By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
March 8, 2003
Now that the Mishkan the Tabernacle
which will bring the Divine Presence into intimate and uninterrupted dwelling
in the camp of Israel is nearing its completion, Moshe delivers a careful
account of all the materials that went into its construction:
These are the accountings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the
Testimony, which were accounted by the command of Moshe . . . All the gold
that was prepared for the work for all the work of holiness the gold of
the donation was 29 talents and 730 shekels, in the sacred shekel. And the
silver of the census of the congregation was 100 talents and 1775 shekels, in
the sacred shekel. …And the copper of the donation was 70 talents and 2400
shekels (Shemot 38:21, 24-25, 29). (Note: One talent equals 3000 shekels.)
Of course, the origin of all this wealth was from Egypt. After years of
enslavement, the Children of Israel were certainly entitled to payment for
their work (see Sanhedrin 91a). At the burning bush, Hashem told Moshe:
And I will bestow the grace of this people in the eyes of Egypt, and it shall
be that when you shall go, you will not go empty-handed. Then shall a woman
ask of her neighbor and from the one who lives in her house, vessels of silver
and vessels of gold, and garments, which you shall place upon your sons and
upon your daughters; so shall you despoil Egypt (Shemot 3:21-22).
And then, before the final plague that killed Egypt’s
Speak, please, in the ears of the people, and let every man ask from his
fellow and every woman from her fellow, vessels of silver and vessels of gold
All of this had been foretold to Avram at the Covenant Between the Pieces,
which delineated the oppression in Egypt, and Hashem’s salvation, which
And He said to Avram, “Know for certain that your offspring
shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them
and oppress them for four hundred years. But also the nation which they will
serve do I judge; and afterwards they shall come out with great possessions” (Bereishit
This, in turn, was foreshadowed by Avram’s own travails in Egypt, after which
And Avram ascended from Egypt . . . And Avram was very wealthy in livestock,
in silver and in gold (Bereishit 13:1-2).
Hashem ensures the financial security of His people, but He demands their
participation for His promise to be fulfilled:
The Holy One, Blessed be He said to Moshe, “Please go and tell
them, ‘Please ask the Egyptians for vessels of silver and vessels of gold, so
that the righteous one [Avraham] will not say, and they will enslave them and
oppress them did He fulfill in them, but and afterwards they shall come out
with great possessions He did not fulfill in them’” (Berachot 9a-b).
We are further taught that the Children of Israel collected the treasures that
washed ashore at the Sea of Reeds,
“…for the Egyptians had bedecked their horses with ornaments of gold and
silver and precious stones, and greater were the spoils of the Sea than the
spoils of Egypt” (Rashi on Shemot 15:22, based on Mechilta Bo Pischa 13 and
Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:11).
However, when the people panicked at Mount Sinai,
And all the people broke off the rings of gold that were in their ears, and
they brought them to Aharon. And he took it from their hands and fashioned it
with an engraving tool and made it into a cast calf, and they said, “These are
your gods, Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Shemot
And Moshe returned to Hashem and he said, “O! This people has sinned a great
sin, and they have made themselves gods of gold” (verse 31).
According to Rashi (based on Berachot 32a), Moshe is actually making an
argument for clemency:
“You are the one who induced them, because You overwhelmed
them with gold and all their desires. What else could they do but sin?!”
In his commentary to Shir HaShirim 1:9-13, Rashi traces the history of this
gold. Hashem says:
To a mare of Pharaoh’s chariots have I compared you, my companion.
From the horses of Pharaoh’s chariots at the Sea of Reeds, I provided you with
Comely are your cheeks with circlets, your neck with necklaces
from the spoils that washed ashore.
Wreaths of gold shall we make for you
When Hashem and His Heavenly court spurred Pharaoh to empty his national
treasuries in order to decorate his horses; these were added together
with points of silver i.e., the possessions
the Egyptians gave you before you left. . . . The congregation of Israel
responds, “All this is true; You were gracious to us and we repaid You with
While the king was at his dining
while the Divine Presence was on Sinai,
“my nard gave forth its fragrance”
(a euphemism) I sinned with the golden calf [using the same gold You bestowed
on me to rebel against You.]
A bunch of myrrh is my beloved to me
When the Holy One, blessed be He was reconciled to me and found a way for me
to atone for the sin, He asked me to donate for the building of the Mishkan.
Thus, the gold of the Mishkan atoned for the gold of the calf.
between my breasts will he rest
His Presence rests between the poles of the Ark.”
The Book of Shemot, the book of the Exodus, is the realization of the Covenant
Between the Pieces. The possessions promised to Avraham are an integral part
of that Covenant: the Children of Israel did, indeed, receive the promised
gold first misusing it, then sanctifying it.
Hashem provides our material needs, but it is up to us to appropriately use
those resources to bring Him into the physical world.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
"These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of
the testimony (Shmot, 38:21)."
The words "Mishkan of the Testimony" is an abbreviated way of saying, "the
Mishkan which contained the Tablets of the Testimony," which is what the
tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments were usually called (Shmot,
25:16). Tablets of the Testimony means, the tablets which testify to the
covenant between God and Israel. The midrash, however, finds here the
thought that perhaps there is a sense in which the mishkan itself, by
virtue of what is done therein, can "testify" to all the world that the
Divine Presence dwells in Israel, and that God can be found in ordinary
But how were the people able to achieve this? In its answer, the midrash
connects this question to the problem of the noter, the surplus. When
Moshe called for contributions of materials for the Mishkan, we are told:
"For the material was sufficient for all the work and there was left over
(Shmot, 36:7)." So Moshe asked Hashem: "What shall we do with the
surplus?" Hashem said to him: "Go and make with it a Mishkan of the
Testimony" (Levit. Rabbah 51:2).
Had the people not been so generous, had they given just enough, then the
end result would have indeed been a complete mishkan: functional,
aesthetically pleasing and Halachically kosher. However, it would not have
been Mishkan L'Edut - Mishkan of the Testimony - it would not have
radiated any message of Kedusha or Shechinah to the outside world. For
human constructions can radiate spirituality only when it is recognizable
that something "extra", a special enthusiasm, a readiness to sacrifice has
gone into the effort.
We, in our day, have been called upon to build a national mishkan, a
Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. Baruch HaShem, it has grown and developed
with a Jewish population of close to 5½ million! It is extolled as an
economic powerhouse, as a regional super power, as a city of refuge, but
it is still not a Mishkan L'Edut, for there is no spiritual "surplus." The
only ones who can achieve this are religious Jews who recognize in the
state of Israel the "hand of God" and the fulfillment of Torah prophecy.
It is good to contribute funds, buy vacation homes, visit periodically and
to send our young people to study in Yeshivot - but "surplus," that extra
dedication, will become visible and begin to radiate only when religious
Jews begin to make aliyah in waves. Only then will the world realize that
it is spiritual values that lie at the heart of Jewish homecoming.
Rabbi Shubert Spero, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320