Take me an offering – voluntarily or mandatory?

By Yedidya Bejell

Former Shaliach in Chicago (2007-8)
Currently a structural engineer

“וידבר ה’ אל משה לאמר. דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו לי תרומה, מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את תרומתי”.
“Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering”

Our parsha opens with a commandment to bring a Teruma – an offering, towards building the Mishkan, a sanctuary for G-d. The wording opens as a commandment, but then uses the terms of Teruma and Nendavah – which imply a voluntarily offering.
So is Hashem ordering us to raise money and resources to build the Mishkan, or is He waiting for us to volunteer?
Another question that rises here is; why does Hashem expect us to build him a grand palace? Along with very precise specifications as to its design and materials? Aren’t we supposed to break away from idolatry and from any form of physical manifestations of G-d?  

Why are we commanded to build a Mishkan? 
Sefer HaChinuch on the parsha counts building “Beit HaBechira” as a positive commandment.
In explaining the roots of the mitzvah he notes that there is an inherent paradox in building the Mishkan, since the divine G-d obviously doesn’t need a physical house or sacrifices. Sefer HaChinuch explains that the need for the physical sanctuary and rituals is ours. The actions do in the Mishkan prepare us to connect to the spiritual objective behind them.

When were we first commanded to build the Mishkan?
Even though the commandment to build the Mishkan first appears in our parasha, prior The Sin if the Golden Calf, there is a dispute among our scholars as to when the command was actually given. This discussion reflects different views as to the reason we need to build the Mishkan at all.

According to one opinion (including Rambam, Seforno and others) Bnei Yisrael were commanded to build the Mishkan only after the sin. According to this opinion. ideally there was no need for a physical Mishkan and rituals and all. These mitzvot only came later, as a compromise; after Bnei Yisrael proved incapable of worshiping a totally abstract G-d. They failed with the calf since they needed a physical embodiment of G-d to connect to. In response they are given an opportunity of reconciliation through a Mishkan and sacrifices, but only if they are done in accordance to precise instructions from Hashem.

Ramban, on the other hand. holds that the the Mishkan is “Lechatchila”. That was the ideal form of worship to begin with, and thus that is the first thing they are expected to do after receiving the Torah. Therefor he says “Be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” , so we are worthy of having his presence among them.
Hashem doesn’t want to just give us the Torah but also to dwell among us.

Midrash Raba has an allegory for this:
I have given you a good lesson – do not leave my Torah. Do not leave the asset I have sold you. In this transaction the seller comes with the asset you acquired. I sold you the Torah and I come with it.
A king marries his only daughter to a king from a foreign land. Of course the daughter has to be with her husband, but he doesn’t want to leave her. So he asks his son in law to build him a dwelling near them wherever they go.
Same is with Hashem and the Torah; g-d doesn’t want to leave it but also he wants Am Yisrael to have it.  Therefor he says “ועשו לי מקדש”  – make me a sanctuary.

Often when we buy an asset we are expecting to leave the seller outside of the picture. In this case G-d and the Torah are intertwined.  

In the passuk “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” There appears to be a grammatical error. “And make me a sanctuary and I’ll dwell in them” One would expect the term to be “in it”..  But of course G-d does not need a physical place to dwell in. Rather, when we build a sanctuary as part of keeping the Torah and mitzvah we are bringing G-d to dwell inside us, in our hearts and in our lives.
And this can only be done through Truman and Nevada –  a voluntarily offering in which we are opening our hearts and souls.

Comments to: yhbeej04@gmail.com