Our parsha (Vayakhel) begins with a verse that seems to contradict itself.  It says, “Collect from among yourselves a tax for God, everyone whose heart inspires him should bring a donation to God of silver, gold or copper” (Ex 35:5).  At first, the verse speaks of a tax, which by definition is required of all people.  Then, it goes on to speak of “everyone whose heart inspires him…” as if it was voluntary and dependent upon the will of the person.

The same command appeared in parshat Terumah (25:2), a couple of weeks earlier, although there it is worded differently; “Speak to the Jews and have them dedicate a contribution.”   A possible explanation is that in Terumah, Moshe is speaking not with the Jews, but with the gabbaim, or sextons of the congregation.  And therefore, he tells them to speak with the Jews, but in our parsha, Moshe is speaking directly to the Jews themselves, telling them how to go about making the Tabernacle.  And therefore, in our parsha, Moshe first “gathers” the Jews in order to address them.  In both instances, there are required contributions (“tax”) and voluntary contributions (“donations”).    But in parshat Terumah when Moshe is addressing the gabbaim, the emphasis is on what to “take” from the Jews, while in our parsha, as Moshe directly addresses the Jews, the emphasis is upon what they should “give.”

The problem tho with this explanation is that in parshat Terumah, we do not find the concept of “giving” whatsoever.   Even though the verse (25:2) mentions that those who are “inspired” should give, it continues by instructing the gabbaim to “take” from those people.  So, there is no real concept of “giving” in parshat Terumah.  So, the question remains, why does our verse in Vayakhel mention both “taking” a tax and “giving” a contribution?

By way of explanation, we must first explore the reason for the Tabernacle (mishkan).  It was commanded in response to the sin of the Golden Calf, as an atonement for the Jewish people.  Just as they had created the calf out of gold, now they were to bring their gold to the craftsmen in order to create the Tabernacle which would be the focus of God’s presence among the Jews.  In this manner, the mishkan was to serve as an atonement for their previous sin.  However, the atonement took place in two stages:

1) First the Jews were commanded from Above (this took place in parshat Terumah) to make a contribution (there were actually three such contributions, two of a specified amount and one of a voluntary amount).

2) In our parsha, the Jews got involved of their own volition.  In fact, they donated so much material for the building of the mishkan, that there was too much material.

Now, the question is, why should the atonement arrive in two stages?  Why not just state that there was a command from Above, and the Jews fulfilled it?  The answer, though, is that no action of man makes a permanent impression upon him until it comes from his own volition.  God wanted to issue an atonement for the Jewish people for the sin of the calf, but if it had only come from God, it would not be true atonement.  Only when the wish to atone came from the Jews itself, could God be sure that it was real.  And that is why it arrived in two stages – first of all to inform the Jews that such an atonement was “available,” and then (in our parsha) to get the Jews actively involved in their own atonement.  Because only when they put themselves into it was it clear that the Jews wanted atonement and wanted to return to God.

Our verse (35:5) mentions both a tax and a contribution because in a previous verse (35:1) it is narrated that Moshe “gathered” the Jews.  From this, we understand that the emphasis in our parsha is from below to Above; even though the “tax” was obligatory, nevertheless, the Jews gave it with a full heart and because they wanted to do so, and not merely because it was commanded from Above.

For a longer more detailed version, go to 

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 26, page 262-271

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