Rabbi Batsheva Appel
The making of the Mishkan, the Wilderness Tabernacle, is a matter of the heart, and there seem to be two different ways of looking at the heart.
The first is the heart prompting the Israelites to bring all of the materials that are needed for building, all of the wood, all of the different metals, the yarns and fabrics, the oil, the spices, etc. that will make up the Mishkan. We read:
“...Moses said to all the community of Israelites, saying: ... ‘Take from among you gifts to the Eternal; whose heart urges him, let them bring it...’” Exodus 35:4–5
“Every man and woman whose heart urged them to bring for all the task that the Eternal had charged to do by the hand of Moses, the Israelites brought a freewill gift to the Eternal.” Exodus 35:29
Rabbi Andrea Weiss, in The Torah: a Women’s Commentary, notes that the heart is treated “as the source of human motivation,” where the heart is urging someone to act. The Israelites end up bringing so much that the artisans are overwhelmed and Moses has to ask people to stop bringing things.
Then we have the artisans who are described as “wise of heart”, they have gifts of skill, particularly the skills of spinning, weaving, metal-work, carpentry, etc. done at a high enough level to be put to use in the building. We read:
“And every wise-hearted man among you shall come and do all that the Eternal has charged...” Exodus 35:10
“And every woman wise-hearted with her hands spun and brought the threadwork of indigo and purple and crimson and linen. And all the women whose hearts moved them with wisdom spun the goats' hair.” Exodus 35:25-26
Weiss comments on this second way of thinking about the heart. She states that the heart is “the source of technical expertise and of wisdom more generally.” To build the Mishkan, both types of heart are needed: a heart that urges the giving of the materials as well as a heart that has the skill to do the work.
What is important for us to note is that both types of heart are required to build the Mishkan. Maybe the lesson of the heart is found in the commentary of Abarbanel, a medieval Portuguese commentator, who suggests that there isn’t much difference between material gifts and gifts of skill, because the work of skilled artisans can be considered a contribution just as much as a contribution of materials. Clearly, without material gifts or without the skill to take those gifts and turn them into something, there is no Tabernacle.
We still need both types of gifts of the heart in our communities today, the gifts that support the community and the gifts that turn that support into the nourishment needed by the community. If we think about it that way, and go back to the famous verse from Deuteronomy, “you shall love your God with all of your heart...” we can see that using all of our hearts requires a great deal from us, and the blessing of community is worth it.