As this week’s parsha opens, God tells Moshe to inform Bnei Yisrael “they should take for Me a donation, each person should give from his heart; from this they will give the donation [for the mishkan].” God then outlines the materials that will be required to build this structure, including gold, silver, precious stones, hides, etc. At the end of this request for donations, immediately before the description of each of the mishkan’s specific vessels is listed, God states “and when they make for Me a mishkan, I will reside amongst them.’
The haftarah is the section that details Shlomo’s building of the beit hamikdash in Yerushalayim at the beginning of his reign. The connection of this section to our parsha, on the surface, is quite clear: Moshe and the Jewish people collecting the materials with which to build the ‘traveling’ mishkan in the desert and Shlomo’s preparations for the building the beit hamikdash (the ‘permanent’ mishkan) in his capital city, Yerushalayim. However, often, the reason behind the choice of sections read for the haftarah reaches far deeper than just a surface similarity; an important message is frequently learned from this purposeful juxtaposition and this week’s haftarah is no exception.
The description of Shlomo’s plan for building the beit hamikdash begins with the King’s compulsory draft of thirty thousand workers for the task. As the plan is put into motion, God appears to Shlomo (much like He did during the building of the mishkan in the desert) and tells him, “if you follow in the ways of My laws, and perform My decrees and observe all My commandments…then I will reside amongst the nation of Israel.” At first glance, the message from God to both of the project leaders is the same: when the building is built, ‘I will reside amongst [the people].’ However, it is because of this similarity that the subtle difference between the two messages becomes glaringly obvious. With the building of the mishkan in the desert, God states that when they make it, He will reside amongst them; however, with Shlomo, it is a conditional agreement, based upon future behavior: when it is built and if you follow in My ways, then I will reside amongst them. It is the rationale behind this difference that will communicate the message through the intended juxtaposition of these two texts.
The key to understanding the reasoning behind God’s differing messages is to look at the actions leading up to the Divine proclamations. The method in which the material for the mishkan was collected was through ‘donation’ and ‘giving from the heart’ (which, in the end, was too much and the nation had to be asked to stop bringing!) and the workers all volunteered their services. God makes it very clear that the gold, silver, etc. must be ‘donated’ and not taken. On the other hand the description of Shlomo’s ‘collection’ methods details how thousands of people were ‘drafted’ to this service; Shlomo levied a ‘people tax’ from the nation in order to find the requisite workers for the building.
With the mishkan, the genuine desire to participate in the building of the symbol that will represent God’s presence in their midst is already demonstrated through their yearning to donate, to willingly give of their own property and time. However, the building of the beit hamikdash was founded on forced labor and therefore a sincere willingness of the people for this Divine symbol had yet to be truly expressed. God’s message regarding the mishkan, therefore, stated that once it is built from their donations, which innately exhibited their desire for His presence in their lives, He would immediately reside amongst them; however, with the beit hamikdash, first the requisite behavior reflecting this desire had to be demonstrated and then He would reside amongst the nation.
Too often we become focused on the physical actions of a particular mitzvah or religious behavior and lose sight of the more important spiritual awareness that these actions are there to assist in expressing. Just as God wanted the mishkan built only as a representation of their desire for His presence, so too, in our daily performance of His commandments, we must remember to focus our awareness onto what the action means to our relationship with God as opposed to concentrating too heavily on the execution of the act itself.