The process of collecting materials for the Mishkan and its subsequent construction offer important lessons in the area of project and people management.
The parashah begins with a “soft” request for materials for the Mishkan’s construction. “Speak to the Children of Israel and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering” (Shemos 25:2). Baal Haturim comments that the term “speak” denotes an expression of appeasement, similar to its use in the phrase “speak to the heart of Yerushalayim” (Yeshayahu 40:2).
The need for such appeasement, he says, stems from the fact that money was being sought. Any project that is accompanied by a solicitation must be approached gently. This is true even when the solicitor (i.e., Hashem) is the true owner of the money (see Sifsei Chachamim’s comment to Rashi’s explanation of the words “for Me”), and even for a project whose purpose is to bring a clear, positive outcome to its donors, in the form of honor and atonement (see Yalkut Shimoni 1:363). If solicitations for such projects must be presented with gentility and appeasement, then surely those involved in collecting for projects whose benefits are far less discernible to the donor would be well-advised to approach the conversation with a good selling strategy that includes a healthy dose of positives.
(We find this same concept applied when Hashem commanded Avraham to perform the Akeidah. He used the word “please” (Bereishis 22:2) rather than simply commanding our Patriarch to carry out the challenging deed. Rashi, quoting Sanhedrin 89b, comments that both of them had much riding on this test. “Please take is… an expression of a request. [G-d] said to him, ‘I beg of you, pass this test for Me so that people will not say that the first ones [tests] had no substance.’” Though Hashem could easily have presented his intentions as a straightforward directive, He chose to ask Avraham, as it were, to voluntarily conform to His request.)
Later in the parashah, after all of the collections have been made, Moshe saw the need to offer a detailed account to the people as to what the materials were used for. This is detailed in Shemos 38:21–29 as well as in the Midrash below.
When Moshe came to Betzalel and saw the amount of material left over after the Mishkan had been constructed, he said to Hashem, ‘Master of the World! We have now made the Mishkan and we have material left over. What shall we do with the remainder?’ The reply was, ‘Make a Mishkan of testimony with it.’ Moshe went and did so. Later, when he came to give the details of the expenditure involved, he told Bnei Yisrael, ‘This amount was spent on the actual Mishkan. With the remainder I constructed a Mishkan of testimony.’ (Shemos Rabbah 51:2)
This level of care and accountability was required even of our greatest leader, who was “investing” wealth that had been accumulated almost exclusively through Divine beneficence, without any meaningful effort on the part of the donors. It follows that subsequent, lesser officials who were entrusted with hard-earned communal funds would certainly need to exercise great care and display unquestionable conduct to avoid any concern over fund misappropriation.
One who entered the Beis Hamikdash treasury to take out the money might not enter in a garment with folds or in felt shoes, lest in the event of his becoming rich, people should say that he became rich from the Beis Hamikdash treasury. (Shekalim 3:2)
Moshe’s approach to the people, both at the beginning and the end of the solicitation process, offers instruction to leaders who seek to inspire change within their organizations, particularly ones that are accompanied by significant change-related requests. Leaders need to appreciate the fact that most ideas, even those that are clearly in the group’s best interest (at least from their perspective), need to be presented in a manner that will encourage others to see things as they do. This includes respectful approaches that help the listeners feel valued. It also demands trust and transparency.
Human nature is to question, particularly when something meaningful is being asked or when we sense that we may be losing something, such as our resources, position or status. Leaders need to be continually above board, to minimize skepticism and second-guessing.
Leaders cannot expect to win people over by the strength of their arguments without also understanding people’s concerns and fears. Ask questions. Give others a chance to express their thoughts. When you do speak, talk in terms of the benefits that this action will have for the listener and be candid and honest when no such direct benefits exist (“I know that you stand to lose out on some of your control as we make this leadership transition, but it’s ultimately what the company needs. I’m sure that you agree that an effective, well-run company would be in everyone’s best interest.”). The more you can demonstrate your care and consideration, the more people will trust in your leadership and be inclined to listen and take appropriate action, even when they are happy just the way things are.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is a writer, teacher, executive coach and leadership aficionado living in Passaic, NJ. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.