As an older brother it was my prerogative to pass things down, sometimes to sell them, to my little sister. When I wanted a new games console it was first necessary to pass the old one on to my younger sister – it would be extravagant to expect to own more than one console. I was only ready to give it to her when I had finished with it, or when there was a new one which I wanted more. Once it was of little or no value to me, then I was ready to pass it on.
As I write this I feel the need to apologise to my sister: sorry Libby.
This week the Israelites are all asked to give something. Following on from God’s instructions to Moses a few weeks ago in Parashat Terumah, it is now the time for Moses to pass this request on, and tell the people directly. Moses says: ‘This is the thing which God has asked, saying: Take from among you gifts to Adonai, everyone whose heart moves them shall bring’ (Exodus 35:4-5). The Israelites are not simply told to bring, Moses continues with a very specific list including: ‘gold, silver and copper, blue, purple and crimson yarns’ (Exodus 35:5-6). With these wonderful materials the Tabernacle is to be build, and it is clear that it will be an awe-inspiring structure.
We could ask where the Israelites managed to find all of these wonderful materials in the middle of the wilderness, but that’s a subject for another time.
I want to know why God required such an elaborate building project? Why does God’s house need to be jewel-encrusted? Were there not better uses for all of the riches God requests?
I’m a big fan of the Indiana Jones films, and to mix religious imagery for a moment, I especially love the scene towards the end of The Last Crusade, when the cup of the Holy Grail has to be chosen. The jewel encrusted, elaborate, gold cup is unsurprisingly not the holy chalice, rather (and I’m sorry to spoil the ending) it is a simple cup which is the Grail.
Why not a simple tent for God’s Tabernacle?
One could make an argument that God’s dwelling place on earth should be of five-star quality, a home befitting our Deity.
But I think that this is more about the people than God. For this to be a worthwhile community project they need to give something of value. It needs to be something of real value, something worth giving (it can’t be an old, used games console). The request for precious metals and expensive materials is about demonstrating the significance of this project, and the significance of the people’s involvement. They are asked to give something of value, to make their donations meaningful. It is therefore all the more impressive when they bring too much and are told to stop (Exodus 36:6).
The Tabernacle is a project for the people, through their donations of precious materials they become truly invested in building God’s dwelling place on earth.
When we make donations, what and how do we give? What is most precious to us in today’s society, and are we willing to donate it for a project we believe in? Each one of us needs to decide what is precious to us, and see if we are willing to give of that for projects we believe in. Our most precious commodity may be our money – do we donate it? It may be a skill which we possess – will we allow it to be utilised? Or it may be our time – will we volunteer and contribute it? If we can give something which matters, something which is precious, then perhaps we too can cause God’s presence to dwell amongst us.