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Posted on March 14, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Moshe saw the entire work, and behold, they had done it as Hashem had commanded. So had they done. Moshe blessed them.[1]

Let’s backtrack. “These are the reckonings of the Mishkan – the Mishkan of testimony.”[2] What testimony does the Mishkan deliver? A midrash[3] is quite clear: “[The Mishkan] testifies that they had been granted atonement for the sin of the golden calf.”

The reasoning seems to be that Hashem would not have ordered a Mishkan without His having lifted the burden of sin from the people. But is that really so? Perhaps Hashem ordered the construction of the Tabernacle because he wished to create a place for His Shechinah to establish itself in this world! It might have had nothing to do with atonement at all. Why do Chazal favor the atonement explanation over the other – an explanation that they give elsewhere for the very creation of the world?

The answer can be found in the design and engineering of the project. Bezalel is praised as one who knew how to combine the primordial letters through which the world was created. Yet, he could not have been the only one with such knowledge. If he knew, certainly Moshe Rabbenu knew! Would it not have been more fitting for the giver of the Torah to be the one utilizing its holy letters to produce the Mishkan?

Perhaps. But Moshe lacked one thing that Bezalel had – vulnerability regarding the chet ha-eigel. Moshe was up on the mountain when it happened; Bezalel was part of the nation that failed. To demonstrate that the Bnei Yisrael had been forgiven, Hashem bypassed Moshe in favor of Bezalel. Moshe was tasked only with relaying instructions to Bezalel. The latter translated the instructions into finished product. The testimony, therefore, was the very fact that Hashem did not instruct Moshe to supervise the project, but had him delegate the supervision to others.

This kapparah factor, though, demolishes our understanding of the role of the Bnei Yisrael in quickly building the Mishkan. Why do we credit them for “raising their hearts” to assist in the project, and for giving so generously and with such alacrity? It was the atonement that interested them, not providing a place for the Shechinah! That kapparah was worth all the money in the world!

This is true – but an inadequate explanation of what happened. Any teshuvah the Bnei Yisrael did, and any atonement they needed, had to be commensurate with the gravity of their sin. The vast majority of the people didn’t worship the eigel, nor did they fashion the gold into the calf. Their only active involvement was in making the contribution of the gold by shedding their jewelry and giving it to Aharon. If so, their teshuvah should require something similar – that they hand over their valuables to Bezalel, and let him do the rest!

That is not what happened. They did much more than that. They not only contributed raw materials, but they provided the actual craftsmanship. Moshe had told them to contribute materials, and they quickly did – thus assuring their atonement. With that out of the way, they turned their sights and their hearts to the task of providing a place for the Shechinah. They did this out of pure love for Hashem.

Let’s return to our pasuk. Rashi lets us know the nature of the berachah: “May it be His will that the Shechinah should rest upon your handiwork.” Emphasis is on “handiwork.” They were entitled to a berachah because they had gone well beyond the commandment in parshas Terumah to donate. They rolled up their sleeves and dug into Bezalel’s to-do list, determined to provide a place for the Shechinah.

  1. Shemos 39:43
  2. Shemos38:21
  3. Shemos Rabbah 51:4