This week’s Torah reading is a double portion, Vayakhel and Pekudei (Ex. 35:1 - 40:38) the last two portions in the book of Exodus. The text repeats, almost exactly, the instructions that God gave to Moses for the building of the Tabernacle as Moses repeats them to the people of Israel.
Moses calls upon the people to bring the materials that are needed for the construction of the Tabernacle, and they respond prodigiously: “All the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, each from the task upon which he was engaged and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done’. Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary’. So the people stopped bringing: their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done”. (Ex. 36:4-7)
It is difficult to ignore the similarity of this overabundance with the account of the building of the Golden Calf in last week’s parashah. The Jerusalem Talmud (Shek. 1:1) takes note, saying, “What a peculiar people! When solicited to build the Tabernacle, they give generously. When solicited to fashion an idol, they give equally generously!”
It’s just as well that there were no televangelists asking for money at the time of the exodus, or the Israelites probably would have given everything they had to them. They are still too new to freedom, too new to God’s laws and too unsure of themselves to know what they are doing, and it will take most of the next forty years of wandering in the wilderness for them to gain a sense of who they are in relation to God. In fact, we are still engaged in that holy task to this very day.