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Parashat P’kudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38)

“These are the records of the Tabernacle, which were drawn up at Moses’ bidding…” (Exodus 38:21)

Parashat P’kudei closes the book of Exodus with an important demonstration of transparency and accountability:  the world’s first external audit.  According to Midrash Tanhuma (a collection of rabbinic stories on the Torah named after Rabbi Tanhuma, the first rabbi mentioned) Moses overheard two Israelites discussing whether or not he had benefited from the articles collected to build the mishkan.  To allay any suspicion, he asked the Levites to make everything public so the people could see for themselves that their donations were used only for their intended purpose.

This passage in the Torah is the source of the halakha (Jewish law) that charity must always be collected by a minimum of two individuals (and distributed by a minimum of three). That way, each can see what the other is doing and personal bias doesn’t enter into consideration.  This is the case even when the individuals are known to be completely honest.  The point is that a community is built upon trust, and community leaders must not only be trustworthy, they must be perceived as being trustworthy.

The building of the mishkan teaches that community is achieved when we work together to accomplish a goal.  (According to P’sikta Rabbati, a Medieval commentary on the Torah, all the Israelites’ complaining stopped when they began work on the mishkan.) Community is strengthened when we trust one another to honor that collective effort, rather than use it for individual gain.  Community is sustained when we recognize that public perception matters as well.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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