In Parshat Pekudei, the Torah writes that with the half-Shekel coins collected in the census of the Jews, Moshe made the hooks for the pillars. The Pasuk says, “VeEt HaElef UShva HaMei’ot VaChamishah VeShiv’im Asah Vavim LaAmudim,” “And with the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five [Shekalim] were made the hooks for the pillars” (38:28). We see that Moshe meticulously recorded each item donated and its usage in the building of the Mishkan. The Midrash states that Moshe needed to do this because Bnei Yisrael had begun to question Moshe’s credibility in the collection and usage of items donated. Bnei Yisrael noticed that Moshe had not specified a purpose for the 1,775 Shekalim that had been collected. Hashem alleviated the accusation against Moshe by telling him that they were to be used as the hooks for the pillars.
Rav Moshe Shapiro Z”L noted the differences between the attitudes of Bnei Yisrael regarding the Eigel HaZahav and the Mishkan. In the episode of the Eigel HaZahav , Bnei Yisrael rushed to give much of their jewelry to Aharon to make a small Eigel without caring about an exact account of the appropriation of the money. However, when it came to the Mishkan, they were very concerned about how the money they gave (only a half-Shekel) was used. Why were they so anxious about where their money was going concerning such a holy undertaking?
To comprehend the answer, we must first mention the Beit HaLeivi’s understanding of the Cheit HaEigel. He explains that Bnei Yisrael wanted Hashem to dwell amongst them, and they needed Moshe to be the intermediary to find out how Hashem wanted this task accomplished. While Moshe was away from Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai, they developed their own plan as to the making of a means for the Shechinah to rest among them – the Eigel HaZahav. Their intentions were good, but Hashem had not instructed Bnei Yisrael to make the Eigel. They did not realize that they could not channel spiritual forces through a physical object without Hashem’s help. The Mishkan was Hashem’s method and plan to create a place for Him to dwell amongst Bnei Yisrael.
The Cheit HaEigel was an example of the need to “do your own thing,” the feeling that one can do anything to satisfy himself without regard to anyone else. Any society which places the emphasis on the community and not the individual will be rejected by a person whose goals revolve solely around himself. Judaism dignifies the individuality of each person, yet does not rationalize complete independence caused by an overly large ego.
Bnei Yisrael were so quick to give to the Cheit HaEigel because they were not restrained in how they gave. Their giving was only to assuage their own egos. When Bnei Yisrael willingly gave to the Mishkan, it showed that they learned to give in accordance with Hashem’s will, and that they were ready to fulfill His requirements. They therefore gave carefully, exactly as Hashem wanted them to give. For that reason, they were very concerned about how much they gave and where their donations went.