Give a Little; Take a lot
The Lord spoke to Moses saying:” Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.”
Funny thing pronouns. G-d seems to be saying something simple: Collect from the Israelites whatever is valuable. But then why throw in such phrases as “take for Me” and “whose heart inspires him” and especially “My offering.” If this was copy by the United Jewish Appeal, nobody would give.
Actually, what seems to be convoluted syntax has a meaning of its own. Because when you cut through the rhetoric, everything anybody possesses comes from G-d. it’s not that man is doing any favors. He’s giving back a little of what he’s received. And what he’s received cannot be measured.
Knowing that, let’s get down to the basics. G-d wants us to give in His name and donate generously. But why? He owns everything. He’s made everything. He doesn’t need anything — while we have to make our monthly payments for rent, heat, electricity, food, school, you name it. Maybe G-d can cut us some slack.
And that is the point: By giving to G-d we receive a lot more. By investing in our divine faith, we make G-d a partner in our temporal world. We’re like a small player who never sees our stock drop.
What are we investing in? We’re contributing to the making of G-d’s home on Earth, known as the Mishkan. It’s a tiny place, but G-d is humble and can manage nicely. His request marks the rise of the Children of Israel from slaves to free citizens. As slaves, we had nothing to give. Then, G-d took the Jews out of Egypt and made each of them extremely rich. Now, we’re ready to be the chosen people.
Moses Ben Nachman, or the Ramban, says the first step was the Ten Commandments, regarded as the chapter headings of the Torah. We passed that stage by accepting the commandments.
The second stage was learning the Torah and becoming a holy nation. Every day we drew lessons from the Torah and put them into practice. We did pretty well there, too.
Now, here’s the third stage: G-d wants to join us because we are ready to receive Him. So, He’s taken the divine spirit we experienced on Mount Sinai and placed it in the center of town. His presence will ensure that we follow the Torah and stay close to Him.
The first step in making G-d’s house is not the walls or floor. It is the construction of the ark, which will hold the tablets from Mount Sinai. Again, the dimensions are ridiculously small — about 1.75 x 0.75 meters, about the size of your average toy chest. But the ark will contain the soul of the Jewish people — an eternal guide that will never become outdated and make us understand both the temporal world as well as the permanent one. The Torah will seem obscure at first, says the Midrash, but all you have to do is look at Moses’ shining face to understand what it does to you.
If the ark is the soul of the Jewish people, then the Menorah, or candelabra, is the heart. Moses simply did not understand how to make one: G-d didn’t want any assembly. He instructed that the Menorah be hewn out of solid gold. It would have six branches and seven receptacles for oil. When Moses couldn’t get it, the sages say, G-d made a model appear in the sky. Then, the Jewish leader, who had all the gold he needed, understood but didn’t know where to begin. Finally, G-d said, “Throw the gold into the fire” and the Menorah emerged. Problem solved.
The Kedushat Levi, authored by Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, says the Menorah represents the divine spirit. It unifies all of our inner thoughts with that of the Creator. The six branches all emerge from one base. The receptacles are separate, but they all face the middle one.
That is the key message of the Menorah: We are one people as long as we stay attached to the base. We might look different, think differently and even maintain different traditions. But if we remain faithful to our common base, we remain united and equal. Money will not define our status, rather our means to give.
The unity is in our devotion to G-d and His Torah. The love symbolized in the Menorah is our willingness to respect and care for our brethren. There can’t be love when there is no respect, and that means that we must be responsible for picking up those who fall. And when you show your devotion to the needs of the other, then “I love you” means something. It shows you are living life with your heart rather than your head or, worse, your wallet.
The heart requires that we do for others regardless of our means. The Talmud says that the construction of the Menorah in the Sinai Desert was from gold, as plentiful as the sand under the feet of the Israelites. But later in history, gold would become scarce if not impossible to obtain. Then, the Menorah would be made of different metals. But the candelabra, the heart, must not be forgotten. The Menorah not only leans toward the base, but both sets of branches face each other. And that means us. Yes, we look inwards rather than toward some other nation — no matter how attractive.
And when you complete the Tabernacle, then the spirit of G-d will be ready to communicate with Moses and the rest of the people. G-d’s voice would emerge through the cherubs, childlike figures that hover over the ark. Only Moses would hear the divine voice, but his flock would feel it.
I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark cover from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony, all that I will command you unto the children of Israel.