At the beginning of my relationship with my husband, I was not always gracious in receiving his gifts because I felt they did not reflect who I am and pointed to his not truly knowing me. In hindsight, I see an earnest young man, a little overwhelmed by the task of trying to please his love. Along the way, I hope I have learned to be a more gracious receiver of gifts from all.
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat T’rumah, offers an idyllic picture of communal cooperation as the Israelites build the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle, completely from donated materials and labor. The accomplishment of building a dwelling place for God without additional taxes or seizure of property would be laudable for any community. Yet, for newly freed slaves journeying through the desert and not knowing what emergency may arise next, collecting free-will donations sufficient to build an elaborate Tabernacle is nearly miraculous.
In the end, the Israelites give with such overwhelming generosity that Moses must halt the collection (Exodus 36:6). In fact, the Israelites’ largesse is so dazzling that it is easy to be caught up in their giving and overlook the receiving. Yet, a close examination of our text will focus our attention on the act of accepting gifts.
In Exodus 25:2-3 we read:
“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved. And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper.”
In Rabbinic commentary, redundancy in language becomes rich fodder for drawing out meaningful teachings, as exemplified by Exodus 25: 2-3. The phrase, "you shall accept," appears in both verses. In addition, verse two appears to contain a superfluous phrase, as it contains both instructions for the Israelites to give God gifts and that the gifts be accepted. It would be sufficient only to tell the people to give. Why does the text include the command to accept the donations? The commentator Sforno (14th c., Italy) offers insight into the problematic language, assigning to them different purposes.
Addressing the acceptance of gifts in Exodus 25:2, Sforno explains that this phrase clarifies who will receive them. Because the other leaders of the Israelite community will not have time to organize the collection process, Moses will have to accept them. Sforno supports his interpretation by pointing to later verses when the builders report that Israelites have given with such zeal (Exodus 36:4-5), causing Moses to end the donations: “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that Eternal has commanded to be done” (Exodus 36:6).
Focusing on Exodus 25:3 and its following verses, Sforno comments on the impressive list of precious materials needed for the Mishkan. He explains that the second use of the phrase “you shall accept” concerns the need to vet the donations:
In the phrase “These are the gifts,” the word “These” means that no substitutes for the materials listed would be acceptable, such as perishables, for instance. Even the kind of gemstones not usable for Aaron’s breastplate (pearls, for instance) were not accepted. The only type of contributions that were accepted were those that in themselves would be usable in the construction of the Tabernacle and its paraphernalia (Sforno on Exodus 25:3).
The need to reject certain donations resonates for anyone who has overseen a charitable project. It does not matter how exacting the donation guidelines are, unneeded items frequently infiltrate the collection bins. Sforno suggests that Exodus 25:3 points to inspecting the donations to ensure only items specified by God are accepted for the Mishkan.
I would like to suggest an additional way to read Exodus 25:2. Rather than referring to the recipient of the donations, the phrase “you shall accept” reminds Moses and his assistants that the donations are to be accepted with the same demeanor as they were given by the Israelites: from the heart. The Israelites were challenged to give freely. Surely some gave very modestly, reflecting their means; perhaps others gave items that were not needed. The leaders needed to accept small and large gifts with equal enthusiasm. They needed to learn to gently redirect the unneeded items, appreciating the intent of the giver and clarifying the goal of the building. In short, this verse teaches that receiving is an intentional skill.
The gifts we receive in our personal lives are myriad, ranging from the material to words of praise. Some gifts are needed, and some are not. Some gifts excite us, and others do not. Some of the material gifts will remain in our lives for a long time; others will not. What matters is how we react in the moment we are given the gift. Whatever vetting or conversations happen next can be built on grace. When a gift is given in a whole-hearted manner with good intentions, it deserves open-hearted acceptance.