Vayakhel-Pekudei: Waving Our Gold

Copyright Neal Joseph Loevinger 2023 

 Torah Portion: Vayakhel-Pekudei

 וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, עַל-הַנָּשִׁים; כֹּל נְדִיב לֵב, הֵבִיאוּ חָח וָנֶזֶם וְטַבַּעַת וְכוּמָז כָּל-כְּלִי זָהָב, וְכָל-אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר הֵנִיף תְּנוּפַת זָהָב לַיהוָה.

Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make a wave offering of gold to יהוה, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants —gold objects of all kinds. (Exodus 35:22) 

The Torah portions Vayakhel and Pekudei are often joined together, and tell the story of Moshe’s call for donations to build the Mishkan, the actual construction of the Mishkan, and an accounting for the donations. All kinds of materials are needed for the portable Sanctuary, including gems, precious metals, different kinds of wood, fabric, and animal skins. In the verses above, there’s an interesting anomaly: those who brought donations of gold did so as a “wave offering” to God, but this is not how the donations of silver and bronze are described just a few verses later. 

Now, what’s a wave offering? It’s typically associated with the bringing of the omer, which is a sheaf of barley brought in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot (late spring/early summer) and displayed or waved by the priests on the altar. There are other examples of the wave offering, but for today let’s just notice that the donations of gold were waved or held up and displayed by the priests, but silver and bronze were not. A few chapters later, in the accounting of the donations, gold is again called zahav hatenufah, or gold of the wave offering (translated as “elevation offering” by Sefaria) but bronze is also called tenufah, wave offering, in this later chapter.  

Commenting on the verse above, Ramban, a 12th century commentator, explains the gold was a “wave offering” because those who brought it would hold it up to show the importance or rarity of their donation, or perhaps the priests took it from the donors and held up the gold to show the others how praiseworthy these donations were. He also suggests that since so much bronze was needed, it also was considered an especially important or noteworthy donation, and could be waved or held up as well, thus explaining the later verse from chapter 38.

It’s certainly true that gold was an important material for the Mishkan, and it’s certainly admirable that men and women literally took it off their bodies to give to an important communal purpose. On the other hand, the long lists of materials to be donated in these Torah portions is also understood to teach that every donation is precious and important, and even more, that a Sanctuary for the Holy requires the participation and inclusion of the entire community. 

Perhaps the Torah is simply reflecting an age-old tension: worthy causes need widespread support, but the wealthy can give more than others. Does that mean they should “wave” their donations around and draw attention to themselves? In an ideal world, probably not, but in our world, wealthy donors are feted and honored. Maybe the real lesson of the golden “wave offering” is that we can acknowledge the generosity of major donors while placing the far greater emphasis on finding ways for anybody to participate in crucial communal projects. There were so many things needed for the Mishkan- from yarn to wood to gems to skins- that everybody could bring something, and receive the honor of building something holy. That’s a model for our times as well, when needs are so great, and so many have so much to give.


  1. Marcia Weinstein Steinbrook said

    Can we consider the issue as to why our Deity sent specs to a group of refugees for a Mishkan that has expensive (as well as heavy to shlep!) metals and gems? Why not a shul, a modest place in which prayers are offered with the expectation of being heard?

    • rabbineal said

      Hi again. yes, the Mishkan was expensive- but remember they had just taken from Egypt jewels and gold and silver in payment for
      400 years of back wages. The point of the Mishkan is that it’s portable, it’s an erector set that is set up and taken down as they moved. To me, the idea of the Mishkan is that they needed to take the wealth from Egypt and turn it towards something that enobled and beautified
      the community of former slaves.

      On the other hand, I think most shuls should be less like a Mishkan and more like an altar of unhewn stones. Cheaper than way.

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