The story of the Mishkan's construction in Parshat Vayakhel parallels Parshat Ki Tisa’s Eigel story in many ways. Reminiscent of the nation’s collective enthusiasm in joining together create the Eigel, the Pesukim describe at length in our Parsha how the entire nation joined in the Mishkan effort. Their eager donation of their golden earrings for the Eigel (“Vayitpareku Kol Haam Et Nizmei Hazahav Asher Be’ozneihem…” [32:3]) parallels their similarly eager donations of gold for the construction of the Mishkan. Indeed, the Torah devotes an entire Pasuk exclusively to the various items of gold that they contributed (35:22), including many body ornaments. This level of detail, not given for most of the other materials, emphasizes this parallel even further. The language of the Pesukim describing the two events is also similar: “Vayikahel Haam” (32:1), the nation’s gathering around Aharon to request a replacement for Moshe, matches “Vayakhel Moshe” (35:1), Moshe’s gathering the people to command them regarding the Mishkan. These parallels and others, highlighting the main theme of the rest of Sefer Shemot, demonstrate the Mishkan’s capacity to repair the ruptured post-Eigel relationship between Hashem and His nation.
Yet one subtle aspect of the Mishkan account is disturbingly different from the Eigel story’s equivalent. The Pesukim specifically state that “the entire nation removed the gold rings that were in their ears” (32:3) for the Eigel, while only “Kol Nediv Lev,” “everyone who was motivated of heart” (35:1), brought gold for the building of the Mishkan. In fact, the Pesukim are particular to specify time after time that it was the “motivated of heart” who brought the supplies for the Mishkan. It would therefore seem that our Parsha refers to a smaller subset of the people donating than the Pasuk from Ki Tisa. Obviously, this inference is quite troubling. How can it be that more of the nation contributed towards the Eigel than towards the Mishkan?
One possible solution is the “entire nation” referred to in Parshat Ki Tisa is not really everyone, but rather just the faction that instigated the Eigel proceedings. This answer is not entirely compelling, however, given that the word “Am,” “nation,” is used throughout the Eigel section to refer to the entire nation (e.g., 32:9-14 and 33:4).
Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin, founder of the Daf Yomi movement, quotes a Yerushalmi (Shekalim 1:1) that deals with this issue. The Yerushalmi first exclaims how fearsome these Pesukim that describe the two sets of donations are. It then appears to bring some sort of explanation from Rav Abba bar Acha, saying that it is impossible to determine the true nature of the nation – when asked to give for the Eigel, they give, and when asked to give for the Mishkan they also give. But how, asks Rav Shapiro, does this solve anything about the issue? If anything, it just compounds the problem!
Rav Shapiro explains that the real issue was one of disillusionment. Earlier, he claims, the people had actually been asked to donate for the Eigel. The people were led to believe that the purposes of the collection were actually righteous, and they were therefore quite willing to offer their property for the cause. (This is especially plausible in light of the efforts of many commentators, such as Rabi Yehuda HaLevi in his Sefer HaKuzari, to explain how the sin of the Eigel started with the noble intent of connecting more closely with God. If this is the case, the people not directly involved with the sin, who seem to have constituted the majority of the nation, could easily have been misled into donating their resources to what they believed to be a holy cause.) Hence, “when asked to give for the Eigel, they give.” The outcome of this attempt was obviously disastrous. Now, when they were once again being asked to contribute to a cause that would glorify God and bring everyone closer to Him, some of the people understandably felt quite cynical. They had just had that trick played on them recently, so despite the national spirit of enthusiasm permeating the Mishkan donations, only those who were “motivated of heart” were able to overcome their reservations and fully trust the Mishkan collection.
Rav Shapiro’s insight makes an important statement about skepticism. On the one hand, it is of course imperative to learn from past experiences, and sometimes this includes a healthy dose of reluctance to repeat an activity that has a history of detrimental effects. But it is equally important to let go of biases against perfectly reasonable activities that have merely been associated with past problems. One who is able to balance healthy skepticism with overcoming unreasonable negative associations will know when he is truly “motivated of heart” and be able to learn only positive lessons from the past.