self-evident premise that everything can and needs to be improved. There’s a saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The purpose of the Mishkan was to atone for the making of the golden calf. And the underlying flaw evidenced by the golden calf was the desire to be ‘smarter than G-d’.
The Jewish People had seen that Moses had acted as an intermediary between them and G-d. When Moses failed to come down from the mountain they saw in the clouds a vision of his dead body being carried on a bier. In their confusion, the Jews surmised they would need someone or something to replace Moses; some vehicle for the Divine Presence to rest amongst them. In this assumption they were not far off the mark. But there’s another saying: “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” Not being far from the mark can be as far as day is from night.
True, there would be a vehicle through which the Divine Presence would rest on the Jewish People, and its name was the Mishkan. However, the Mishkan could only be built according to the original Maker’s instructions. No improvements are possible on these instructions. And when we try to make improvements, we end up with a golden calf. When we try and modernize and pluralize we end up with a golden calf. The word of G-d is perfect. It restores the soul. It is like no man-made panacea. If we want G-d’s presence to dwell in our lives, the only way is through following the Maker’s instructions - to the letter. Otherwise we end up with a golden calf. It is for this reason that after each detail of the Mishkan the Torah says “as G-d commanded Moses.” The essence of the Mishkan was that it was “as G-d commanded Moses” and not through the mistaken good intentions of man.
Prior to the sin of Adam and Eve, there was no shame, and therefore no need for clothing. They perceived clearly that the neshama, the soul, is the essence of a person, and the body is but a tool of the neshama. After their sin, however, this distinction became blurred, and it was necessary to show that the body is of importance only insofar as it supports the neshama. Since the body is visible, man is easily misled into attributing to it primary importance. For this reason, clothes, by covering the body, stress that the inner spiritual essence, the neshama, which is hidden from view, is of essential significance.
The Midrash relates that when the Mishkan was erected, Hashem said that tznius (concealment, modesty) is extremely appropriate here. The Mishkan was covered like a bride, with a veil in front and a train behind to stress that its essence is the Shechina, the Divine Presence, that dwells there. If one sees only the glorious structure, attributing intrinsic sanctity to the materials themselves, while forgetting the spiritual essence, the Mishkan becomes something akin to an idol. Similarly, the Torah requires an extra degree of tznius (modesty) from women. In secular cultures, women are reduced to physical objects, and emphasis is placed on what meets the eye. The Jewish woman dresses so as to stress the essence of her inner being. "All the glory of the daughter of the King is inward."
One of the most fascinating items in the Mishkan was the kiyor (laver). This was the basin where the Kohanim used to wash their hands and feet. The Torah tells us that the women brought their pure copper mirrors for the construction of the kiyor. What was the significance of mirrors?
A person should see his neighbour as a mirror. Just as a mirror reveals to us our ugly features, so when we see character flaws in others, we should check for those same traits in ourselves in order to eradicate them. That's what the saying means "Who is wise? He who learns from every man" (Ethics of the Fathers). When the Kohanim washed their hands and feet, in preparation for the service of G-d, they needed to wash themselves clean of any spiritual blemish, from any defect, bias or partiality. The construction of the kiyor, which was solely of mirrors, served as a reminder to the Kohanim, that in order to distinguish their own imperfections, they should use their neighbour as their "mirror", because if they were only to look at themselves, they would find it very hard to identify their own faults.