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Torah Sparks

March 8, 2008 – 1 Adar II 5768

Annual: Ex. 38:21 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 564; Hertz p. 373)
Triennial Cycle: Ex. 38:21 – 39:21 (Etz Hayim p.564; Hertz p. 373)
Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15: Ex. 30:11 – 16 (Etz Hayim, p. 930, 523; Hertz p. 695. 352)
Haftarah: II Kings 12:1 – 17 (Etz Hayim, p. 1277; Hertz p. 993)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Moses instructs Aaron’s son Itamar to conduct an accounting of the materials used for the building of the mishkan, tabernacle. The making of the priestly vestments is described. Once all of the work has been completed, the mishkan and its furnishing are brought to Moses and he blesses the people who made them. God instructs Moses to set up the mishkan, to anoint it and its contents, and to consecrate Aaron and his sons. The cloud representing God’s presence fills the mishkan, lifting up from it when it is time for the Israelites to set out on their journeys.

Whom Do You Trust?

These are the records of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Pact, which were drawn up at Moses’ bidding – the work of the Levites under the direction of Itamar son of Aaron the priest. (Exodus 38:21)

  1. Moses... was made the treasurer over the work of the tabernacle. Our rabbis taught: One must not appoint less than two people with control over the finances of a city or community. But surely you find that Moses was solely in charge, while here you say that one must not invest less than two with this authority? The answer is that though Moses was the sole treasurer, yet he called others to audit the accounts with him. (Shemot Rabbah 51:1)
  2. We do not ask for an accounting from treasurers of religious charitable trusts, as they are presumed to do their work honestly. Shulhan Arukh, Yorah Deah 257b Even though we are not exacting with kosher collectors for charity, still it is good that they should give an accounting, as we find concerning Moses our teacher who gave an accounting of the donations for the mishkan. (Be’er ” Haitave ad loc)
  3. Now, why did he feel he had to give an accounting? The Holy One trusted him, as is said, He is trusted throughout My household (Bamidbar 12:7). Why then did he give an accounting? Because he heard the scoffers of the generation talk behind his back, as it is said, Whenever Moses went out... all the people would... gaze after Moses (Shemot 33:8). And what were they saying? Eying him with contempt from behind, one would say to the other: Look at his [beefy] neck! Look at his [fat] thighs! He stuffs himself with what belongs to us and guzzles what is ours. And the other would reply: Stupid! A man appointed over the work of the Tabernacle, over talents of silver and talents of gold whose weight and number are too great to measure – what do you expect? That he would not enrich himself? When Moses heard this talk, he said: As you live, when the work of the Tabernacle is finished, I will give you an accounting. (Tanhuma Pekudei, Siman 7)
  4. Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman said, We find in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings that a person needs to be accountable to human beings just as he is accountable to God. In the Torah – You shall be clean before the Lord and before Israel (Bamidbar 32:22). In the Prophets – The Lord God! He knows, and Israel too shall know! (Joshua 22:22). In the Writings – And you will find favor and approbation in the eyes of God and man (Proverbs 3:4). And from whom do you learn this? From Moses. Even though it is written about him, He is trusted throughout My household, he chose to be accountable to human beings, because when the work of the Mishkan was finished he said to them, These are the records of the Tabernacle. How much more so does this apply to the leaders of the community who must be accountable to the community. (Torah Sh’leimah, volume 23, p. 55)

Sparks for Discussion

God did not command Moses to conduct an audit of the accounts of the mishkan – Moses did it of his own volition. Why do you think he chose to do this? Do you think the Tanhuma reflects the attitude of most people today? Is that attitude justified? How much information and transparency do charitable organizations owe to their donors?

Our synagogues and communal organizations raise funds, but they also ask people to volunteer to serve on boards and committees, to work on programs, and to perform many other tasks to further the organization’s goals. How can an organization show that it is as responsible with its volunteers’ time as it is with its donors’ money? Do you think more people would volunteer or that people would volunteer more often if it could be proved to them that their time would not be wasted?

The Rule of Gold

All the gold that was used for the work in all the work of the sanctuary – the elevation offering of gold – came to 29 talents and 730 shekels by the sanctuary weight. (Exodus 38:24)

  1. [Alternate reading: All the gold that was made for the work, in all the holy work] This implies that gold was put into the world only that man should use it for good and sacred purposes. All the gold that was created was made only for “the work in all the holy work.” (Tiferet Yonatan [Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz, 1690-1764, Bohemia])
  2. Gold brings about the ruination of the world. It has left many people dead. But it is also a tool for many good deeds. If one uses it for tzedakah and good deeds, the gold is elevated. Its moral value increases. That is the elevation offering of gold – the gold which was elevated into an offering because it had been donated to the Sanctuary. (Shirei Zimrah)
  3. The Torah attests to and defines the quantity of gold, silver, and bronze included in the work of the mishkan, which was a very small amount compared to the riches of the First Temple, and even more so were the riches of Herod’s temple. Nevertheless the appearance of God’s glory was more constantly found in the mishkan of Moses than in the First Temple and was not present at all in the Second Temple. This teaches us that it is not the amount of riches and the size of the structure that causes the Divine Presence to dwell in Israel, but God desires those who fear Him, and their deeds, in order to dwell in their midst. (Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno, 1475-1550, Italy)
  4. Wrap up the money in your hand (Deuteronomy 14:25). You must bind up your money and keep it in your hand – under your control – so that you rule it and it doesn’t rule you. (Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, 1780-1850, Poland)

Sparks for Discussion

Tiferet Yonatan reminds us that God wants us to use gold – and indeed everything in the world – for good. However, the choice is in our hands. Beyond the obvious (tzedakah), how can we use gold (money, wealth) for good? What are the good and not so good uses of sexuality? Of religion? Are there things in the world that have no good uses? That have only good uses? How can we make sure that we rule our gold and that it doesn’t rule us?

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