What do gold, silver and copper; aqua, purple and red-dyed wool; linen, goat hair, animal skins, acacia wood, olive oil, spices and gems have in common? These were the primary items that the Israelites needed to gather and donate in order to build God a sanctuary in the wilderness. This sanctuary, the Mishkan (Tabernacle), was to be the dwelling place of the Shechina (Divine Presence) until the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
All of these items, except for the silver, were donated by the Israelites after God told Moses to tell the Israelites to bring an offering each according to their hearts desire (Exodus 25:2) — a voluntary offering. The silver that was used in the Mishkan came solely from the half-shekel census collection.
Where did a nation of run-away slaves acquire all these precious metals, fancy linens and gems? Actually, they came from the Egyptians, as payment for the Israelites’ years of slave-labor (“And the Children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment” – Exodus 12:35).
The other items requested were also not so mundane. For instance, the aqua (blue-green) dye (techelet) for the wool was from a creature called the chilazon, which “resembles the sea in its color, and in shape it resembles a fish; it appears once in seventy years, and with its blood one dyes the thread blue; and therefore it is so expensive” (Menachot 44a).
On a practical level, the list of items above was a shopping list. But as valuable as each of these pieces was, they were made priceless by the fact that they were given, truly, from the heart.
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