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Torah Sparks

March 20, 2004 – 27 Adar 5764

Annual: Ex. 35:1 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373)
Triennial Cycle 3: Ex. 39:22 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim p.567; Hertz p. 387)
Maftir: (2d Scroll) Exodus12:1-20 (Etz Hayim, p. 380; Hertz p. 253)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1290; Hertz p. 1001)

Prepared by Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.
Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director



35:1-3 - An additional warning about observing Shabbat.

35:4-35:20 - God instructs Moses to collect all the contributions and prepare the building of the mishkan (Tabernacle).

35:21-29 - The people of Israel bring their gifts in extravagant measure.

35:30-36:7 - Betzalel and Oholiav are appointed to supervise the making of the mishkan. The Israelites cause a "problem:” “The people are bringing more than is needed." Moses announces: No more, thank you.

36:8-37:16 - The making of the cloth walls, roof, planks and bars of the mishkan; the making of the parokhet (cloth partition) and curtain for its doorway; the construction of its various vessels; an accounting of the materials used in building it; description of the ephod (priest's outer garment) and breastplate.

37:17 - 38:8 - The construction of the menorah, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar, and the bronze basin.

38:9 - 20 - The construction of the enclosure of the mishkan.


38:21-39:32 - A description of the priestly garments.

39:33-43 - The mishkan and its vessels are brought to Moses. He sanctifies them.

40:1-16 - God commands Moses to set up the mishkan and to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests.

40:34-38 - God causes His Shekhinah (Holy Presence) to dwell in the Tent of Meeting.

Selected Text

These are the accountings of the mishkan, the tabernacle of testimony, which were counted as Moses requested … Betzalel – son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah – did everything that the Lord commanded Moses. (Exodus 38:21-22) … All the gold that was used for the work … came to 29 talents and 730 shekel … The silver … came to 100 talents and 1775 shekel … The copper came to 70 talents and 2400 shekel. (Exodus 38:24-29)

Discussion: In God We Trust – All Others Must Pay Cash

A central principle of traditional rabbinic interpretation of the Torah is that every narrative, every verse, every word and every letter is there for a purpose. We are therefore compelled to ask: What purpose is served by telling us that Moses provided a detailed accounting – ounce-by-ounce, pound by-pound – of the materials that were donated to the construction of the mishkan? If the Torah did not tell us about Moses’ accounting, would anyone have suspected Moses of keeping some of the gold and silver for his own use?

Jewish legal codes, beginning with the Talmud, have numerous laws concerning the actions of those who collect charitable funds: “The rabbis taught (in a mishnah, Peah 8:7) ‘Tzedakah funds are collected by two (people) and divided (for distribution) by three.’ [The mishnah is then explained.] (Tzedakah) ‘is collected by two’ since we do not give authority over public matters to less than two and ‘funds are divided (for distribution) by three’ since it is like a civil case (i.e., a legal matter involving monetary damages which requires a court of three).” (Bava Batra 8b) In our Selected Text, the accounting was not done by Moses but “as Moses requested.” The rabbis teach that the accounting was done by Itamar -- thus fulfilling the law later stated by the mishnah that at least two people be involved in monitoring public funds.

What is the extent to which one should avoid the appearance of impropriety when dealing with the public trust? The Talmud teaches: “The house of Garmu were skilled at making the showbread (lehem panim used in theTemple), but good bread was never found in their children’s hands. So that people should not say that they benefited from the showbread … Our rabbis taught, the house of Avitnas were skilled in making the incense (used in the Temple). But no bride in their family ever went out with perfume. When they married a woman from outside their family, they made it a condition that there be no perfume so that people should not say they perfumed themselves from the incense.” (Yuma 38a)

“Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says: ‘A person should not give even a perutah (a single penny) to a communal charity unless it is supervised by (someone as honest as) R’ Hananya ben Teradyon” (Talmud, Bava Batra 10b, Avodah Zarah 17b) When the funds of two different charities became co-mingled, Rabbi Hananya ben Teradyon was known to have given money from his own pocket to reconcile the two accounts.

In modern parlance, the above would be referred to as transparency in leadership and governance. There is, however, another aspect which modernity assigns to legitimate leadership, particularly in Western democracies -- that is, leaders can only govern with the consent of the governed. This very principle is found in the Talmud: “Rabbi Issac said: ‘We do not appoint a communal leader unless the community is consulted,’ as it is said, ‘See the Lord has called by name, Betzalel.’ (Ex. 35:30) The Holy One said to Moses: ‘Moses is Betzalel acceptable to you?’ Moses said: ‘Master of the universe, if he is acceptable to You, he is certainly acceptable to me.’ God said to Moses: ‘Even so, go and ask them (i.e., Bnei Yisrael, … to get their consent)’ Moses went and asked them: ‘Is Betzalel acceptable to you?’ They said to him, ‘If he is acceptable to the Holy One and to you, he is acceptable to us.’ (Berakhot 55a) Obviously, the people’s consent, if it is to be meaningful, must be both voluntary and knowing. Both Moses and Betzalel had to make full disclosure of their activities to obtain and maintain the people’s consent – even the approval of God is not sufficient.

Sparks for Further Discussion

  1. If every letter, word, and verse of the Torah serves a purpose, we are faced with the inevitable questions: Why is so much of Sefer Shemot (the book of Exodus) devoted to the details of the construction of the mishkan and its accoutrements? Why is so much of the material in the portions of Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tissa repeated in this week’s double reading of VaYakhel-Pekudei?
  2. A midrash (Shemot Raba 40:4) relates that Betzalel was Miriam’s son, i.e., Moses’ nephew. Nepotism is an issue that has been with us from biblical times to our own day. To what extent might the relationship between Moses and Betzalel have influenced Moses decision to give an accounting related to the mishkan and God’s request to Moses to obtain the people’s consent to Betzalel’s appointment?
  3. When political and communal leaders are suspected of mismanagement or wrongdoing, they and their supporters are often heard to state that they are “innocent until proven guilty.” Is this consistent with the standards nunciated by the rabbis?
  4. How do modern conditions make the monitoring of the collection and distribution of charitable and communal funds both more difficult and easier?


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