Parahat Vayqhel — Sheqalim

קחו את תרומתי - אמרו רבותינו (ראה מגילה כט , ב): שלש תרומות אמורות כאן: אחת תרומת בקע לגלגלת שנעשו מהם האדנים , כמו שמפורש ב'אלה פקודי' (שמ' לח , כו - כז); ואחת תרומת המזבח , בקע לגלגלת לקופות לקנות מהם קרבנות צבור; ואחת תרומת המשכן , נדבת כל אחד ואחד שהתנדבו שלש עשרה דברים האמורים בעניין: זהב וכסף ונחשת וכל המנויין הללו בענין (ראה להלן , ג - ז) , כולם הוצרכו למלאכת המשכן ולבגדי כהונה , כשתדקדק בהם. (ג-ד) זהב וכסף ונחשת ותכלת - כולם באו בנדבה , איש מה שנדבו לבו , חוץ מן הכסף שבא בשוה - מחצית השקל לכל אחד (ראה שמ' ל , יג); ולא מצינו בכל מלאכת המשכן שהוצרך שם כסף יותר , שנאמר "וכסף פקודי העדה מאת ככר... בקע לגלגלת" (שמ' לח , כה - כו) , ושאר כסף הבא שם בנדבה עשאוהו לכלי שרת.

Our Rabbis have said there are three collections mentioned here. The first is the half-sheqel head tax from which they made the silver sockets, as ennumerated in Parashat Pequde, and the second is the collection for the Altar, a half-sheqel skull tax into the collection boxes to fund all the communal offerings. The third is the collection for the Tabernacle, which was given by each and every individual who voluntarily gifted the thirteen items ennumerated here, i.e. “the gold and silver and copper…,” and all these items were needed for the construction of the Tabernacle and the garments of the priests, as will be explained in its place. “The gold and silver and copper and turquoise” all were given voluntarily, each according to the amount they volunteered except the silver which was a specified value, a half-sheqel per person We do not find that the construction of the Tabernacle required any additional silver, as it says the “the silver of all those who were counted… at a half-sheqel per head”, and any remaining silver brought as gifts was made into sanctified vessels [for use in the temple services]. — Rashi Teruma

In our class on Zera Shimshon a few weeks ago, we covered an interesting apparent mistake in Rashi. Rashi, in listing the different contributions mentions that the donation request at the beginning of Parashat Teruma was for the thirteen items listed in the verses that follows, which were all needed for the work on the Tabernacle. The problem is that the verses proceed to list sixteen items, not thirteen, and we are told this week that all sixteen items were indeed requested and given.

The Zera Shimshon explains that indeed sixteen items are listed, but only thirteen of them were required voluntary contributions. Indeed Rashi himself proceeds to say that all the silver required for the Tabernacle was from the half-sheqel contribution which was used to count the people, as we read in the special maftir of Sheqalim this week. From this, they made all the sockets which anchored the pillars of the Tabernacle in place and also the hooks to hold up the curtains and as caps for the pillars. True he does say that voluntary silver could be used to fashion Tabernacle vessels, but perhaps he doesn’t list it as there was no particular requirement to have any set number of silver vessels.

The other two items he does not consider part of the thirteen voluntary contributions were the olive oil for the Menora and the spices for Incense. Neither of those could be voluntary in any way. Instead, they, like all items used in communal services could only come from a yearly mandated half sheqel tax.

The Zera Shimshon proves this from Mishna Sheqalim 4:1. There the mishna is discussing an interesting case. The grain used in communal offerings, such as the Omer and the breads on Shavuot and also the meal offerings that accompany sacrifices was grown on plots run by the Temple. However, during the Sabbatical Year, nothing could be planted or tended. For most needs, flour could either be stockpiled from previous years or imported from outside the land. Yet the Omer and breads on Shavuot could only come from the local crop and had to be harvested the year they were offered. The solution was to use grain that grew by itself, leftover from the previous year’s crop. Special guards were hired to watch over fields where wild growth was found and prevent people taking it. Those guards were paid from communal funds. Rebbi Yossi suggests that these guards could be volunteers, should they so choose. But the Sages insist no. No one gets to volunteer, because everyone must be equal when it comes to communal offerings. Even just voluntarily guarding the wheat and barley gives the guard a more personal stake in the products made from it than the rest of Israel, and that is unacceptable. Since the Menora lighting and incense were communal services, they too, could not be personal donations, and Rashi removes them from his count.

Everyone must be equal in communal offerings, so no one person could point to a particular service in the Temple and say that one belongs to them more than anyone else. Furthermore, everyone must contribute, so that no one can say that they have no part in the service. Their half-sheqel contribution is the buy-in. Rabbi Bassous suggests the silver is the same. Most of the silver went to the sockets which lay the foundations for the pillars and anchor them in place. Some of it went for the curtain hooks. So the very foundations and supports of the building are shared by everybody. The start of the Tabernacle requires an equal contribution from everyone, and that contribution is used for a visible reminder of their importance to the integral structure.

From here, we see an important principle. The Torah allows and encourages private donations to religious life. Even the concept of public recognition for the gifts is not foreign. But there is a tradeoff. Having a few donors give everything gets them enthusiastic about the project and gives them a chance to earn reward for their generosity. But at the same time, that generosity can crowd out the rest of the people and make them feel they have no part in the service. The Torah solves this by allowing people to donate limitless amounts to the externals and to funding to keeping the building running. But we the start of the project and also the money for the service itself to requires a mandatory equal contribution.

In all our organizations and synagogues today, we often face the same dichotomy. How do we include everyone, while at the same time leaving a space for people to show their generosity? Obviously, the solution depends on the particular place and community, but the torah is showing us a guide. If we don’t leave a place where everyone is required to be equal partners, we are excluding people from the community. Conversely, we also exclude people people from the community when we limit our recognition of contribution to a set sum of money, at the expense of recognizing contributions of time and effort. One must always carefully weigh the desire to include everyone equally against encouraging people who want to and can go above and beyond. 

I welcome you to come to all our many classes where we discuss texts like this in detail every week and relate them to everyday life.