A Home Built with Love

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2).

This week’s parsha opens with a very unusual request; God asks Moshe for donations from Am Yisrael for what will be the Mishkan, the tabernacle, their portable space of worship. 

God could have had Moshe levy an equal tax for all, so that everyone would be equally represented. Or maybe just like the manna that fell from Heaven, the materials for the Mishkan, or even the entire Mishkan itself, could have just fallen from the heavens.

Why does God insist that the Mishkan be built strictly from freely-given gifts?

Over the next two parshas we’re going to read all about the meticulous details of the Mishkan. But if we had to describe it in the simplest possible terms, the Mishkan is a house. It is ornate and elegant, made of the finest and rarest materials. But it is still a house. It has furniture. It has a table with bread. It has a light fixture, the menorah. And it has a chair, the aron or the ark.

And what is the purpose of this house? 

“And let them make Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).

Among them, reads the verse, not amongst it, the Mishkan. Yes, it is an awesome place of revelation. But more importantly it is a place of meeting, a shared space where the human and the Divine can interact. 

And since the stated purpose of the house is a shared place of meeting, then it cannot fall out of the sky, and it cannot be built by a levied tax; it must be built from gifts given freely from the heart.  

In Rav Eliahu Dessler’s Kuntras HaChesed, he poses the following question: We see that love and giving are intrinsically connected. But is giving a consequence of love, or is love a consequence of giving?

We might think that being showered with gifts would awaken a great love for the giver. But you could argue the opposite as well. The deepest sense of love comes from giving, from investing one’s self in the other. The greatest proof is the parent and the child; a child can never love his parents as much as the parents love their child.

Why? Because when we give to someone or something, we see ourselves in it. 

And so God could have dropped the Mishkan from the sky. But then it would not have been a shared space. It would have been a place of revelation of Divine love for Am Yisrael; but it never could become a place of human love for the Divine. 

So God tells Moshe:  “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2). 

A person who is moved to give is the only one who can experience this home as I intended it; as a place where I dwell together with Am Yisrael in shared love.  And that shared love can only be experienced if Am Yisrael gives freely, without coercion, to this project. Only then will they truly see themselves in the Mishkan.

And so too in our interpersonal relationships. Love is not only an emotion or an experience; it is a true open-hearted act of giving to the other. And the more the giving, the more we see our investment in the other, and the greater the love.

So do you agree that love is created by giving? Or do you think that receiving builds a stronger love? Or do we need both of these in order to create a truly meaningful relationship?

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Brought to you by the RRG Beit Midrash Program, the spiritual home for Hebrew University students on campus.

Dedicated to the memory of Avraham Simcha ben Yosef Michel Halevi, Andy Diamond

About the Author
Rabbi Yonatan Udren is the Co-Director of the RRG Beit Midrash, which offers a Jewish home away from home for English-speaking olim and overseas students in Jerusalem.
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