The book of Shemot concludes with the detailed accounting of the materials collected and used in the building of the Tabernacle. Even though this accounting may appear to us to be superfluous and even overly detailed, the words and letters that appear in this week’s Torah reading are as holy and important as any others that appear in our holy Scriptures.
There is an important overriding lesson – a moral imperative – that is being imparted to us in the words of the reading of this week. That lesson can be summed up in that we are responsible for each of our actions and behaviors during the year, and during our lifetime. It is as if each of us signs our name at the bottom of the pages that record each of our activities in life with one word: accountability.
Judaism holds its adherents to strict standards of accountability. Accountability in speech, in deeds and action, regarding financial income and expenses, and in all other matters of human interaction and relationships. We are informed by the prayer services of the High Holy days that each of us has pages in God’s ledger book, so to speak, and that each of us signs with our own signature at the bottom of those pages to attest to the accuracy of that accounting.
The basis of all responsible human behavior is accountability. Without that, having good intentions and high hopes by human beings to accomplish good things are mostly doomed to failure and disappointment. It is only the concept of accountability that is the driving force that creates efficiency, and the feeling of spiritual advancement and accomplishment within us. Educational institutions that never administer exams or do not make demands upon its students are really cheating them out of the benefits that an education can bring to a person.
The Torah is exacting and meticulous in recording for us all the activities, donations, and actual results regarding the enormous task of constructing the Tabernacle in the middle of a wasteland, by a people just recently freed from physical and mental bondage. One could be fooled to say that in such circumstances any demand for accountability should be lenient, if not even muted. However, we see that the Torah makes no allowance for the inherent difficulties and stress that must have been involved in building the Tabernacle in the desert. In general, we can say that Judaism rarely, if ever, accepts excuses for poor performance or lack of effort, no matter how seemingly valid they might be. No excuse, no matter how good and valid it may be, ever equals accomplishing the task that was set out before the person to realize and fulfill.
The Torah wishes to impress upon us that accountability requires exactitude, paying of attention to what otherwise may seem to be small and unimportant, and an understanding that in the great picture of life there really are no small events or minor incidents that can be glossed over as though they never occurred. That is not our method of accountability. The Torah is never sloppy in dealing with human events.
Rabbi Berel Wein