The building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is a model for philanthropy. That Moses was forced to put a halt to donations displays an overwhelming generosity on the part of the Jewish people, who threw themselves into the creation of the Mishkan by donating their skills as well as their wealth.
The verses themselves suggest the passion that drove these contributions. When it speaks of the people contributing, it repeats the words “those whose hearts were in it”. This was not reluctant, peer-pressured donating. Rather, this national project was one of passion, and one from which we can learn the art of giving.
According to a recent JPR survey, 93 per cent of British Jews made at least one charitable donation in the past year, either to a Jewish or non-Jewish charity — “significantly higher than the equivalent proportion in wider society, which stands at 57 per cent”. Statistics tell us that we are a giving people, but do we do so with the same passion of the Mishkan era? Do we give with “our hearts in it”?
Years after the construction of the Mishkan, when the people were finally settled in the Land of Israel, work on the Temple began. Funded by taxes, and at least partially built by foreign workers, this endeavour doesn’t seem as immersive an experience as the first time round, “Project Mishkan”.
There was something about the building of the Mishkan that tapped into the hearts of the people and inspired them to throw themselves into the construction in an unparalleled manner. “Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them [the people]” is God’s exhortation to the Jewish people. What wouldn’t one give to connect directly to our Maker? To have God immersed within us?
Perhaps this is the key difference between the Mishkan and the Temple, the difference that perhaps explains the imbalance in motivation between these two projects?
Our charity challenge is to experience giving with our entire beings, as a passion and not a chore. Charity, tzedakah, can be mandated only to a certain point. How can we learn to give with genuine joy and with “our hearts in it”? Not just monetarily in a disconnected manner, but personally, with our talents, time and energy.