Where Did They Get All of the Materials to Contribute to the Mishkan?

Over the past few parshiot we have been reading about B’nai Yisrael’s contributions to the Mishkan.


While teaching this topic over the last few weeks, I have been asked over and over again: “How did B’nai Yisrael, in the middle of the Sinai desert have all of those items to contribute?”


B’nai Yisrael actually took many of the valuables out of Egypt during the Exodus. During the plague of darkness, B’nai Yisrael were instructed to take gold, silver and clothing from the Egyptians as a form of payment for all of the years that they worked and were never paid.


Even though some of the gold was used for the Sin of the Golden Calf it was only a small portion of the nation that contributed and those who did contribute only gave in small earrings, leaving plenty of gold to contribute to the Mishkan, a much better cause.


The more difficult questions are:


Where did they get the wood to build the Mishkan?


Where did they get the olives to make the olive oil?


Midrash Tanchuma 9 states that Yaakov planted trees when he went down to Egypt with the intent that B’nai Yisrael would take the wood with them during the Exodus.


One form of the Acacia (the Shittah tree) is called nilotica since it grows near the Nile.


This Midrash teaches that Yaakov believed God’s promise to Avraham that B’nai Yisrael would one day be redeemed and therefore he helped plan for it.


However, it is hard to take the Midrash literally. When B’nai Yisrael were rushing out of Egypt with hardly enough time to make the dough for the matzot, did they have time to cut down trees to take with them?


When researching what grows wild in the Sinai desert, we find the Atzei Shitim (the Shittah trees) a form of the Acacia that occur in the desert wadis of Sinai whose wood was used to make the Mishkan.


If that is the case, then B’nai Yisrael were able to find the wood in the desert and wouldn’t have had to bring it from Egypt.

The “sneh” (burning bush) may have also been a form of this tree.


If you have visited the Sinai desert recently and haven’t seen these trees it could be due to the fact that the Bedouins uprooted them and didn’t replant them.


There were probably wild olive trees in the Sinai Peninsula as well which B’nai Yisrael were able to use in order to make the olive oil that was needed for the Mishkan. We don’t hear about B’nai Yisrael eating olives with their manna because in those days the olives were used exclusively to make oil and were not eaten as a fruit as they are today.


We see from here that between the valuables that B’nai Yisrael brought from Egypt and the wild trees that grew in the desert they had all of the materials needed to construct the Mishkan despite the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere.