“Speak to the Jewish people and they should take to Me trumah; from each man whose heart so motivates him, you should take My terumah.” – Shemos 25:2
The entire Jewish nation – every man, woman, and child – experienced the revelation of Hashem on Har Sinai. They saw Hashem as clearly as humans can, and they attained a level of prophecy. Now they were being offered one of the greatest gifts imaginable: Hashem Himself was going to dwell among them. They were going to experience Hashem’s presence regularly, and have the opportunity to participate in the building of the greatest edifice ever created – Hashem’s dwelling place in this world. The gold, silver and copper, the wood, hides and oil will all come from the people themselves: “from each man whose heart so motivates him.”
It should come as no surprise that the people offered their donations to the Mishkan with zeal and enthusiasm. After a short while Moshe had to turn away more donations; there was more collected than could be used.
Interestingly, the Ba’al Ha’Turim explains that when Hashem told Moshe to ask for contributions, He told him to ask in a gentle tone. Since it means people will have to part with their money, please speak softly.
This Ba’al Ha’Turim is very difficult to understand. Why would Moshe have to make this appeal in a gentle manner? This wasn’t a tax the people were being forced to pay. It wasn’t some despot demanding an exorbitant bribe. This was a moment in history – the people of Israel were being given this great opportunity to be a part of building the house of Hashem, and they understood it for what it was. Why would Moshe have to speak softly? Surely they would give willingly.
The question is even more pointed because the Jewish people were fabulously wealthy. Hashem promised Avraham Avinu that when his children would leave bondage, it would be with great riches. Right before the Jews left, they went to their Egyptian masters and “borrowed” gold, silver, and all types of valuables. They despoiled Mitzrayim, walking out with wealth that had been gathered for hundreds of years.
They were being offered the chance to convert some of that wealth into one of the greatest honors given to man – to become a builder of the Mishkan. If every contribution was given willingly, and the entire generation had enough to give, and it was a great honor to give, why would Hashem be concerned that Moshe gently coax them into giving?
The answer can be best understood when we focus on man’s relationship to his Creator.
Hashem’s Relationship to Man
The Chovos HaLevovos explains that if you to take the most generous, loving person that you have ever met and then multiply that mercy by ten thousand ten thousands, you won’t begin to reach the love Hashem has for each of His creations. The one concept that must be firmly embedded in the mind of every Jew is that Hashem is more concerned for his good than he is, and Hashem loves him even more than he loves himself.
This love manifests in many ways. Chazal tell us that Hashem has mercy on the money of Yisrael, as if to say Hashem feels badly that the Jewish people have to spend money, even on mitzvahs. Granted it is for their good, and granted it is the greatest investment they could ever make, but, it means parting with things valuable to them, and if it could be, Hashem feels badly. Hashem is the Giver, always wishing to share of His good, to give more, not to take. This seems to be the answer to the question on the Ba’al Ha’Turim: There is no doubt the chance to contribute something toward the Mishkan is a great honor. Anyone whose donation would be accepted would bear a mark of nobility he would cherish for years. But it involved his giving. He had to part with some of his wealth, and Hashem, if it could be, felt badly.