Parshat Terumah begins with a list of the various materials that Bnai Yisrael should donate for the construction of the Mishkan. Immediately thereafter, the Torah provides a detailed list of the items that should be constructed and how they should be constructed. Included within this description is the list of materials needed for the construction of each item. One must wonder, then, why the Torah bothers to list of all of the materials in the introductory paragraph when they are all repeated later.
It appears that the original list of materials is supposed to teach us something about the significance of Bnai Yisrael’s involvement in the Mishkan’s construction. The very fact that in 25:2 the Torah says that donations will be accepted, מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו, “from every man whose heart moves him,” focusing on the altruistic attitude of the donors, seems to push us in that direction. What, then, is the primary lesson of this section of the Torah?
The Ramban, in his introduction to Parshat Terumah, may shed light on this issue when he comments that the goal of the Mishkan was to allow the power and revelation of the Har Sinai experience to continue to impact Bnai Yisrael. They could not take Har Sinai with them, but the Divine Presence apparent in the Mishkan would be a constant reminder to the people that Hashem was in their midst. The orderly encampment of the Shevatim around the Mishkan was supposed to mirror the encampment of Bnai Yisrael around Har Sinai during Matan Torah.
The problem with this plan was that, given the spectacular and earth-shattering nature of the Har Sinai experience, Matan Torah would be a very hard thing to replicate or even represent on any level. Any attempt would fall far short of the original experience. The Mishkan, however, had the potential to work if the focus of גילוי שכינה (Divine Revelation) shifted. At Har Sinai, Bnai Yisrael were, for the most part, passive. What happened at Matan Torah was so powerful that Bnai Yisrael could only sit back and be astounded. Afterwards, however, a different approach to revelation was expected. The overwhelming passivity-inducing events of Matan Torah would never again appear. Now Bnai Yisrael had to actively pursue a relationship with Hashem. In that sense, the Mishkan could indeed accomplish its goal of גילוי שכינה. It would not and could not do so in the same way that Matan Torah did. Now Bnai Yisrael needed to develop the ability to look for Hashem and assume their role as partners with Hashem in this endeavor.
Perhaps this is why Parshat Terumah starts with this list of materials that Bnai Yisrael donated. From the very beginning of the Mishkan campaign, Bnai Yisrael had to realize the task with which they were charged. Through their donation and manipulation of physical objects, they could help bring Hashem’s presence into their camp and, by extension, into the whole world. Being passive was no longer enough. Now Bnai Yisrael had to be proactive.
This idea is truly timeless. In every generation, we cannot simply wait for Hashem to reveal Himself in our lives. We have to work on the relationship, both individually and communally.