Moses calls together the entire Israelite nation and reports on the instructions he received from God regarding the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:2–19). Following the warning against engaging in any constructive work on Shabbat, Moses reminds the people that all contributions are voluntary. And when the actual construction begins, they are to start with the enclosure for the ark, then the table, the candelabrum, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar, the outer partitions, and finish with the priestly garments.
Moses makes no assignments or requests. Instead, the narrative reports that the entire congregation left Moses’ presence (Exodus 35:20). In other words, after hearing of the project, the assembly dissolves. But this should not be confused with a lack of interest or enthusiasm. Immediately thereafter, the narrative reports that “everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the Lord his offering for the Tent of Meeting….” (Exodus 35:21). Had Moses given assignments or made requests, the work would not have been voluntary. In order to allow the Israelites to manifest their passion for the project, an awkward – but necessary – step needed to be taken: allowing the assembly to depart in order for the Israelites to show initiative.
Taking initiative is not merely a desirable criterion for the construction of the Tabernacle. It is an important aspect of all group work. The noted French author Victor Hugo once noted that “initiative is doing the right thing without being told.” Taking initiative is what parents may not necessarily expect of their children but are delighted to observe their children perform. In the workplace, researchers Michael Frese and Doris Fay define it as “behavior characterized by its self-starting nature, its proactive approach, and by being persistent in overcoming difficulties that arise in pursuit of a goal.”
Notably, as much as the Israelites might be criticized for their stubbornness and capriciousness, they might also be commended for their initiative. Moreover, unlike Noah who had to be given specific instructions and unlike Moses’ who needed to be convinced of his mission, the Israelites were exceptionally eager to take on a task without being asked.