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A Foundation of Love

A Foundation of Love


The materials for the portable desert sanctuary, the Mishkan, came from the donations, the freewill offerings, of the Jewish people. Each Jew gave according to his and her ability and generosity of heart.

The adanim, however, the “bases” upon which the upright boards of the Mishkan walls rested—its foundation—came from a different source. These bases were cast from the silver given by the Jews as part of a mandatory levy—a half-shekel from each individual. (The shekel was a standard small weight unit, used to weigh gold, silver and copper for monetary purposes.) Rich and poor, motivated and unmotivated, happily or grouchily, each Jew gave exactly the same amount.

The one thing that all Jews must have at every moment is an unconditional love for each otherThe Mishkan, the edifice that “housed” the Divine presence, is expressive of the totality of the Jewish people. Our nation as a whole, and every individual Jew too, is also a sanctuary for G‑d’s presence.

We all have different levels of ability, opportunity and commitment. Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses in each of these areas. In our lives we will build and uphold the Sanctuary of Judaism in varying ways, dependent both on circumstances we control and on those that we cannot. The foundation of this edifice, however, the silver sockets arrayed in precise alignment on the ground that support the structure of the sanctuary—they are built of constancy, the same for everyone at every phase of their lives.

“Silver” in Hebrew, kesef, also means “yearning” and “love.” The one thing that all Jews must have at every moment is an unconditional love for each other.

Notwithstanding all the differences between us, the foundation for making for G‑d a dwelling place in our world is an absolute sense of the equal, irreplaceable and fundamental value of each Jew in our purpose and mission as a people. We cannot see any Jew as marginal; we cannot write any Jew off as hopelessly disconnected. We cannot allow questions of behavior and ideology to obscure the need to align and support each other in whatever it is that we need from each other.

This is why we speak of a love felt as a yearning—kesef. We must allow ourselves to be drawn together with a force and desire for unity more powerful than the forces that wish to push us apart.

Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe is a frequent contributor of articles and media to, is Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, N.Y., and Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in Springfield. Mass. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
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Vivienne March 23, 2017

This is so profound it makes you re-evaluate any areas of yourself that needs more improvement in the unconditional love area sometimes it’s a challenge but worth it - for the long term reward.
Thank you for writing such a thought provoking article.

Alexandra New York, NY March 3, 2011

Wow! This is counterintuitive. I would think that mandatory half shekel means obligation to give no matter how we feel as the foundation of the Mishkan, and everything else building up out of our desire to give. The unconditional love sounds better, but does it mean that unconditional love is mandatory, while donating is voluntary? Reply

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