The Tabernacle appeal

Don Isaac Abravanel, sometimes spelled Abarbanel (1437-1508) was a seminal Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Exodus 36, we learn additional details regarding the Hebrew’s generous financing of
the Tabernacle. As discussed in an earlier blog, Abravanel breaks down the benefactors into two
categories – those who donated valuables (gold, silver etc.) and those who labored to build God’s sacred

“And all the wise men who performed all the holy work came every man
from his craft which they performed. And they spoke unto Moses saying,
the people bring much more than enough for the service of the work,
which God commanded to make.”

Here, Abravanel addresses our verses quoted above, clarifying the conversation between “the wise men
who performed all the holy work” and Moses. What was the intent and why does the Torah record it?

When Moses turned to his brethren to finance the Tabernacle, he was greeted with boundless
enthusiasm. Money, precious metals, and fine linen poured – each morning. Specifically, donors handed
over the valuables to the artisans, men who “performed all the holy work.”

It got to be too much. “And they spoke unto Moses saying, the people bring much more than enough…”
Abravanel suggests that perhaps the workmen themselves gave the valuables. That means that in
addition to doing the various manufacturing jobs, they also donated the raw materials necessary for the
holy vessels. “And they brought yet unto him freewill-offering every morning” – the subject being the
artisans themselves. Other Biblical commentators differ. They say that the freewill-offerings came
courtesy of the Hebrews who were not doing the actual workmanship.

Be that as it may, as the money piles grew higher and higher, “the wise men who performed all the holy
work….spoke to Moses saying, the people bring much more than enough…” Why did the Torah record
the seemingly banal conversation?

The passage praises the Jews. First, accolades go out to the benefactors, men and women who daily and
gaily deposited gifts. Second, our chapter honors the craftsmen, honest people who kept tabs on the
money coming in, and reported the excess. Third, the Torah pays tribute to the superintendent,
overseeing the Tabernacle enterprise. In contrast to typical money-hungry project managers who
welcome surpluses, the Tabernacle chief didn’t.

“And Moses gave commandment and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp saying, let
neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering for the holy work.” The scrupulous
superintendent announced the closing of the Tabernacle appeal, “so, the people were restrained from
bringing.” Only the gold and silver needed for the holy vessels, not a penny more.

Though “make any more work” appears to refer to the artisans, Abravanel asserts (with textual support
from Scripture), “work” can also mean money or fungibles. See Abravanel’s World for the full essay,
including the sources that bolster his position.