Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudeh: The Foundation
The Torah in the beginning of Parashat Pekudeh presents an accounting of the precious metals that Beneh Yisrael donated for the Mishkan, which included silver which was provided through the Mahasit Ha’shekel – the obligatory half-shekel tax. This tax was collected each year and used for the purchase of the public sacrifices. But at the time Beneh Yisrael constructed the Mishkan, there was a special Mahasit Ha’shekel tax that was collected. The silver that was received from this Mahasit Ha’shekel tax was used to produce the "Adanim," the sockets that formed the foundation of the Mishkan, as the wooden planks were implanted in these sockets.
The question arises, why were specifically the sockets produced through a mandatory tax, while the materials for the rest of the Mishkan were collected through voluntary donations? If we would have been asked to suggest one part of the Mishkan that needed the participation of the entire nation, we would have likely pointed to the Aron (ark), the most sacred article in the Mishkan. We would have certainly understood if G-d had demanded that each and every Jew donate towards the construction of the Aron. Surprisingly, though, even the Aron was made through voluntary donations, and it was only the sockets that required the mandatory participation of each and every member of Beneh Yisrael. Why?
The answer relates to the symbolic significance of the sockets, which formed the foundation of the Mishkan. Every part of the Mishkan represented a different aspect of Judaism. The sockets, naturally, represented the foundation of Judaism – which is Emuna, faith. The prophet Habakuk (2:4) proclaimed, "Ve’sadik Be’emunato Yihyeh" – "A righteous man lives by faith." Our Sages explained that Habakuk here presents the foundation of Judaism. All the many different laws and ideals of the Jewish faith rest upon the fundamental principle of Emuna, that G-d created and continues to govern the world.
There are many different levels of religious observance, necessarily so. We are each expected to serve G-d to the best of our ability, and continually strive to improve, but the reality will always remain that some will achieve more than others. And thus the Mishkan, which symbolizes religious life, was constructed through voluntary donations, each person offering what they could. The one exception is the "Adanim" – the sockets, the foundation. When it comes to the foundation upon which Judaism is built, Emuna, we must all participate, without any exceptions. Nobody can say, "I’m not ready yet for Emuna." The belief in G-d and G-d’s providence is something expected of us all, from the most learned scholars down to the simplest layman.
This explains why the silver for the sockets was collected specifically through the collection of a half-shekel. The half-shekel symbolizes the fact that we only know half the story. Emuna requires us to acknowledge that as human beings, our vision and understanding are very limited. We see and understand very little of how G-d runs the world. The half-shekel donation thus reminds us that there is always more we do not understand – and this realization is vital for faith.
Tradition teaches that at the time when the Asara Harugeh Malchut – the ten great Sages who were killed by the Romans – were martyred, the angels in heaven protested. G-d replied by threatening to undo creation and return the world to its primordial state of chaos if the angels persisted in their protests. This has been explained by way of an analogy to a tailor who was accused of stealing the precious material that he was given for the purpose of making special garments for the king. In order to prove his innocence, the tailor needed to unravel the royal garment to show that all the material was accounted for. Similarly, G-d was telling the angels that the only way He can prove His "innocence," that all His ways are just, would be to "unravel" the world, to take it apart and show how everything that happens falls precisely in place. The way the world runs, we see only a small part of what is really happening. If we want to see everything, G-d would have "take apart" all of creation to show us that everything is exactly the way it should be.
This is the foundation of our Mishkan, of Torah life, one in which we must all participate. We see only a "half-shekel," only a part of the story. Once we lay this foundation of faith within our hearts and minds, we can then proceed to build our "Mishkan," a rewarding and fulfilling life of Torah devotion.