Our Torah portion initiates the campaign for the construction of a sanctuary, a place in
which to sense God’s abiding Presence, the Mishkan (Tabernacle). God’s first instruction is that
contributions be taken “from each person who heart prompts him to give.” (Ex. 25:2)
This means that God hopes for voluntary contributions to be given for the sake of
creating a sacred space for God. As Rashi points out, once the Tabernacle was
built, there would be obligatory contributions for its upkeep and for the sacred service.
But this first campaign – to actually build the sanctuary – had to be held on a voluntary
basis, out of the generous motivation of each person, a motivation coming from the heart.
This moment is significant. Up until now, when the Book of Exodus has referred to the
human heart, it has overwhelmingly spoken of a hard heart (Pharaoh’s – mentioned too
many times to cite). Pharaoh’s heart was cruel and withholding. In its stubborn arrogance,
it was the source of endless suffering. Now, says the Torah, it is time to see what the
human heart can accomplish if it allows itself to become soft, open and giving.
It is interesting that God can claim (regarding Pharaoh) to be able to “harden” the
human heart, but here God does not comparably take control of people in order to “soften” our hearts. Rather, God depends on our own decision to open our hearts and be generous. Only we can decide to be open-hearted. The result, the Torah assures us, is that we will work together to build a dwelling place for God in our midst. May we continue to choose to open our hearts and welcome God within.