Our portion opens with God’s instructions on how to take a census. Rather than count the people straight up, He tells Moses that any time the number of people in the nation is needed, he should collect half a shekel (a biblical unit of weight, the inspiration for today’s Israeli currency) from each individual. The total number of half-shekels will represent the number of people in the nation. These half-shekels will then go towards the service of God in the Tabernacle. Counting the people this way will help atone for them and prevent them from perishing in plague.
God then tells Moses about the final pieces of the Tabernacle. First is the laver, a copper basin for ritual washing. God instructs the priests to wash their hands and feet in it before performing any services.
Next He tells Moses to prepare the oil for anointing. With it, Moses is to anoint the vessels of the Tabernacle along with the Tabernacle itself and Aaron and his sons in the service of God. No other person is permitted to prepare a similar composition for personal use, nor may anyone use the oil of the Tabernacle for any other purpose.
Finally, God gives Moses the precise recipe for the incense to be burned in the Tabernacle, likewise forbidding any profane use of the same combination.
The Israel Bible discusses the significance of the half-shekel contribution. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, it signifies that merely existing within society is not enough for a person to “count”. To really be considered part of the community, a person must contribute of himself.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think the instructions for the Tabernacle construction are interrupted with the laws of census-taking? What could be the significance of the juxtaposition of these passages?