Parashat Terumah begins with an appeal for funds for the Mishkan, as the Pasuk states, “VeYikchu Li Terumah,” “And they shall take for me a donation” (Shemot 25:2). Virtually all Parshanim are troubled by the selection of the word “VeYikchu,” “And they shall take,” as the more appropriate phrase would be “VeYitenu Li Terumah,” “And they shall give a donation for me.” In fact, the Torah itself provides an answer to the question. The Pasuk concludes by stating, “Mei’eit Kol Ish Asher Yidevenu Libo Tikchu Et Terumati,” “take a donation only from those inclined to give.” There is no coercion to give for the construction of the Mishkan.
The question arises: Why is this Tzedakah different from all others? Every Jew, for example, was required to participate in the contribution of the Machatzit HaShekel, the half-Shekel. In general, we understand that Tzedakah is not really an act of Chesed but rather an obligation for all Jews. One is required not only to respond to the needs of individuals faced with economic problems but also to participate in the building of community institutions such as Mikva’ot, Batei Midrash, Batei Kenesset, and Yeshivot. The Halachah states emphatically, “Kofin Benei HaIr,” “Coerce the people of the city” – the Beit Din has the right to compel members of the community to participate in such projects. Why, then, would contributing toward constructing the Mishkan be totally voluntary?
After concluding the building of the Beit HaMikdash, Shlomo HaMelech states, “Hinei HaShamayim UShemei HaShamiyim Lo Yechalkeluchah Af Ki HaBayit Asher Baniti,” “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have built!” (Melachim I 8:27). If the heavens themselves can't contain Hashem, certainly this Beit HaMikdash cannot truly contain Him.
The Mishkan and Mikdash are not really for Hashem's sake; they were constructed for us. Outside the Beit HaMikdash, one can experience only a reflection of His spirit. Through comprehending the beauty of nature, one should be moved to sing the praises of Hashem. But one does not see Hashem Himself. During fleeting moments of history, such as Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, Keri’at Yam Suf, and Matan Torah, we have indeed experienced that which we call Gilui Shechinah, Divine Revelation. However, in the Mikdash – and specifically in the Ohel Mo’eid, literally, the meeting place – one always enjoys the opportunity to meet Hashem's Shechinah.
Hashem created the world to reside in it and not to be afar in a transcendental world. Unfortunately, man's sins often keep Hashem at a distance. The Mikdash represents a unique opportunity to restore a relationship, and for this reason there is no coercion. If man does not cherish the opportunity to have Hashem reside within his midst, we don't force him to do so. As such, the appeal is directed only to “Kol Ish Asher Yidevenu Libo,” and only from such people, “Tikchu Et Terumati.”