All Are Equal in the House of God

March 9, 2024

The Torah portion of Vayahkel (Exodus 35:1-38:20) describes the construction of the Tabernacle, the portable temple constructed in the desert. But before the construction could begin, they first needed to collect all the materials necessary for the Tabernacle structure, the ark, the menorah, the incense spices, oil, the vessels, curtains, and priestly garments. The Bible tells us that these materials were generously donated by the people.

A very successful fundraiser

Moses said to the whole community of Israel, “This is what the Lord has commanded: Take from what you have, an offering for the Lord. Anyone generous of heart is to bring an offering of God, of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and tachash skins; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.”Exodus 35:4-9

After listing everything to be constructed (v. 10-19), the Bible tells us that the people generously gave all that was needed. 

The generosity of the people is emphasized by the extra phrase at the end of this verse, “the children of Israel brought freewill gifts to the Lord.” Anyone who has ever been involved in a fundraising campaign for a large project knows how unusual it is for all the needs of a project to be donated with such ease. The generosity of the children of Israel was so great that they kept giving even after everything necessary had been raised. As we read a few verses later:

And the people continued to bring freewill offerings every morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing came forward. They said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order, and they sent this word throughout the camp saying, “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more. What they already had was more than enough to do all the work.Exodus 36:4-7

The Bible goes on to tell us in great detail what was made from each of the materials that were donated. But not everything made in the Tabernacle was made from materials donated during this fundraising campaign. Allow me to explain.

The silver sockets and hooks

As I mentioned, the Tabernacle was a portable temple that traveled with the people of Israel throughout the 40 years in the desert. It was made to be taken apart, transported, and reassembled. The walls of the Tabernacle were made of beams of acacia wood. Each beam was 10 cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. There were 48 wooden beams in total. The walls were put together by lining up he beam vertically, side by side. Each beam would be mounted in 2 silver bases or sockets. The end of each beam had two protruding pieces that would each lock into a silver socket. The beams were then connected horizontally with crossbeams.

Outside the central Tabernacle structure was the courtyard. The courtyard was enclosed with a curtain mounted on beams. This curtain was fastened to the beams with silver hooks.

Silver from the census

Unlike the materials used for everything else in the Tabernacle, the silver used for these hooks and the bases for the wood beams did not come from “anyone of generous heart.” The source of this silver was not the fundraising campaign we read about here in chapter 35. Later on, in chapter 38, we read:

And the silver from those who were numbered of the congregation was one hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary: … And from the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the sanctuary and the bases of the curtain: one hundred sockets from the hundred talents, one talent for each socket. Then from the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, overlaid their capitals, and made bands for them.Exodus 38:25,27-28

Back in Exodus 30, we read that a census of Israel was taken. The way they counted the census was for each person over the age of 20 to give a half shekel of silver, no more and no less. As we read there:

Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.Exodus 30:14-15

“The silver from those who were numbered of the congregation,” here in Exodus 35 refers to the census in Exodus 30.

All share equally in God’s house

The use of the silver of the census for the sockets and hooks contains a powerful lesson. There were certainly those among the Children of Israel who were wealthier and those who were poorer. Obviously, those who had more were able to give more. It is the responsibility of those who are blessed with greater wealth to give more to communal needs. This was as true then as it is today. But there is a downside. It is only natural that those who are wealthy and have contributed more to the public needs, say, building a synagogue or church, will feel a greater sense of ownership and propriety over the finished product. Someone in the community who cannot afford to give could easily feel that the temple or church they attend for worship is not really theirs, that they are merely guests, worshiping through the goodwill of the wealthier members of the community. 

The half shekel of silver that everyone was required to give solved this problem. As mentioned, the rich could not give more, the poor could not give less. In the half-shekel donation, all were equal. Then, these very same half-shekels were melted down and used as the base sockets and hooks that held the entire structure of the Tabernacle together. 

The message is clear. Without the equally valuable contribution of every member of the community, there is no Tabernacle. It cannot stand. All are equally needed to build and uphold God’s house. 

In later years, the half-shekel was collected annually as well. These shekels were used for the communal offerings brought daily and on the festivals throughout the year. The message was the same. When an offering is brought in the Temple on behalf of the community of Israel, all are represented equally. The community of God must include everyone.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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