The book of Shemot is reaching its conclusion in this week’s double parsha. The final review of all of the artifacts, construction and costs of the mishkan is detailed before us. The transparency that we all claim to long for in governmental spending and budgets is realized in the Torah’s exquisite detail in accounting for all income and spending on the mishkan.
This is an example of the soul of public trust and accountability as it should be practiced. The fact that this occurs in relation to holy purposes – the construction of the mishkan and its artifacts – only intensifies the lesson that impeccable integrity is necessary in such matters. Too many times people think that for holy projects and Torah welfare somehow corners can be cut and that the responsibility for funds donated and used can be juggled.
The torah itself clearly does not tolerate such ideas and behavior. The Torah many times over warns us of the danger of corruption, even so-called “holy” corruption. It blinds us and distorts all of our achievements and accomplishments. Even the great Moshe whose face shines with the radiance of heaven itself must be publicly held accountable.
I think that is why after so many millennia after the disappearance of the mishkan from the midst of Israel these parshiyot are still read publicly in our synagogues. The message of accountability and transparency in public monetary matters is the keystone to holiness. The holiness of the mishkan is dependent upon these principles and values.
Another idea present here is the importance of repetitiveness in these matters. The Torah recounts in detail what it has already told us earlier regarding the construction of the mishkan and its artifacts. Since reading a budget or studying a data sheet is not necessarily the most fascinating reading in the world, the Torah’s insistence upon recounting these matters is at first glance most puzzling. But it is the repetition as much as the content itself that is the Torah’s message to us.
Repeating the accounting of the construction of the mishkan – its expenses and labor and talent – emphasizes to us that the holy mishkan was crafted efficiently and honestly. There is no longer any question regarding its probity when the Torah lists for us the materials and work once more.
The second accounting must coincide exactly with the first description of the materials and work involved. And repetition is the soul of honesty. One must train one’s self to be honest, to resist temptation and shoddiness. Goodness and truthfulness are conditioned by habitual behavior more so than by inspired sermons and learned treatises.
In Yiddish there was a folk saying that “truth is the best lie.” A lie requires many other lies to cover its tracks. Truth stands pristine and strong always. Therefore it is not only the first accounting that is important in public and holy matters but the later accounting is also of equal if not even more importance. This week’s double parsha certainly drives this point home.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com