Motivating the People to Build the Tabernacle

Parshat VaYakhel – Pekudei 5772
Our tradition tells us that God forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf on Yom Kippur.

The next day Moses gathered the people and told them about the Divine command to build the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

Some Answers to My Questions

Look at the post earlier this week if you want to see all the details of my questions. Here I’ll just present the essence of the questions that I try to answer.

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Exodus 35:24

24 Everyone who set aside an offering of silver or copper brought the offering for the Lord, and everyone with whom acacia wood was found for any work of the service, brought it.

Acacia wood was used for the boards of the Mishkan. The boards were ten cubits tall and one and a half cubits wide. If a cubit is 20 inches, then these boards were almost 17 feet long.

Who in their right mind was carrying a bunch of 17-foot long boards through the desert?

I’ve wondered about this question for years, but I’ve never looked into it before.

Most of the commentators that I looked at don’t mention this issue at all. Ramban mentions that very few people had the acacia wood, but he does not go into more detail.

Rabbi Sorotzkin mentions a midrash that Jacob – Yaakov took trees with him to Egypt that would eventually be used for the building of the tabernacle. When the Jewish people left Egypt just a few “unique individuals” brought those boards with them.

He mentions that some commentators suggest that the Jewish people found acacia trees growing on Har Sinai (Mount Sinai). He rejects this approach because the wording of the verse (“with whom acacia wood was found”) implies that certain people already had the wood in their possession.

Exodus 36:3-5

3 So they took from before Moses all the offering[s] that the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the Holy, and they brought him more gifts every morning.

4 Then all the wise men who were doing the work of the Holy came, each one from his work, which they had been doing.

5 And they spoke to Moses, saying: “The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do.”

What did Moses say or do that so energized the people to give even more than what was needed?

Many people point to this verse and proclaim that this was the most successful fund raising campaign ever and will never be duplicated.

Maybe we can’t duplicate it, but I still think we can learn lessons learn from it.


I’m going to do something very dangerous. I’m going to suggest an answer based on a secular book that I recently read. I hope you’ll bear with me. 🙂

The book is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The subtitle is a good summary of the book: How to change things when change is hard.

They use a metaphor throughout the book to describe every person (that’s right, you and me are included here) who is trying to change anything.

Picture a Rider (the person’s rational side) on top of an Elephant (the person’s emotional side) moving along a Path (all the elements of the external environment).

Probably most of my readers will make the same mistake I did. Clearly, you’ll think, the Rider is the Yetzer HaTov and the Elephant is the Yetzer HaRa.

That’s what I first thought, but it’s not so simple. The Rider (as they explain it) has characteristics of both the Yetzer HaTov and the Yetzer HaRa. So does the Elephant.

The Rational Yetzer Hara

How can being cool, calm, and rational be part of the Yetzer Hara?

The rational side of the Rider can cause a person to over analyze a situation and be completely overwhelmed by all the different factors they are considering. This can lead to inaction.

Certainly, sometimes not acting is the proper choice. A person could be faced with an opportunity to perform one of their favorite sins. One strategy to avoid sinning is to tell yourself that you don’t have permission to perform that act right now. Tell the sin to come back the next day when you might have permission.

Does that sound weird? Yeah. But I’ve used it successfully more than once over the past year.

But there are instances when not acting plays into the hands of the Yetzer Hara. For example, people who don’t intervene even though they know abuse is occurring.

This frequently happens in cases of wife abuse and child abuse. Neighbors may be aware of the situation, but start rationalizing: I’m not sure … Maybe I’m overreacting … Maybe there is a perfectly logical explanation … If I say something maybe it will be lashon hara … What will happen if the police get involved? When the word spreads it will be a chillul Hashem …

We’ve all heard of such cases, some rather recently.

Applying the Framework

I want to use the framework of the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path to explain how Moses got the people to donate generously to building the Tabernacle.

One aspect of the Rider is the tendency to over analyze. This can lead to analysis paralysis. An important tool to get the Rider to stop analyzing and start moving is to point to a clear destination. When the destination is clear, then there is no need to continue with the analysis and the Rider can move.

Moses had such a destination. Build the Tabernacle. Here’s how to do it: gather these materials, construct these articles, follow these plans. Betzalel will be in charge of all the craftsmen.

The Elephant isn’t motivated by knowledge, but rather by feeling. Moses was able to harness the people’s emotional side for this project.

The people knew that they had sinned with the Golden Calf. Before the sin they had been clearly aware of God’s presence. For example, at the crossing of the Sea they proclaimed (Exodus 15:2), “This is my God.” Our Sages say that God’s presence was so real at that moment that each person could (as it were) point at God as they sang “This is my God.”

Moses’s now telling them that building the Tabernacle in the right way guarantees that God’s presence will once more be felt amongst them. That’s a motivating feeling.

The Path needs to be shaped in the way that makes the right action easy.

One way to shape the Path is to get lots of people to buy into a project. It can be easier to act when you are part of a crowd.

As this parsha begins (Exodus 35:1), “And Moses assembled the entire congregation of the Children of Israel.”

Everyone was there. Everyone heard Moses’s announcement.

I think another aspect of shaping the Path would have been the fact that people could bring their contributions each day. As the end of Exodus 36:3 says, “and they brought him more gifts every morning.”

As each person felt the motivation to contribute, the collection center was open and ready to receive their donation.


Like I wrote above, maybe we can’t duplicate the events in the Wilderness, but we can learn from them.

I think there is a lot of truth to the framework of the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path. Fund raisers and other communal leaders can apply it to their projects to make them more successful.

Your Turn

Please share your suggested answers in the comments.

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A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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