In this week’s Parashah, Hashem commands Moshe to begin making the Mishkan, a tabernacle, for God. In order to achieve this goal, Moshe must collect raw goods from the people to create this beautifully decorated house for God. There seems to be, however, little consensus from the people. Their options at the time seem to be either to pay the “tax,” or to suffer from some other unmentioned punishment. Why must coercion be the route in which the goods for the Mishkan would be collected? Wouldn’t this further anger a people who have already demonstrated a lack of discipline and trust in God in the cases of Marah and the Mann?
To understand the tax, we must first analyze a number of concepts within social and political theory. Every man and woman, according to one theory, has something called “Natural Rights.” These rights allow for anything to be done to him or his peers, except for an infringement upon his or others’ rights. According to this theory, a person can believe, think, and say whatever he or she so wishes. This idea brings us back to the exodus from Egypt. At that time, the hand of God liberated us from an oppressive ruler, which made us free men. Only after the miracles that we witnessed did we voluntarily accept the yoke of God upon ourselves. While this might sound somewhat shocking, if not heretical, it falls quite in place with our theology’s concept of free will. If a person were to commit a sin, God would not come down and strike him or her, neither before nor after the deed, as it is his or her right to act freely, even if such freedom is the gateway to sin.
After the negative reactions from the people at Marah, it was understood that such a harsh test of placing the people in a difficult situation was not viable. When they were tested in a difficult situation like at Marah, they failed. Rather, Bnei Yisrael needed to be tested, but not in a forceful manner. Thus, by placing a tax on them, God presented them with a more subtle test of their devotion, as if they would give their goods, their commitment was solid. Such a test could accurately gauge Benei Yisrael's dedication to God.
We too must understand that we are sometimes tested in life, and we must strive to pass these challenges.