"These are the accounts of the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were calculated, according to the order of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, son of Aaron the priest." (Ex. 38:21)

The parasha then proceeds through the list of all the donations and their weight/worth in shekels, noting:

"A beka for every man, that is, half-a-shekel, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for everyone who went to be counted, from twenty years old and upward, for six-hundred-and three-thousand, five-hundred and fifty men." (Ex. 38:26)

These half-shekel donations, we were told earlier, would serve as atonement.

Shem miShmuel asks:

How does a donation perform the job of atonement? For the purpose of atonement, we have sacrifices, and – since the destruction of the Temple – we have prayer, but how does a donation get us closer to G‑d when we have transgressed and distanced ourselves?

We need atonement...after thinking that we can exist as an individual...

In answer, he quotes his father R’ Avraham Bornstein (also known for one of the works that he wrote, the Avnei Nezer). Atonement is not equated with forgiveness for sin. Atonement is necessary when, through our transgression, we have separated ourselves from the Jewish community. We need atonement (or as some have said, at-one-ment) after thinking that we can exist as an individual without a connection to the nation.

By giving the donation of a half-shekel, which goes towards buying the daily sacrifices, we thereby rejoin the Jewish people and the sacrifice becomes truly a sacrifice of the entire nation.

[From "Inner Lights from Jerusalem!" based on the Shem miShmuel and other Chassidic and Kabalistic Sources, translated and presented by Rabbi David Sterne]