Parshat Terumah begins the detailed account of how the Jews were to construct the Mishkan, the temporary structure that was to house G-d’s presence throughout their travels. The details span five Parshiot (Torah readings), with only the story of the golden calf interrupting this narrative. In contrast to the story of creation, which only required 34 Pessukim (verses) to communicate, why would the Torah interrupt the many stories in Sefer Shemot (Exodus) dealing with the birth of a nation to convey such minute details about the construction of a temporary home for G-d’s presence?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that what united the Jews as a people was their collective past as well as their struggle to be freed from slavery. However, once they were free, they were lost because they lacked a common goal, which led them to bicker, complain, and even build a golden calf. What solved all this was asking everyone to donate and to give together. The project doesn’t have to be prominent or even permanent, but the fact that people were able to give generously and as one brought them together and generated harmony.
Amazingly, working together and allowing for individual contributions were more effective in uniting people than the earlier grand miracles. While the Mishkan did not last forever, the lesson it taught us did: Encouraging individual contributions enhances the group even more than it enhances the individual.