And the Princes [heads of the tribes] brought the onyx stones, and the
stones to be set for the ephod and the breastplate." (35:27)
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki quotes a Medrash, which elaborates: this is all they
brought. The rest of the nation - the "regular people" - brought everything
necessary to build the entire Tabernacle ("And the work was sufficient for
all the construction, in order to do it, and more" [36:7]). Nothing was
left for the princes to give, save the stones for the breastplate!
The Medrash reads: Rabbi Nosson said, why is it that the Princes gave (lit:
what did the Princes see, to give) first at the Dedication of the
Tabernacle, whereas for the actual construction, they did not? Rather (the
answer is), this is what the Princes said: let the congregation give what
they will give, and whatever remains, we will fill in. Since the
congregation completed everything, the princes said "what is left for us to
do?" - and they brought the precious stones. And for this reason, they gave
first when it came time to dedicate the Tabernacle.
Imagine a congregation building a new synagogue today - what would happen
if a donor offered to "finish the job" after the other congregants had
contributed whatever they wished? Obviously the board would jump for joy.
The synagogue would be built! And in fact, this might inspire a more
relaxed (i.e. lazy) attitude on the part of the fundraiser and the other
congregants - after all, the money was as good as theirs already, due to
the generous man in the back. But according to the Medrash, it was the
Princes who were guilty of laziness - and perhaps they underestimated the
dedication of the people at large.
The Nation of Israel made no such calculations. They didn't hold back, and
wait to see what others would do. Nor did they rely on the Princes'
guarantee. Each one said: I want to participate! It didn't matter that the
work would be done without them - on the contrary, no one wanted to be left
out. Each one saw an opportunity to give, to contribute to the benefit of
the entire Jewish nation, and did so. And they gave so much that there was
extra. They gave so much that Moshe found it necessary to instructions out
to the people to stop working [36:6], assuring us that had he not done so,
they wouldn't have stopped working for a good while longer.
The Chofetz Chaim of Radin notes that the Torah indicates the laziness of
the Princes by dropping an optional letter "Yud" ordinarily found in the
Hebrew word "Nesi'im," Princes. By contrast, the Torah describes in full
detail the gifts of each Prince at the Dedication of the Tabernacle - even
though each of the twelve brought precisely the same gift as all the
others. All of this, he explains, is to teach us the greatness before G-d
of working together, with energy and dedication, rather than allowing
feelings of superiority or jealousy to divide us. When people rush forward
to work on behalf of the entire group - instead of holding themselves above
others, or looking out for their personal interests - then this is valued
dearly by G-d, the Torah... and by other people, as well.