This week's Parsha begins with the command that all donate to the building of the Mishkan. However, immediately after, the Torah states that the contributions should be voluntary. So which is it? Are the contributions a command, or are they completely optional? The answer is neither. We are commanded to give, but we must give willingly, or the gift does not fulfil the imperative. How do we understand the paradox at the core of this mitzvah?
The Mishkan, the tabernacle, was intended to lie at the Children of Israel's core, both physically and spiritually. It was positioned at the centre of the camp, and G-d wanted us to turn to the Mishkan (and then the Temple) when needed. It was a place to pray, search, and find understanding. It is such a necessary place to exist, and yet, for it to fulfil its function, we have to want it and feel positively towards it. As such, there could be no compulsion in its construction. That would have made the Mishkan less able to fulfil its purpose.
The same strangeness lies in the mitzvah we call tzedaka, charity. We are commanded to give. But more than that, we are commanded to give willingly. It is not sufficient to give reluctantly. We must actually want to help the other. Even more, we must show how happy we are to give. Guarding the dignity of the person receiving and reshaping our personality to find fulfilment in helping others are core components of the commandment. We now find ourselves at a point in the calendar characterised by tzedaka. Charity is a core mitzvah on Purim (more about this next week). We must help those unable to pay for their Seder on Pesach (Pesach food is expensive). At the Seder's beginning, we invite any hungry or needy to join us (in Ha Lachma Anya). Over the next month and a half, please remember that celebrating the festivals is not just about rereading old Hebrew texts. "All who make those who are vulnerable happy at these times will merit to receive the Divine Presence." (Rambam)