In parshat Vayakhel, we read how everyone gave donations for the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, garments, etc. Everyone gave: men, women and even the children.1 They gave even more than was necessary.

There was also another donation given to the building of the Mishkan: the half-shekel that went to make the sockets that were the foundation of the panels of the Mishkan. The half-shekel had limitations as to who could give and what they could give. Only men from the age of 20 and up2 could give a silver half-shekel coin, no more and no less ("The rich person shouldn't add and the pauper shouldn't subtract from a half-shekel."3) Even today, when we give the symbolic half-shekel, only adults give it. Adults may give for the children, but the children themselves don't give.4

However, when it came to the regular donations for the Mishkan, there were no limitations as to how much one can give or to who could give. Men, women and children gave, and as a matter of fact, the woman gave first, before the men.5 The women also gave things that the men couldn't, as the women knew how to spin the goat hair while it was on the animal,6 which was necessary for the Mishkan.

Like the half-shekel, the donations for the Mishkan were an atonement for the sin of the golden calf.7 The Mishkan was constructed after the sin, and G‑d was saying that He would dwell amongst the Jewish people and He would forgive them. So all the donations and the construction were part of the atonement.

The question is raised: If women and children weren't involved in the sin of the golden calf, why would they need an atonement? Because idol worship effects all, even those who were not involved.

There is a unique law when it comes to idol worship. If there is a city that goes astray and serves false deities and is convicted (which has never happened), the law is that every man, woman and child8 in the city is to be put to death. Even though many of the people of the city may have not been involved, they still have the same tragic fate. We see from this that idol worship affects not only the idolators but also the entire community. Therefore the women and children were also affected by the sin of the golden calf and needed some sort of atonement.

The half-shekel was also an atonement for the sin of the golden calf.9 How come the half-shekel was only obligatory for men aged 20 and up, while the donations to the Mishkan included everybody, men, women and children?

We must conclude that there were two aspects to the atonement for the golden calf. The first was accomplished by the adult men through the half-shekel, and the second was through all of the Jewish people, men, women and children.

To understand this, let's take a deeper look at the sin of idolatry. Idolatry doesn't mean that the person throws away the belief in G‑d,10 heaven forfend, rather it is the belief that there are powerful entities in addition to Him. On a deeper level, it is the belief that there is anything else but G‑d.

The opposite of idolatry is the oneness of G‑d, the belief that "there is nothing other than Him."11 This is powerfully expressed in the verse, which states that He is "G‑d the world,"12 and not "G‑d of the world," which would mean that the world is an existence of its own, and He is the master of it. rather "G‑d [is] the world." In other words, He is the only existence, and this whole world is but a ray of G‑dliness.13

This way of thinking leads one to serve G‑d in the way that our sages call, "All of your actions should be for the sake of Heaven."14 Not that he makes sacrifices and gives up his own desires to do what G‑d wants, rather to begin with, he understands that all of existence is there because of G‑d, is a part of G‑d, and there is nothing but G‑d, therefore, his only desire is to serve Him.

And from there, one can take it a step further, as the verse says, that there is G‑d and "nothing else."15 The Alter Rebbe16 explains that it means that there isn't even something that is secondary—nothing that can be termed, "else." In truth, nothing exists except for G‑d. This way of thinking leads one to serve G‑d in the way of, "Acknowledge Him in all your ways."17 Not only are your actions for G‑d, but you see Him in the most physical and the most mundane actions of your life, realizing their holiness.

Now we can understand why the Mishkan is the atonement for the sin of the golden calf. The idea of the Mishkan is that G‑d wants to dwell in each and every one of us.18 We make a dwelling for Him in our mundane activities. That is the reason that it is an atonement for idolatry, because it shows the ultimate oneness of G‑d, and it is the complete and utter negation of idolatry.

There is an order to these steps. In order to reach the highest level of service, to "Acknowledge Him in all your ways," you must first have attain the level of, "All of your actions should be for the sake of Heaven."

The same is true about the atonement for the golden calf. There were two stages: First there was the half-shekel that went to make the sockets that were the foundation for the Mishkan, that had to be given by the more than 600,000 adult men, who were involved in the sin. Once that was done, then everyone was able to give, men, women and even children.

If we are all affected by a sin like idolatry, could you imagine how powerful the opposite is? If we make ourselves into a home for G‑d, it surely will affect our family, friends, the community and eventually, the whole world.

This is the call to every Jewish person—man, woman and child—to make themselves into a home for G‑d, building up to the point that He is everything. This way, we will surely merit to have His presence dwell amongst us openly once again, in the Third Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.19