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Generosity and Creativity in Building the Mishkan

  • Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Parashat Hashavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion

This parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.


This parasha series is dedicated
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.





Generosity and Creativity in Building the Mishkan

By Rabbanit Sharon Rimon



Generosity (or: Bringing Donations out of the Generosity of One's Heart)


Parashat Vayakhel opens with a ceremonial description of the donation of raw materials for the purposes of the Mishkan:


Moshe said to the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael, saying: This is the matter that God commanded, saying:

Take from among you an offering to God; whoever is of a generous heart shall bring it, the offering of God – gold and silver and brass, … (Shemot 4:5).


This is the command to bring and donate the materials, paralleling the command in Parashat Teruma.[1]


Further on, the Torah provides a lengthy and extremely detailed description of the bringing of the offerings (materials) for the Mishkan (continuing until the end of chapter 35 and on to verse 8 of chapter 36!)


Seemingly, all of this could have been summarized with a single verse stating that Bnei Yisrael brought all that was needed for the Mishkan. However, the Torah chooses to describe it all at length, repeating and emphasizing the bringing of the offering.


A review of the verses reveals that there are words that are used repeatedly, becoming the focus of the description. The verb "bring" appears fourteen times, while the word "donation" or "offering" (teruma) appears seven times.[2]


In addition, the root n-d-v (giving; generosity) occurs six times, with three of these instances involving the expression "nediv lev" (generous heart).[3] This expression stands out in its uniqueness,[4] and draws the reader's attention.


The repeated words echo in our ears, and convey the central message. The Torah is emphasizing the bringing of the offering out of generosity of heart:


Take from among you an offering to God; whoever is of a generous heart (nediv libo) shall bring it, the offering of God… (5)

… Everyone whose spirit moved him (nadva rucho) brought God's offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting. (21)


The donation was brought not only as a response to God's command, but out of a "generous heart," an inner desire, a sincere enthusiasm.


In fact, the level of enthusiasm was such that Bnei Yisrael brought much more than was needed, and Moshe was forced to put a halt to the flood of donations[5] (see 36:4-6).


Concerning the willingness and generosity, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments:


The meaning of [the root] n-d-v is that is flows from an inner source… a person who is "nadiv" is someone who is free and independent, such that his actions are motivated solely by the dictates of his inner self… The text highlights this quality of giving (hitnadvut) by appending the word "lev" (heart) – "nediv lev" (a person with a generous heart). Or, for extra emphasis, "nediv libo" – his own heart. Thus the text removes any hint of coercion, or even any external influence, which may direct the act of the person who brings….


Wisdom of the Heart (or: Performing the Labor with Wisdom)


If we take another look at the verses, we see that there is another expression that is repeated seven times,[6] and is also unique: "wise of heart" (chakham lev).[7]


In the unit under discussion (from 35:4 to 36:8) the root "chakham" occurs eleven times (seven of which include "chakham lev"). In addition, there are other words that are related to "wisdom": the root ch-sh-v (thinking, artistry) appears six times in the description of the appointment of Betzalel and Aholiav (verses 31-35), and twice more we find the juxtaposition of "wisdom, insight and knowledge" (35:31; 36:1).[8]


Wisdom, in these verses, describes the manner of carrying out the workmanship:


He has filled them with wisdom of heart, to make all manner of work in engraving and crafting… (35)

And all who were wise of heart, of those who carried out the workmanship, made the Mishkan…. (8)


The root a-s-h (make, perform, carry out) occurs sixteen times in these verses, while the word "melakha" (work, workmanship) occurs seventeen times.


The intensive repetition of the words "chakham," a-s-h, and "melakha" conveys the message that special wisdom is needed to build the Mishkan and fashion all of its vessels.


What sort of special wisdom, insight and knowledge are necessary for this task?


Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains, commenting on 31:3-


"With wisdom, insight and knowledge" – Betzalel was appointed specifically because he possessed these qualities. Hence we may conclude that building the Mishkan was not merely the external work of artisanship, but a project to establish a structure whose parts would all have symbolic significance. The ideas expressed in the Mishkan and all of its constituent parts would be borne in mind by the artisans as they worked. These ideas would guide them, and they would direct their efforts towards them.


In other words, the fashioning of the Mishkan is not merely a matter of outwardly building artifacts in accordance with accurate plans, but the crafting of vessels with symbolic significance. The internal meaning behind each of the vessels is meant to find expression in their form, and this requires special skill that comprises three different abilities: firstly, the ability to perceive the profound inner, spiritual significance, and the ability to express that spiritual idea in material vessels.[9]


Ramban's commentary provides additional insight into the essence of Betzalel's special wisdom:


… They [the Sages?] also said: Betzalel knew how to combine the letters by which the heavens and the earth were created, for the Mishkan was meant to allude to these, and it was he who knew and understood their secret.


Thus, the building of the Mishkan was not just skillful workmanship, but rather a spiritual undertaking, just like the creation of the world.[10]


The use of the word "heart" together with "wisdom" serves to emphasize the internal nature of the wisdom that is required. It is not something that may be learned intellectually, nor is it a matter of skilled handiwork. Rather, it is "wisdom of the heart," an internal capacity that arises from a special sort of communication with God, where man attempts to comprehend the inner, spiritual meaning of things, while God for His part bestows upon him a special spirit that facilitates this understanding, as we are told in the verses:


He has filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, insight and knowledge (35:31).[11]


As the Midrash expresses it: "Betzalel – you stood be-tzel el when God showed me how to make it…"(Bamidbar Rabba, Vilna, parasha 15).


In addition, an artisan must be capable of expressing the spiritual idea in reality, through matter.


Thus, two issues are emphasized at the outset of the Mishkan project: the open-hearted, willing generosity (nedivut ha-lev) displayed by all of Israel in bringing their offering to the Mishkan, and the special talent (chokhmat ha-lev) required for the work of fashioning the Mishkan.


The Heart (lev) – the Inner Connection


Although we have been discussing two separate concepts, it is clear that there is a connection between them. Indeed, the Torah links these two ideas by weaving them both into the same textual unit.[12]


In addition, there is one word that appears in both contexts and serves to link them: lev. The two special expressions that represent the two concepts are "nediv lev" and "chakham lev." We may also make note of the expression "nisa lev"[13] ("whose heart stirs him up"), and the word "lev" which appears in its own right.[14]


All in all, the word "lev" appears fourteen times.[15]


Hence, there is one central idea that connects the two themes: the heart. As we have seen, the word "lev" expresses inner connection to the action. A person who is "nediv lev" brings his offering out of an inner desire, with enthusiasm. One who is "chakham lev" performs his labor with an inner connection to God's will. The word "lev," recurring 14 times in these verses, testifies to the deep inner connection that Bnei Yisrael felt towards every aspect of the building of the Mishkan and its components.


The Building of Shlomo's Temple


Let us now set aside our discussion of the parasha and have a look at the haftara. The haftarot to the parashot of Teruma, Vayakhel and Pekudei deal with the building of the First Temple by Shlomo. A comparison between the building of the Mishkan and the building of the Temple provides ample material for extensive discussion,[16] but for our purposes we shall focus on just one aspect: the wisdom involved in building the Temple.


In the textual account of the building of the Temple, too, there is an emphasis on chokhma – wisdom. The artisan who fashions the vessels of the Temple is described in language strongly reminiscent of the description of Betzalel in Parashat Vayakhel:


And King Shlomo sent [messengers] and brought Chiram from Tzor.

He was the son of a widowed woman, from the tribe of Naftali, and his father was a man of Tzor, a worker in brass. And he was filled with wisdom and insight and knowledge to perform all workmanship in brass. And he came before King Shlomo, and he carried out all of his work. (I Melakhim 7:13-14)


Even before the text describes the wisdom of the artisan Chiram, strong emphasis is placed on the wisdom of Shlomo himself – both generally and with specific reference to the building of the Temple:


And God gave exceedingly great wisdom and insight to Shlomo, and largeness of heart, like the sand upon the sea shore.

And Shlomo's wisdom exceeded the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.

And he was wiser than any person… (I Melakhim 5:9-11)


Further on, we read of the forging of the covenant with Chiram, king of Tzor, at the center of which is an agreement facilitating the importation of raw materials for the building of the Temple. In this covenant, too, Shlomo's wisdom is highlighted:


And it was, when Chiram heard the words of Shlomo, that he rejoiced greatly and said: Blessed is God this day, Who has given to David a son who is wise over this great people…

And God gave wisdom to Shlomo as He had told him, and there was peace between Chiram and Shlomo, and the two of them forged a covenant. (21, 26)


While the "wisdom" (chokhma) required for building the Temple is emphasized here, the text does not speak of "chokhmat lev." Moreover, the wisdom possessed by Chiram, the artisan, is described as "wisdom, insight and knowledge" – recalling the description of Betzalel – but here it is not specified that it is God Who has filled him with this knowledge.[17] Also, the selection of Chiram is not a Divine decree, but rather Shlomo's own decision: "King Shlomo sent [messengers] and brought Chiram from Tzor…" (I Melakhim 7:13).


The Nation's Role in the Building of the Temple


However, the most significant difference between the building of the Mishkan and the building of the Temple concerns the second theme – "nedivut ha-lev."


In the case of the Mishkan, raw materials were brought by the entire nation, out of enthusiasm and generosity. In the case of the Temple, the situation is quite different. Firstly, there is a covenant with a foreign king (Chiram, king of Tzor), to supply the raw materials. Secondly, while the nation does participate in the hewing of wood, the quarrying of stone, etc. for the Temple, this is not done out of "nedivut lev," but rather as a levy that King Shlomo imposes on them:


King Shlomo raised a levy from all of Israel, and the levy was thirty thousand men.

And he sent them to Levanon, ten thousand per month by rotation: they would be a month in Levanon and two months at home, and Adoniram was over the levy.

And Shlomo had seventy thousand carriers, and eighty thousand quarriers in the mountains,

aside from Shlomo's chief officers who were appointed over the work – three thousand three hundred, who ruled over the people who did the work.

And the king commanded, and they brought great stones – precious stones – to lay the foundation of the house with hewn stone.

And Shlomo's builders, and Chiram's builders, and the Givlim, hewed, and they prepared timber and stones to build the house. (I Melakhim 5:27-32)


The verses describe large-scale activity in preparation for the building of the Temple, but everything is done by command of the king; it is all by royal decree. There is no hint of any participation by the people of their own initiative or free will, to say nothing of enthusiasm.


The verses in Sefer Melakhim emphasize the central role of Shlomo in the building of the Temple, with no mention of the people as partners in the building (although in practice Shlomo certainly did not build everything himself; it was the people who did the work):


Behold, I intend to build a house to the Name of the Lord… and King Shlomo raised a levy from all of Israel… and Shlomo had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand quarriers in the mountains… and the king commanded, and they brought great stones… and Shlomo's builders hewed… and the house which King Shlomo built… and Shlomo built the house and he completed it…. And Shlomo overlaid the house inside with pure gold… and King Shlomo sent [messengers] and brought Chiram from Tzor… and he came to King Shlomo and he carried out all of his work… and Shlomo made all of the vessels for God's house… and all of the labor which King Shlomo had done was completed….[18]


In contrast, our parasha – describing the building of the Mishkan – mentions over and over again the "nedivut ha-lev" of the people in bringing their contributions, as well as their participation in the work itself. The labor is undertaken not only by Moshe and Betzalel, but by all who are "wise of heart," or whose "heart lifted them"[19]:


And Betzalel and Aholiav, and every man who was wise of heart, in whom God had placed wisdom and insight, to know and to undertake all the workmanship for the service of the Sanctuary, did as all that God had commanded.

And Moshe called to Betzalel and to Aholiav and to every man who was wise of heart, in whose heart God had placed wisdom; everyone whose heart stirred him to take part in the labor, to perform it. (Shemot 36:1-2)


The comparison with the building of the Temple serves to highlight the emphasis that our parasha places on the nation's role in the building of the Mishkan,[20] from bringing the raw materials to participation in the workmanship, and especially – the heartfelt involvement, emphasized over and over again. The heart of all of Bnei Yisrael was deeply invested in the building of the Mishkan. The Mishkan is not only holy work entrusted to "wise" or "holy" people; it is the handiwork of the entire nation, all of whom feel part of it.


The Temple is built and fashioned within an altogether different atmosphere. King Shlomo decides to build it, and it is he who performs (or commissions) the work. While it is the people who actually carry out the labor, they are not seen as wholehearted partners in the building.


The Consecrated Store of David


Amidst the description of all the work undertaken by Shlomo, brief mention is made of the following:


…Shlomo brought in all of the consecrated store of David, his father; he placed the silver and the gold and the vessels in the house of God. (7:51)


This reminds us that not everything was made or done by Shlomo. David also had a role in some of the vessels. In I Divrei Ha-yamim 29 we find the following description of the preparation of "David's consecrated store":


King David said to all the congregation: Shlomo, my son, whom alone was chosen by God, is still young and tender, and the work is great, for the palace is not for man, but for the Lord God.

With all my strength I have prepared for the house of my God: the gold… and the silver… and the brass… the iron… and the wood...

Moreover, I have given of my own private treasure... and I have prepared for the holy house: three thousand talents… and seven thousand talents of silver…

who, then, is willing (mitnadev) to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?

Then the chiefs of the fathers' houses and the chiefs of the tribes of Israel and the captains of thousands and of hundreds and the officers of the king's work, offered willingly (va-yitnadvu),

And they gave for the service of the house of God gold…

And those in possession of precious stones gave them for the treasury of God's house, by the hand of Yechiel, of the family of Gershon.

And the people rejoiced for having offered willingly (al hitnadvam), for they had wholeheartedly given (hitnadvu) to God, and King David also rejoiced with great joy.

Then David blessed the Lord…

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power…

and riches and honor emanate from before You…

For who am I, and what is my nation, that we should have the ability to give willingly (le-hitnadev) in this way, for everything comes from You, and what came from Your own hand we have given to You…

Lord our God, all of this amassing that we have prepared, to build You a house for Your holy Name, comes from Your hand; it is all Your own.

… I, in the uprightness of my heart, have willingly offered (hitnadavti) all of this, and now I have seen Your people, who are gathered here, giving willingly (le-hitnadev) to You with joy. (1-17)


The root n-d-v recurs seven times (!) in these verses, and twice there is mention of the "heart" in connection with giving.[21] In addition, the speech is formulated (for the most part) in the plural, conveying the feeling that the entire nation is participating. David also emphasizes that everything has been done "with joy."


In David's time, there was a sense of partnership, joy, and willing offering. The nation happily and willingly contributes towards the building of the Temple. This atmosphere is reminiscent of our parasha and the building of the Mishkan. It is the complete opposite of the atmosphere surrounding the building of the Temple by Shlomo (as described in I Melakhim).


Yeravam's Rebellion


What caused this dramatic difference in mood?


It is possible that Shlomo had a personality that was different from that of Moshe or David, but we may also postulate that the difference arose from the fact that Shlomo was a king, and royal initiatives require tighter order and organization – as indeed evidenced in the days of Shlomo.[22]


At the same time, the scope of the building undertaken by Shlomo was such that an entirely different system of organization was required.


In any event, it seems that the nation had trouble accepting the many changes which Shlomo introduced. At the end of his reign they began to rebel,[23] and this rebellion grew stronger during the reign of his son, Rechavam, with the people's main complaint being formulated as follows:


Your father made our yoke hard; you, now, lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke which he placed upon us, and we shall serve you (I Melakhim 12:4).


The reason for the rebellion is the heavy levy which Shlomo had raised from the people and the hard labor that he had forced upon them. It is possible that the nation would have been prepared to work very hard and to donate much for the building of the Temple – but not out of coercion; only out of "nedivut lev" and a sense of partnership.


Shlomo's orderly and well-oiled system was highly effective, but it gave no opportunity to the people to express their wishes, their inner desire, in building the Temple. And where the people are not wholehearted partners, the inner connection with the Temple is missing.


Perhaps the tribes of Israel did not feel a sufficient degree of partnership in building the Temple, and therefore when Yeravam came and proposed secession from the monarchy in Jerusalem with a view to establishing an alternative (in the form of the calves that were placed in Dan and in Be'er Sheva), they reacted with agreement instead of shock and opposition. The people are able to disassociate themselves from the Temple, from the nation's spiritual center, simply because they never really felt sufficiently connected to it.


The Inner Connection with the Mishkan


Against the background of the future severance of the nation from the Temple, the inner connection between the nation and the Mishkan is highlighted even more strongly. This connection arose from the partnership of all of Israel in the Mishkan project: they brought their contributions willingly, out of "nedivut ha-lev," and also participated in the work with "chokhmat ha-lev" – every person whose heart stirred him to take part in the building of the Mishkan.


Translated by Kaeren Fish

[1]        "Let them bring Me and offering; from every man whose heart makes him generous shall you take My offering." (Shemot 25:2)

[2]        Occurrences of the number 7, or its multiples, have special significance. A word that is repeated several times, especially if that number is a multiple of 7, is considered a "key word," indicating the subject of the unit.

[3]        The same expression occurs in the command in Parashat Teruma: "From every man whose heart makes him generous shall you take My offering" (25:2).

[4]        It appears nowhere else in the Torah. It occurs once more in II Divrei Ha-yamim 29:31 (in the days of Chizkiyahu): "The congregation brought sacrifices and offerings of thanks, and all those of a generous heart brought burnt offerings."

         In I Divrei Ha-yamim 29 (in the description of David's preparations for the building of the Temple), we find two instances of the reflexive form of the verb used in conjunction with "heart": "They had wholeheartedly (be-lev shalem) offered to God" (9); "In the uprightness of my heart I have offered all of these" (17).

         It is interesting to note that in these sources, too, "generosity of heart" is mentioned in the context of bringing to and/or for the Sanctuary.

[5]        Ramban, commenting on 36:3, deduces from the words "They [Betzalel and Aholiav] received from Moshe [all of the offering]" that "on a single day they brought all of this offering… And likewise on the next day they brought more free-will donations to his tent, and he commanded that they bring them to the artisans, until [the artisans] told him that the people were bringing too much, and they already had more than enough… and the verse [5] mentions the abundant giving on the part of the people, in praise of the people who brought willingly, and to give honor to the Sages for their faithfulness…."

[6]        Once again, indicating a key word and a major theme; see note 3 above.

[7]        Other than in our verses and in chapter 31, in the command to appoint Betzalel (see note 9 below), this expression likewise appears nowhere else in the Torah. It does occur three times in Mishlei (10:8; 11:29; 16:21), and twice in Iyov (9:4; 37:24).

[8]        These expressions also appeared in the appointment of Betzalel, in Parashat Ki Tisa (Shemot 31:1-6): "See, I have called by name Betzalel… and I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom and insight and knowledge, and all manner of workmanship, to contrive works of art to make with gold and with silver and with brass, and the cutting of stones , to set them, and in carving wood, to make all manner of workmanship… and in the hearts of all who are wise of heart I have put wisdom, that they might make…."

[9]        The Midrash describes Betzalel's special ability by comparing him to Moshe: "Rabbi Levi, son of Rabbi taught: A golden Menora descended from the heavens. When God said to Moshe (Shemot 25:31), 'You shall make a Menora of pure gold,' he said to Him: 'How shall we make it?' God replied: 'Of a single, solid piece shall you make the Menora' – but still Moshe had trouble with it; when he descended from the mountain he forgot how to make it. He went up (again) and said: 'My Master – I have forgotten it.' He showed it again to Moshe, and again he had trouble with it. This continued until [God] brought a Menora of fire and showed him how it was made. Still, Moshe had difficulty with it. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: 'Go to Betzalel, and he will make it.' He told it to Betzalel, and he immediately made it. Moshe was amazed and said, 'So many times God showed it to me, but I couldn't make it, but you – without seeing it – made it of your own knowledge! Betzalel – you stood be-tzel el (in the shade of God) when God showed me how to make it.'" (Bamidbar Rabba, Vilna, parasha 15).

         This Midrash is cited in Rav Tamir Granot's VBM shiur, and he explains it as follows: "Moshe Rabbeinu sees the heavenly model, but is unable to reproduce it. His 'forgetting' is apparently not related to regular forgetfulness, but rather arises from his inability to recreate the Divine model within the human sphere. Betzalel never had a vision of the Menora, yet he knows how to make it. Betzalel's knowledge, which Moshe lacks, is unquestionably that of the ideal artist. There can be no doubt that Moshe's ability as a prophet and a seer of Divine visions surpasses that of Betzalel. However, according to this Midrash, Moshe is unable to connect heaven and earth. The chasm is too wide, and he – inhabiting a space so close to the Divine world – is incapable of conjuring in his mind a human, plastic creation that will correspond to the Divine model. Betzalel represents the ideal artist. His intentions are holy and directed towards God, but his creation is undertaken down below, with earthly materials and appearances. Without ever seeing the Divine model, he creates a perfect creation…."

[10]       The Creation of the world, too, is described with the words "wisdom, insight, and knowledge":

         "God founded the earth with wisdom and established the heavens with insight.

         By His knowledge the depths were split…" (Mishlei 3:19-20)

[11]       Likewise further on, in 36:1-2 – "… in whom God had put wisdom and insight, to know… in whose heart God had put wisdom…." In chapter 31 we already read, concerning Betzalel, that "I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom and with insight and with knowledge…."

[12]       These are not two independent concepts that are developed individually. In the first part of the unit, which is mainly concerned with the donations of materials, mention is also made of "chokhma," of the building and the artistic work. Likewise, in the second part, which concerns mainly the execution of the work, mention is made of the bringing of the offering.

[13]       The expression "nisa lev" appears three times – 35:21; 35:26; 36:2.

[14]       At 35:34.

[15]       Once again a multiple of 7, indicating the centrality of this word.

[16]       See, for example, the article by David Henschke in Megadim 11.

[17]       Ramban, in his commentary on Shemot 31:2, explains that at the time of the building of the Mishkan there was indeed a need for special intervention by God in order to produce such a talented artisan: "Bnei Yisrael, enslaved in Egypt, worked in bricks and mortar; they did not learn the crafts of silver and gold and work with precious stones, nor did they ever see such works. Hence it is a great wonder that among them there turns out to be a person who is so skilled in silver and gold and stone and wood, an artist who embroiders and weaves. Even apprentices to great masters are not usually expert in all crafts, while those who know and are familiar with such handiwork – once their hands have become accustomed to vulgar building materials, they can no longer execute fine, beautiful artistry. Furthermore, how did he come to be so clever, with wisdom and understanding and knowledge, understanding the secrets of the Mishkan and all of its vessels, knowing why they were commanded and what they allude do? Therefore, God told Moshe to behold this wonder and know that He had filled him with the spirit of God, to know all of this, in order that he would be able to make the Mishkan." On the basis of this explanation we may deduce that at the time of the building of the Temple, there was no need for any special Divine intervention, since talented and skilled artisans were to be found.

[18]       These fragments are taken from chapters 6-7. These chapters, along with chapter 8 (Shlomo's prayer) also contain many more verses that attribute the entire endeavor to Shlomo alone.

[19]       We cite only two verses here, but the same idea is emphasized in the verses over and over again.

[20]       At this point we take note of another word that recurs often in these verses: "kol" (every, all), in the context of "every man," "every woman," "every generous person," "every wise person," etc.

[21]       See above, n. 5.

[22]       See I Melakhim, chapters 4-5, 9-10.

[23]       The beginning of the rebellion is described in I Melakhim 11: "And Yeravam, son of Nevat, the son of… Shlomo's servant, lifted his hand against the king. And this was the cause for him lifting his hand against the king: Shlomo built the Millo, repairing the breaches of the city of David, his father."