“And Moshe gave orders to make an announcement in the camp, “Let no man or woman bring any more material for the sacred offering.” (Shemot 36:6)
The nation responds to the request for donations of materials for the construction of the Mishcan. These donations are sufficient for creating the Mishcan and all of its components. The craftsmen charged with the fashioning of the Mishcan report to Moshe that they have received sufficient material. Upon receiving this news Moshe announces that no more donations should be brought.
The commentaries remark that an exact tally was kept of the donations. The purpose of this accounting was twofold. First, it was essential to secure sufficient materials. Second, Moshe did not wish to collect more than was needed. The importance of collecting sufficient materials is obvious. However, the Chumash emphasizes that Moshe was equally concerned with not collecting excess materials. Once the needed materials were donated, Moshe immediately directed Bnai Yisrael to stop bringing donations. Why was this issue so crucial? Why was Moshe so deeply concerned with not accepting excess donations?
The commentaries offer various explanations. We will consider one of these responses. Gershonides explains that Moshe’s concern was based on a principle found in the Talmud. The Talmud in Tractate Ketubot explains that a person should not donate more that one fifth of one’s assets to charity. Maimonides extends this principle to the performance of all mitzvot. A person should not spend more than one fifth of his wealth on the performance of any mitzvah. For example, in purchasing an animal for sacrifice, this limit applies. Maimonides offers an explanation for this restriction. A person should avoid being dependant on others for support. Therefore, one should not risk impoverishing himself. Gershonides explains that Moshe’s concern was based on this principle. He did not want the people to bring more than was needed. He did not want anyone to become impoverished because of zeal to contribute to the Mishcan. Gershonides offers an important insight into the restriction against spending an excess of one fifth of one’s wealth in the performance of a mitzvah. He agrees with Maimonides’ explanation of the restriction. One should not risk poverty and lose of independence. However, Gershonides asserts that there is a more fundamental explanation for the restriction. He explains that the Torah prohibits the performance of a mitzvah in a manner that leads to evil. Becoming impoverished through contributing to charity or performing a mitzvah is a negative or evil outcome. Gershonides further explains that such an evil outcome discourages others from performing the mitzvah.
“And the materials were sufficient for all of the work that was to be done and there was extra.” (Shemot 36:7)
The Mishcan was constructed from materials donated by the people. The exuberance of the nation was so great that the contributions exceeded the needs. Moshe notified the people that more than enough materials had been received. There was no need for additional donations. The pasuk indicates that Moshe did not suspend donations until the specifications had been exceeded. It might be assumed that this was unintentional. Moshe needed to be sure that adequate supplies were available. In order to be certain, he allowed collections to continue until he felt the actual requirements were exceeded. He wanted to allow for a margin of error. Sforno comments that this was not the case. Moshe intentionally allowed extra supplies to be collected. Why did Moshe collect more than was necessary? Sforno responds that he did not want the craftsmen constructing the Mishcan to be frugal in the use of the materials. Frugality might diminish the quality of the final product. Sforno is teaching a practical lesson. Parsimony is likely to result in a less than optimal product. To create something special, we must be ready to pay the price. However there is possibly another concept implicit in Sforno’s comments.
Sforno explains that the sacredness of the Mishcan was enhanced by the unique attention given to its construction. The craftsmen were totally committed to the fulfillment of the will of Hashem. Therefore every component of the Mishcan was a perfect reflection of the will of the Almighty. This concept suggests an additional meaning to Moshe’s determination to prevent frugality. The command to construct the Mishcan required strict adherence to the specifications. The craftsmen were permitted to consider no other factor. If the craftsman gave any thought to the supply of materials, then an inappropriate consideration had entered into the design. Therefore the legal requirements of the command required that the materials exceed the actual needs.
“And they made the upright beams of the Mishcan out of acacia wood.” (Shemot 36:20)
Parshat VaYakhel includes a discussion of the fabrication of the components of the Mishcan. This process began with the fabrication of the tent and its coverings. This was followed by the fashioning of the upright boards or beams that supported the tent. This same order was followed in the instructions provided to Moshe for the creation of the Mishcan. The instructions for the tent and its coverings preceded the instructions for these beams. Gershonides discusses this order. He explains that the function of the boards was to support the tent. Therefore, it was appropriate to construct the tent and then the supporting boards. It is difficult to understand Gershonides’ comments. First, Gershonides bases his explanation for the order of manufacture on the relationship between the boards and the tent. Based on the same relationship, an argument can be made for first constructing the boards. The tent cannot be erected until after the boards are fashioned. This suggests that the boards should be fashioned first and then the curtains and the coverings for the tent! Second, Gershonides’ position would be more comprehensible were the Mishcan assembled piecemeal. Under such circumstances, the argument could be made that the components should be fashioned in the order they were needed. However, the Mishcan was not erected piecemeal. It was assembled only after all of the components were fashioned. At the time of assembly, all of the components were present and put in place. The boards and the tent were needed virtually simultaneously!
In order to explain Gershonides’ comments, we must identify an important concept regarding the Mishcan. The Mishcan was composed of various components. Examples of these components are the tent, the boards, the Menorah, and the Ark. However, these components were not of the same nature. Some components were complete in themselves. Others were merely prerequisites for other components. This distinction is evident through comparing the tent and the boards. The tent was a complete component in itself. In this sense it was similar to the Ark and the Menorah. However, the boards were only a requisite for the function of the tent. The boards supported the tent. We can now understand Gershonides’ comments. The tent was innately a complete component. It did not require the boards in order to be complete. Therefore, the tent could be fashioned before, and independent of, the boards. In contrast, the boards were merely a prerequisite for the curtains of the tent. Therefore, they had no function or significance prior to the existence of the tent. It follows that the boards could be formed only after the tent was manufactured.
Mesechet Ketubot 50a. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Erchin VeCharamin 8:13. Rabbaynu Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag / Gershonides), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit, (Mosad HaRav Kook, 1994), p 444. Sefer Shemot 26:1-30. Rabbaynu Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag / Gershonides), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit, (Mosad HaRav Kook, 1994), pp. 444-445.