“Let Them Take Me an Offering for Me” – Creating a Connection to G-d
This week’s parsha, which deals with the offerings for the Sanctuary, comes after Parshiot Yitro and Mishpatim, primarily devoted to the revelation at Sinai, the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, and the transmission of a few other mitzvot in addition to those already given at Sinai. Let us try and understand the connection between these subjects, as well as the nature and essence of this connection.
We should also stop and think about the choice of words used in this week’s parsha: “Let them take an offering for Me” (Shemot 25:2). That is, what does “for Me” mean? Rashi cites the Midrash in explaining it to mean: “for My Name.” Nevertheless, what connection is there between G-d’s Name and this offering? Another question that we previously asked arises once again: Why did Hashem ask the Jewish people to donate items for the construction of the Sanctuary, since silver and gold belong to Him, and He possesses the power and strength to do all that He desires?
Furthermore, we should be surprised by the repetition found in the verse: “Let them take an offering for Me – from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My offering.” The first part of this verse (“Let them take an offering for Me”) seems unnecessary, for it would have been sufficient to say, “from every man…you shall take My offering.”
As for the connection between the previous parshiot (Yitro and Mishpatim) and this week’s parsha, Tanna D’vei Eliyahu explains (Eliyahu Rabba) that after the Children of Israel accepted G-d’s kingship with joy and declared, “All that Hashem has said, we will do and we will hear,” G-d immediately commanded: “Let them take an offering for Me.” We may still ask ourselves what the connection is between accepting the yoke of Heaven, as expressed by the declaration “we will do and we will hear,” and the offering requested for the Sanctuary.
As we know, the goal behind the construction of the Sanctuary was to prepare an earthly abode for the Shechinah, to create a connection and link between the Holy One, blessed be He, and Israel, a permanent and concrete bond through the service performed in the Sanctuary, as the Ramban writes in commenting on the start of this week’s parsha. This is the meaning of what Hashem then says: “I will dwell among them” – this being the goal and calling of the Sanctuary.
Unity with Hashem by means of the Sanctuary only became possible when the Children of Israel humbled and annulled themselves before Him. When they annulled their thoughts and their will – when they subjugated their will before the will of the Creator by declaring, “All that Hashem has said, we will do and we will hear” – they became worthy of being united with Him by His Presence among them in a discernible and permanent way. In fact no real connection is possible between two distinct entities if each of them demands a separate identity. The very existence of two separate identities contradicts the notion of unity, and there can be no true union unless one of the two parties yields in order to fuse into the other.
During the revelation at Sinai, the Jewish people did not just receive the Torah, nor did they just agree to fulfill all 613 mitzvot. They in fact annulled themselves and surrendered their will to G-d’s will by declaring, “We will do and we will hear.” They left no place for their own views or assessments, for they were completely convinced that there is no other intelligence or will besides G-d’s. Hence they first declared, “We will do” and only then did they say “we will hear.” By accepting the Torah from this perspective, the Jewish people reached a level of complete unity with G-d, as it is said: G-d, Torah, and Israel are one.
Having reached such a level, the Children of Israel became worthy of being surrounded by the Shechinah, the natural result of their complete unity with Hashem. He came to dwell among them in a permanent and discernible way, if we may express ourselves as such. Concerning the verse, “It was on the day that Moshe kallot [finished] erecting the Sanctuary” (Bamidbar 7:1), Rashi explains: “On the day that the Sanctuary was erected, the Israelites were like a kallah [bride] coming beneath the chuppah.” Just as a groom and his bride, man and woman, are two halves that become a single body (as it is said, “His wife is like his own body” [Berachot 24a]), likewise during the inauguration of the Sanctuary and dwelling of the Shechinah among the Children of Israel, the latter were connected and united to Hashem in order to form a single entity with Him. As we have already explained, it was for this reason that the Torah inserted the command, “You shall not ascend My altar on steps” (Shemot 20:23) between the account of the revelation at Sinai and other Torah laws (Mishpatim). In fact steps symbolize pride and arrogance, characteristics that are antithetical to humility and self-denial. Pride destroys the connection that the Torah elsewhere allows to be created between G-d and Israel. Hence the verse warns us against falling from the level that we attained when we declared, “We will do and we will hear” due to excessive pride. It enjoins us not to use steps to ascend the altar, which symbolizes humility.
By accepting the Torah with humility and complete self-denial, the Children of Israel attained such a high level that “G-d, Torah, and Israel are one.” Hence they were “included” within their Creator so as to form a single entity with Him. Before asking them to build the Sanctuary, Hashem said: “Let them take an offering for Me.” In other words: “The very foundation of the Sanctuary and what is needed for the dwelling of the Shechinah is that you take yourselves as an offering for Hashem. This means that you must maintain the level that was yours when you declared, ‘We will do and we will hear,’ doing so by consecrating yourselves to Me and by annulling yourselves before Me.” Only then does the rest of the verse have meaning: “From every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My offering.” That is, you will then be worthy of the Shechinah dwelling among you, and you will cleave to the Holy One, blessed be He, and become one with Him. This “taking” signifies an acquisition: It consists of belonging completely to Hashem and becoming His property, just as the offering that is consecrated to Him.
Our self-effacement is demonstrated when we accept the Torah by ignoring our own views (“we will do and we will hear”) in order to satisfy G-d’s demand: “Let them take an offering for Me,” meaning when we annul ourselves for the holy Torah. This allows us to explain the following Midrash: “Ve’yikchu [Let them take] an offering for Me. It is written, ‘For I have given you lekach tov [a good teaching]; do not forsake My Torah’ [Mishlei 4:2]” (Shemot Rabba 33:1). We may establish a link between the Torah and the Sanctuary: The union of the Jewish people and its Creator began with the giving of the Torah (when they said, “We will do and we will hear”), and it was completed with the acquisition of the people by G-d (“Let them take an offering for Me”), this being the result of the “good teaching,” namely the Torah which they accepted.
We can now fully understand why our Sages interpreted the verse, “Let them take an offering for Me” to mean “for My Name.” When the Jewish people are connected to and united with their Creator, they are called by His own Name, since they are one with Him. Now as we know, the entire Torah is composed solely of G-d’s Names. However the Torah’s words also allude to the entire Jewish people, since they number 600,000, just like the number of Jews at Sinai. Thus the letters of the Torah form G-d’s Names and Israel. This is what is stated by the verse, “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will fear you” (Devarim 28:10). When the Children of Israel do G-d’s will, when they annul themselves before G-d and cleave to Him, the Name of Hashem rests upon them, and they are called by His Name. That is why “they will fear you,” for when the nations see the Jewish people, they will, so to speak, see Hashem in all His splendor. This is the meaning of “for My Name,” namely that when you devote yourselves entirely to Me, you will be called by My Name and you will be included in Me.
Once the Jewish people reached the level of affirming, “We will do and we will hear,” and once they were completely acquired by Hashem as an offering devoted to Him, He declared: “I will dwell among them.” He would literally dwell among them: “I will descend and unite with you so that we will dwell together, just as bride and groom become a single person.” When we demonstrate an awakening below by taking an offering for Hashem, then Heaven draws closer to us from above (“I will dwell among them”).
The last letters of the expression Ve’yikchu li terumah (“Let them take an offering for Me”) have a numerical value of 21. This is equal to that of the Divine Name Ehyeh, in which Israel is included, and which always refers to the Jewish people’s connection and proximity to G-d: “Ehyeh [I will be] with them” (Ohr HaChaim on Shemot 3:14). The letters of this Name also form the initials of the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the source of the connection between the Jewish people and the Holy One, blessed be He, men who themselves were united and connected to G-d through their complete self-effacement before Him.
When Jews reach the level of, “Let them take an offering for Me,” meaning when they completely annul themselves before G-d, their offering for the Sanctuary will stem from true generosity. In fact because of our unity with Hashem, each of us will have the sense that giving to the Sanctuary is equivalent to giving to himself. It is the most authentic gift possible. Giving to one’s child is done automatically, something that rejoices the heart. How much more is giving to oneself! Thus when a Jew feels connected to G-d by taking an offering for his Creator, in his eyes he is taking it for himself. This is the kind of generosity of which the verse is speaking: That which consists of becoming one with G-d and giving from the depths of the heart, so intense is our attachment to G-d, and so intimate and profound is our connection to the Creator.