The silver for the census of the community was a hundred talents and 1775 shekels…a half shekel…from each person who passed through the census takers, from the age of twenty years and up (38:25-26).
The text says that the silver was used for the sockets of the boards that formed the walls of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and it was also used in part of the construction for the outer courtyard. Yet the account of the collecting of the half-shekels is placed after the description of the making of those articles. Surely the text should have told us firstly about the collecting of the silver, and then what it was made into – i.e. in a chronological order?
The following is a suggestion. The Israelites financed the Mishkan in two ways – by voluntary donations and the by the half shekel. The former method had airs of wealth, prestige, and glory to the giver - that his own personal generosity would be part of the Mishkan. The donors would be unlikely to have second thoughts and ask for their donations to be returned. The half-skekel, on the other hand, could have seen to be a form of taxation – it was uniformly imposed, without any hint of personal recognition. The payers may have resented it on principle, showing their disapproval by later asking for their money back. Once the silver shekels had been melted down and reprocessed they could no longer do this. Therefore the account of the half-shekels was only mentioned when these silver shekels were permanently integrated into the building of the Mishkan…
(They made the holy garments for Aaron) as G-d commanded Moses (39:1 and explicitly in thirteen other places in Parashat Pekudei).
The account of the actual construction of the Mishkan falls into three sections: the construction of the Mishkan and its holy objects, the making of garments of the High Priest and other priests, and finally the putting up of the Mishkan and the consecration of the holy objects. The expression as G-d commanded Moses was not used at all when Bezalel constructed the Mishkan, or when he built the Holy Ark, Cherubim, Altars and other such structures. However the accounts of the Priestly Garments and the consecration of the Mishkan do repeatedly mention as G-d commanded Moses. Why?
Chazal point out that the reason it repeatedly says as G-d commanded Moses in Parashat Pekudei is because the building of the Mishkan was a kappara – an atonement - for the Sin of the Golden Calf. There, people had donated their most valuable material possessions to make forbidden graven images for worship. With building of the Mishkan later on, the Israelites used the same personal attributes: not to rebel against G-d, but to serve Him. They carried out G-d’s command to the letter (39:32). Had, for example, the making of Cherubim not been done in the way that was Divinely commanded, their construction would have been a breach of the Second Commandment – the prohibition of making graven images.
At the same time there is a rule (see Rashi on Lev. 17:4) that a ‘prosecutor cannot become a defender’. Central to the first section of the construction of the Mishkan were the two altars: the Inner Altar for Frankincense, and the Main Altar. When the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf an altar was also built (32:5). So the first section of the building of the Mishkan which included the two altars also brought to mind the ‘prosecutor’ - the Sin of the Golden Calf.
By contrast, the other stages of the construction had no relationship with the Golden Calf. None of those involved put together special garments, nor did they initiate elaborate consecration ceremonies before the Golden Calf was put to use. There was no ‘prosecutor’. The Israelites’ final preparations for completing the Mishkan were beyond the types of efforts they put into the Golden calf. These acts did not correct a wrong, but raised the Israelites to new spiritual heights.
It was therefore with those acts of the final construction of the Mishkan that G-d explicitly added His Signature: as G-d commanded Moses…
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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