> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > M'oray Ha'Aish

An Accounting

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

As the Book of Shmot draws to a conclusion, so, too, does the building of the Mishkan. The detailed instructions for the Mishkan and the account of its actual construction dominate the last third of the Book of Shmot, and both the book and the building project end in these twinned parshiot.

As the supreme leader, Moshe bears responsibility for the project as a whole, even though the verses recount that the actual construction of the structure and the creation of the various utensils that it housed were delegated to a number of highly skilled and divinely-inspired artisans.

As the Mishkan nears completion, Moshe gives a complete accounting of all the raw materials that had been collected and a full record of how these materials were used. These particular verses might seem somewhat redundant, as they are preceded by a similar catalogue of the raw materials as they were collected. Rabbinic tradition offers an unexpected, even surprising rationale for the inclusion of this seemingly-unnecessary inventory: Remarkably, the midrash(1) recounts the idle chatter which cynically cast Moshe in the most negative light, accusing him of personally benefiting from the project, and living off the communal till. These accusations are particularly ironic, for they accuse Moshe of eating the choicest cuts of meats, ostensibly procured unethically. The irony, of course, lies in fact that when Moshe ascended Mount Sinai, first to receive the Torah and then to beg for forgiveness on behalf of the nation that had worshipped the golden calf, he did not eat or drink for forty days and forty nights. Moshe was so far beyond the sort of hedonistic excess of which the gossip accused him, it seems almost comical, yet the sheer absurdity of the insinuations did not keep the tongues from wagging.

The Talmud(2) points out another example of this same sort of gossip: Moshe, the holiest man who ever lived, was accused of conducting himself immorally with numerous women in the Israelite camp. Apparently, the origin of the accusation was the fidelity which the women had for Moshe - and, in turn for God. The major sins committed in the desert were perpetrated by the men; tradition teaches us that the women did not take part. They remained pure. The men interpreted this strange fidelity in the most sordid and sexually charged manner; this, it seems, was the only way they could understand the "bizarre" hold Moshe had on those who stayed committed to God.

Once again, the irony is inescapable: Moshe remained in a state of perpetual preparedness to receive the Word of God. Just as the Israelites were instructed to abstain from spousal intimacy in preparation for the Revelation at Sinai, so, too, Moshe maintained an elevated state of ritual purity because his communication with God was constant, imminent, unforeseen.(3) Moshe remained at the level of purity and spiritual preparedness that the nation as a whole maintained for three days at the foot of Mount Sinai, because he could not know when his next prophetic experience would take place.(4)

How cynical, then, was the gossip of his day: The man who separated from his wife, who dedicated his life to the spiritual enlightenment of his nation, who remained always poised to receive the Divine Word, was accused of illicit relationships with other mens' wives. Similarly, the man who refrained from all food and drink was accused of gluttony at the public's expense.

Moshe, for his part, gives a public accounting of all monies and materials collected and spent, setting a high standard indeed for all future leaders and for the use and treatment of public funds. Despite his impeccable behavior, cynics and sinners would always seek out flaws in his personal behavior, and fabricate what they could not find. Only the most jaundiced eyes could create the shadows of excess and licentiousness in their attempts to eclipse Moshe's greatness, casting aspersions in the very areas of his extraordinary restraint.

God, however, expresses complete trust in Moshe:

"This is not true of My servant Moshe, who is the most faithful of all in My house." (Bamidbar 12:7)

Specifically here, where he is under attack, we understand just how wise Moshe was: Despite the unparalleled testament of confidence and trust in him by God Himself, Moshe knew that people were not as generous. God Himself attested to Moshe's trustworthiness, but Moshe was wise enough not to let that testimonial stand alone. He gave a complete, public accounting, fulfilling the commandment that binds each of us, particularly our leaders, to the highest ethical standards:

"To be clean before God and Israel." (Bamidbar 32:22)

For a more in-depth analysis see:


1. Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Pikudei (Buber edition, section 4).

2. Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 110a.

3. See Rashi, Bamidbar 12:1.

4. One midrash traces Moshe's behavior to the revelation at the burning bush. See Sifri Zuta, Bamidbar chapter 12.





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