Preliminary note: This overview on Vayakhel through the deeper dimension is preceded by that on Terumah and followed by the one on Pekudei, which all link together with a running theme and action plan for how we can welcome G-d into our lives and world.
The entire Bnei Yisroel, men – women and children – enthusiastically contributed to the Mishkan (portable Tabernacle in the Wilderness), even more than required, as the Torah testifies. One obligation was the half-shekel, or “machatzit hashekel,” equal for everyone in the homogenous group to which it exclusively applied, of twenty-year-old-and-up males. However, when it came to the donations, or “nedavos,” everyone gave what their heart inspired them to, uniquely and without restriction. For example, the legions of women were first to mobilize in the workforce of their own accord; they volunteered their time and unmatched creative talent to the Mishkan’s construction, and also donated their mirrors and jewelry.
Why was machatzit hashekel limited, but the nedavah wasn’t?
In cheit ha’eigel, the sin of the (golden) calf, the people gathered against Hashem and did things that reject Him, but in constructing the Mishkan, they assembled (“vayakhel!”) to welcome Hashem into the world and themselves. Cheit ha’eigel bore consequence for everyone as is a general rule regarding the sin of idolatry. Therefore, to rectify this, all Jews individually were compelled to dedicate something to the Mishkan – the antidote.
Machatzit hashekel was also atonement for this particular misdeed, so why was its service regulated in contrast to the nedavah, which expiated the same sin?
The cheit (of avodah-zarah) can be broken down into two fundamental perspectives:
1.) We believe that there are forces independent of Him (which constitutes idolatry – not utter denial of G-d Himself, as one might assume).
The cure: Recognize Achdus Hashem, G-d’s Oneness, and that He is the only true Existence.
2.) We view our lives and activities as irrelevant from G-d.
The cure: We dedicate all aspects of our life to reveal G-d and express His light: this is the purpose of the world, which merely masks its Creator and Essence.
Step one is on par with the six hundred thirteen commandments – the two hundred forty-eight positives which affirm G-d’s existence and Mastery, and the three hundred sixty-five negatives that annul a separate-consciousness from G-d or attribution of independence to anything other than Him alone. The first service of the half-shekel represents the philosophy of “kol maasecha l’sheim shomayim – all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven,” a reference for overtly holy obligations, such as Torah and Mitzvos. The firm uniformity of its fulfillment testifies to how each Jew is equally charged with these duties, since Torah, Mitzvos, and a pure, singularly-Sourced soul with a general mission are shared by us all. The coins from this particular ‘tax’ were melted down into the sockets for the posts in the Mishkan’s structure; they forge the foundation, through which we unite, are empowered, and must build. However, in terms of fully bonding with G-d and revealing His Oneness, there is still more to do. Established ritual is insufficient, since there still may remain some separate-consciousness; you feel that there is some gap to bridge when you engage in Torah and Mitzvos because there are some aspects of your existence in which G-d still seems irrelevant and disconnected.
Step two provides this quandary’s solution. The abundant donations following machatzis hashekel were more versatile, and built upon the foundation provided by the former service. These free-will offerings model further dedication of our diverse abilities and ‘regular’ daily experiences to the Higher purpose of revealing G-d in this world. Everyone is endowed with strengths unique from the rest, and no one’s circumstances are identical, but each individual throughout the spectrum can choose to imbue their voluntary or personal matters with G-dliness. Nothing should be for its own sake or one’s ego, nor just a measure towards achieving holiness or ‘for the sake of heaven.’ Rather, we must come to recognize G-d’s direct involvement in everything, including all the minutiae of our existence. Then, the worldly experience itself becomes holy and an intimate union with Him, since the fusion of heaven and earth, transcendance and immediacy, Infinity and finity, express G-d’s Essence. The path to this paradox is summarized by the principle, “Bechol derachecho de’eihu – Know Him in all your ways,” which is even loftier than “l’sheim shamayim,” since when where we marry the two seemingly opposite realms, there He comes to dwell! A poignant example is a Jewish artist or other creator who utilizes their medium as a way to honor and bespeak G-d. It’s never “art for art’s sake” but always dedicated to something higher than themselves. We each have what to give distinctively as individuals and in our own lot; yet if you think about it, nothing is simply “ours.” Rather, it’s all for Him – for us to serve Him, body and soul, and bring Heaven down to earth where He can again be at peace in the beautiful, inspired abode we’ve created for Him.
Affirm: I have a soul, a portion of G-d above which is endowed with a mission that’s evenly shared by my entire people: simply, to uphold His Torah and fulfill His Mitzvot to be a Lamplighter and ambassador of morality as He commissions us. We have common ground and are even homogenous in this regard. Through Torah and Mitzvot, obvious spirituality and holiness, I have a sure and powerful way of connecting to G-d.
Ask yourself: How am I nurturing and expressing my soul, my inner light and being, today?
Continue to affirm: However, I also am blessed with unique talents and strengths, and endowed with a particular set of circumstances, all tailored for me to express G-d and His light with my own colors and flavors. In this regard, we are all diverse, and each contribute something special to the world which we refine to become familiar with G-d. Through my initially mundane resources and activities, I can choose to unite with G-d at the most intimate level, by drawing down an Infinite Being into the detailed framework of my existence, which I dedicate completely for His honor and as a bonding-experience with Him.
Now ask: What are my talents, resources, strengths and abilities, gifted to me from G-d? How am I utilizing them, and how am I utilizing them for Him, to draw Him into the picture of my colorful life?