Easy Come, Easy Go

Depending of course on the circumstances, it bothers us when things are out of order.  The Torah’s list of items and materials that would be needed to be donated by the people in order to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) seems to be something that should be in order but is not.  220px-Russian_DollsIt begins by listing the precious metals such as gold and silver and only then continues onto the wool, leather, and other items (Shemot 25:3-7).  This implies that the list is in descending order of monetary value.  The problem is that the precious stones that were needed for the priestly vestments, which are more valuable than even the precious metals, don’t appear until the very end of the list!  Are these materials actually listed in no particular order, or is the Torah perhaps employing an ordering criterion other than monetary value?
A beautiful solution to this question is that the list is ordered by the degree that each item demonstrates the generosity of its giver.  Unlike the precious metals, the various types of wool, and most of the other raw materials for the Mishkan, the precious stones were not donated by the people themselves (ibid. 35:22-26).  Gathering Manna Exodus 16:14-31The people themselves were not in possession of the requisite gems.  They were therefore donated by the tribal leaders, the Nesiyim, instead (ibid. 35:27).  But where did they get the stones?  The Talmud says that the Nesiyim miraculously acquired them via the same vehicle as the Manna – they fell together with one of their daily portions (Yoma 75b, based on Shemot 16:22).  Chaim ibn Attar (1696 – 1743), the Moroccan Kabbalist and author of the classic Ohr Hachaim commentary on the Torah, writes that according to this Talmudic passage it is clear why the stones don’t appear until the very end of the list of materials needed for the Mishkan.  When the people contributed to the Mishkan, they gave their own hard-earned property [Rabbi Avraham Pam (1913 – 2001) pointed out that their donations came from their own personal wealth (that they or an ancestor had earned) or from the gifts that they had received from the Egyptians when they left Egypt.  These were actually in lieu of payments that they deserved to get for their two-centuries long slave labor (R. Sholom Smith, The Pleasant Way)].  gemsThe same is true of the other materials that the Nesiyim themselves donated, namely, the oil and the incense (Shemot 35:28).  When they gave the stones, however, they donated something that they acquired without any work or effort whatsoever.  Therefore although the monetary value of the gems was very significant, the generosity that their donation indicated in the hearts of their givers was relatively insignificant.  The list of materials is not, it turns out, out of order.

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