Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
"This is the portion that you will take from them: gold, silver, and copper; and turquoise, purple and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate."
It sounds much better in Hebrew. These were the thirteen materials donated to the Mishkan that we see in the beginning of this week's parasha, Termuah.
When we look at the list, it seems that the list is progressing in order of the most expensive to the least expensive material. The start of the list includes gold and other precious metals, then we see wools and linens. Next on this list are various leathers, oils, and incense. Suddenly, we see a material that seems out of place. "Avneh Shoham" were diamonds, rubies and other stones of high value that were placed inside the Hoshen that the Kohen Gadol wore over his chest.
As you can imagine, these stones are the most expensive material on the list! Why then does the Torah not list them first? Moreover, why does the Torah list them last?
In answering this question, we must understand a simpler question. How did Bnei Yisrael, in the desert, acquire such stones? The other materials were taken from Egypt as spoil and again after the miracle of Yam Souf, when many Egyptian riches washed up on shore. How did Bnei Yisrael get these large precious stones?
Chapter 35 verse 27 (Shemot) states: "The leaders brought the Shoham stones.." The Hebrew words for leaders is Nesi’im, which is the term which the verse uses. However, in the Gemara Masechet Yomah (Daf 75a) it states another meaning for the word Nesi’im. Nesi’im also can mean "clouds". The Gemera continues and states that this is the true sense of verse, that clouds came and deposited the stones for Bnei Yisrael to use for the Kohen Gadol's breastplate.
We can now understand why the stones appear last. The Torah is not listing the materials in order of which is more expensive but rather which is more valuable to Hashem. Mere individuals donated all the materials excluding the stones. They tore into their savings and jewelry and donated whatever they could to the Mishkan. Their sacrifice is dearer to Hashem. The stones that Hashem himself supplied were not toiled over and sacrificed for. Therefore, they are listed last.
We see an important lesson crucial for our day. In a time when teenagers and adults alike try to get away in studying of Torah with the bare minimum, they fail to realize that the bare minimum does not do much for them. Hashem values the effort and the toil put into understand his Torah as we see in this week's parasha.