In the beginning of Parshat Vayakhel, Moses assembles the entire Jewish people in order to tell them about the Terumah, the contributions which they will be making for the construction of the the Mishkan, Tabernacle. We, the readers of the Torah, are already well familiar which much of the details of the Mishkan after having read three parshiyot on the topic, Terumah, Tetzaveh and part of Ki Tisah. However it is important to note that for the Jews of the desert, this was their first exposure to the concept.
The previous descriptions of the donations and details of the Mishkan were only communicated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Parshat Vayakhel is the first time that the people are hearing of the Mishkan. What is the very first thing that they are told with regards to the Mishkan?
Interestingly, the first message directed to the entire Jewish people about the Mishkan is not about the Mishkan at all, it’s about Shabbat. Make sure to keep Shabbat! The construction of the Mishkan is the first project that the Jewish people have been tasked with during their travels in the desert, and therefore God wants to underscore the idea that they dare not violate Shabbat while embarking on the new construction. When a person doesn’t have a job, the temptation to work on Shabbat is limited, because there is no workplace to go to. But when a person has a demanding job, refraining from work on Shabbat can become much more challenging. Therefore, immediately prior to receiving their first job, the Jewish people are reminded not to work on Shabbat.
After reminding the people about the mitzvah of Shabbat, Moses tells them about the Mishkan. But he doesn’t start out talking about the Ark of the Covenant, or the Menorah or Altar, or even the grand purpose of establishing a dwelling place for God in this world. He starts off with the Terumah, the donations which were to be made by the people. (This of course is precisely what God did as well in Parshat Terumah.) Before telling them what they are building or why they are building it, Moses told the people that they needed to contribute from their own pockets.
Moses’ approach is exactly the opposite of how we do fundraisers in our communities. First we talk about our cause, and the building we envision, and then we ask for the money. But Moses did it the other way around. Why?
Perhaps we could argue that the people were already motivated, and therefore a pep rally of sorts was not necessary. They had such faith in God and Moses at this point that they didn’t need to be told the details before making the donations, like the concept of Naaseh veNishmah.
Perhaps we could argue that the actual construction was to be performed by only a small group of workers, and therefore Moses begins with the one mitzvah relevant to the entire nation.
The Bechor Shor writes a much more practical answer. Everyone needed to be given a fair chance to donate. At a certain point (Exodus 36:6), they collected more than enough to build the Tabernacle and the collection was closed. Prior to that point, everyone needed to be given a chance to make a donation. No one was to feel excluded from the project. Moses did not want to begin describing the construction of the Tabernacle such that donations would begin to trickle in, and certain people would have an opportunity to donate before others. It was to be the People’s Mishkan.
Therefore, writes the Bechor Shor, Moses congregated the entire Jewish people at once so that they would all be informed together of the opportunity, and would all have equal chance to donate. No one would feel left out.
We should be so fortunate to run fundraising campaigns nowadays wherein people feel upset or sad when not solicited!