The book of Shemot concludes with a key message for Jews – accountability. The Torah records for us how the Mishkan was actually built and then it records for us a detailed accounting of how the donations for its building were actually spent and accounted for. The Torah holds Bezalel and Ahaliav accountable for their talents and industry. Their actual efforts and final accomplishments are compared to the original plans for the Mishkan as detailed to us in parshiyot Trumah and Tetzaveh.
The praise for the architects, supervisors and builders of the Mishkan is that they did not deviate from the original plans and fulfilled their tasks completely and enthusiastically – with a full heart and great commitment. They fulfilled their obligation of accountability to God and man.
There can be no greater accomplishment for a human being than fulfilling that obligation of accountability. It disciplines our minds and our behavior and creates a responsible and secure society. Much of the Jewish world today says openly or subliminally: “Don’t count on me.” People do not want to commit themselves to marriage, to ideals, to the Torah or the Jewish people. They do not want to engage with the test of accountability so they avoid the issue completely.
The Jewish future cannot be built on people who do not wish to be held accountable for the use of their lives, their talents and their material blessings. That is really the most important message that these parshiyot impart to us. And make no mistake about it, Judaism holds all human beings accountable in an exact fashion.
The Torah also holds Moshe accountable for the materials that were collected in order to construct the Mishkan. Every item that was donated has to be accounted for. The story is told about a bookkeeper for a certain company that was unable to balance the books of the company. He was off by five dollars. So he simply left a five dollar bill in the ledger and went home. That type of accounting is not acceptable when it comes to dealing with public funds.
Moshe feels compelled to account for every piece of silver donated to the construction of the Mishkan. And when he finds the books don’t balance, he is terror stricken until he remembers that the missing amount of silver was used to manufacture the hooks that held the curtains of the Mishkan upright and taut. Only then is he relieved and his leadership role is again justified and secure.
A leader, more than the average person or simple citizen, is held to the highest possible standard of fiscal and moral accountability. The Bible records for us how the kings of Judah and Israel were continually reminded and often chastised by the prophets of their times for failing this test of responsible accountability. The Torah states the matter succinctly: “And you shall be found innocent and blameless before God and Israel.”
The Torah demands accountability and is loath to accept excuses. A generation that does not feel itself accountable to the Jewish past and to the Jewish future fails miserably in its role as being the conduit of Jewish life and holiness.
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