Two Types of Donations

In Parshas Vayakhel, the Torah relates how all the Jews men, women, and children1 donated toward the construction of the Sanctuary with unlimited generosity. Indeed, they gave more than what was required.

With regard to the gift of the half-shekel used for the adonim, the sockets which formed the Sanctuary’s base, by contrast, we find the amount was limited to a half-shekel, and the people were warned: “The rich should not give more, nor should the poor give less.”2

Similarly, there was a limit with regard to the givers. Only men participated.3 Moreover, even with regard to the men, there were restrictions. The donation was required only from those “20 years old and up.”

(Similarly, with regard to the half-shekel given every year for the purchase of communal offerings in the time of the Beis HaMikdash , and our commemoration of those half-shekel donations today, the obligation is incumbent only on adult males. Adults may also give on behalf of their children, but there is no obligation on the child.4)

This differs from donations given to the Sanctuary as a whole. Donations collected for that purpose were not limited; there was no specific entity or amount that had to be given. Instead, everyone gave according to the generosity of his heart. Indeed, there was not even a limitation with regard to the total amount which was to be given. For we see that the Jews gave more than was necessary for the construction of the Sanctuary.5

And the donors included the entire Jewish people men, women, and children. Indeed, as reflected by the verse:6 “And the men brought in addition to the women,” the donations of the men were subordinate to those of the women. And the women were first in making their donations, giving before the men did.

Moreover, the women fashioned their gifts with exquisite care, “spinning [the wool while it was] on the goats.”7 And this involved a gift of a higher quality, for unlike the men, who gave only inanimate matter, the women also gave live animals.

Gifts of Atonement

Why the entire nation participated in donating to the Sanctuary can be explained as follows: The construction of the Sanctuary came in atonement for the Sin of the Golden Calf.8 This was a sin of a general nature, which affected even young children.9 (Young children are never punished for transgressions they perform, with one exception: communal idolatry. Thus with regard to an ir hanidachas, a city condemned to be destroyed because of the idol worship of its inhabitants, all those living in the city, even children, are to be put to death.10) Since the sin of the Golden Calf affected the entire Jewish people, the atonement for it also had to be general in scope, including even children.11

This explanation, however, raises a question: The half-shekel was also intended to atone for the Sin of the Golden Calf.12 Why then was the donation of the half-shekel restricted to males above the age of twenty, while the entire nation donated to the Sanctuary as a whole?

We are forced to conclude that there were two elements to the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf: a) one to be accomplished through the deeds of adult men, and b) one to be accomplished by the Divine service of the entire nation.

Our Response to G‑d’s Unity

The scope of the prohibition against worshipping false divinities involves more than an utter denial of G‑d.13 On a more subtle level, the worship of false divinities can include thoughts that other powers exist , but are subservient to Him. And on an even more subtle level, even when one concedes that there is no source of power aside from G‑d, if one conceives of any other independent existence, one is worshipping other gods, as it were.

The opposite of the worship of false divinities is the appreciation and the feeling that: “there is nothing else aside from Him.”14 This is reflected in Avraham’s praise of G‑d15 as א-ל עולם. Were the phrase to have read: א-ל העולם , it would be translated as “L-rd of the world,” implying that the world is a separate entity, over which G‑d rules. א-ל עולם implies that there is no separation between G‑d and the world; the world is nothing more than a radiation of G‑d’s power.16

This appreciation should evoke a response from the Jewish people, a resolve that “all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.”17 Since the person appreciates that G‑d is not only the Master of the world, but that the world is no more than an expression of His power, it is natural that each person desire to dedicate himself entirely to G‑d’s service. Not only is he willing to give up his personal concerns to fulfill G‑d’s will (an approach which would result from the concept of G‑d as “L-rd of the world,” i.e., G‑d is Master over him and all his concerns), he has no personal concerns. From the outset, his entire life is dedicated to G‑dliness.

The Alter Rebbe adds18 a further dimension, citing the verse:19 “G‑d is the L-rd…; there is nothing else (אין עוד).” The world has no independent existence; it cannot even be referred to as "עוד" , which implies a subsidiary entity, as indicated by our Sages’ rhetorical question:20 יהודה ועוד לקרא “Does a verse [from the Torah require] any secondary support from [the custom of the Land of] Yehudah? ” Having such an appreciation of G‑d’s oneness evokes a consummate commitment to Divine service, spurring a person to “Know Him in all your ways.”21 Even his involvement in worldly matters becomes an expression of his Divine service. Not only will he perform an act for the sake of heaven (this implies that he is performing a secondary act for the sake of a greater purpose; in such an instance, the secondary act, though negligible when compared to the total picture, still holds some importance), his personal matters will themselves be expressions of holiness.22

For this reason, the construction of the Sanctuary serves to atone for the Sin of the Golden Calf. The construction of the Sanctuary brought about the indwelling of the Divine Presence within each and every individual, as it is written:23 “And you shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell within” “within each and every individual.”24 G‑d dwells within every individual through his efforts to make his personal environment a Sanctuary for G‑d.

This atones for the sin of the Golden Calf, for these efforts manifest G‑d’s unity in a manner which negates the possibility that other divinities even exist.

The Need for Preparation

In our Divine service, our progress moves from less difficult rungs to more accomplished ones. Thus we must proceed from acting “for the sake of Heaven” to “know[ing] Him in all our ways,” making it possible for the Divine Presence to dwell within each of us.

Just as in an individual sense these phases of Divine service follow a sequence, so too there was a sequence in the construction of the Sanctuary. The adonim served as a foundation and a starting point for the construction. To cite the parallel in our daily Divine service: The kabbalas ol, the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke, expressed through Modeh Ani, begins our Divine service every day. But this does not represent the true depth of our appreciation of the oneness of G‑d. As such, it does not serve as complete atonement for the Sin of the Golden Calf, for it does not entirely negate the concept of existence outside G‑dliness.

Before beginning these two phases of Divine service (“All your deeds shall be for the sake of Heaven” and “Know Him in all your ways”), one must ready oneself. A person must direct all his energies to the service of G‑d with these two goals in mind. Moreover, he must always remember the ultimate goal: that G‑d’s essence dwell within the essence of every Jew.

These preparatory efforts must stem from the essence of our souls, the point of our being which we all share equally. And it must pervade all our powers. This implies that the service must be performed by a person whose every potential is revealed, for only then can he direct them to these goals.

On this basis, it is possible to resolve the question posed at the outset: The erection of the Sanctuary began with the placement of the adonim. These adonim were made from: a) the donations given by those who were twenty25 and above, who have all their potentials revealed, and b) all the donations toward the adonim were of an equal size.

After this preparatory stage of service was performed by the 600,000 adult males26 a number inclusive of the entire Jewish people27 it was possible for the nation as a whole: men below the age of twenty, women, and children, to bring their donations to the Sanctuary according to the generosity of their hearts.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shemini, 5722)