The Tabernacle was the people’s achievement. From the initial command, “Speak to the Children of Israel… and let them make for Me a sanctuary” (Ex. 25:2, 8 ) to the final assessment, “And the Children of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Ex. 39:32), this was the people’s project.
The architects and project managers were skilful members of the people, and they were supported by craftsmen and artificers, by “wise-hearted men” and “wise-hearted women”, with everyone feeling a sense of participation by bringing their gifts and offerings.
One category, however, says the Midrash, at first kept aloof; the princes of the tribes thought that their rank and station should have been recognised before the task was thrown open to the ordinary members of the community, and before it was too late they now hastened to supply the vestments and ornaments of the high priest.
The “Or HaChayyim” derives from the fact that it was the people who deserved the credit for the work, the general principle that with everything in Judaism, every task, every commandment, it is the community to whom the credit should go. Each contributes time, effort, skill and resources, like a mighty orchestra in which every instrument contributes to the overall harmony.
In Judaism there are tasks for certain groups, some for Kohanim, some for Levi’im, some for men, some for women – but all are part of one overall achievement, and the achievement is that of the people as a whole.
Who keeps today’s community going? The rabbis or the lay people? Both. The learned or the unlearned? Both. The rich or the poor? Both. The men or the women? Both. The old or the young? Both.
The mitzvot are “Speak to the Children of Israel” – all the Children of Israel, with each one giving their own contribution and carrying out their own responsibility, and rejoicing in their fellow workers.