Take a Spiritual Accounting

June 23, 2009

3 min read


Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

Imagine if a corporation conducted business without keeping track of its accounts and made no effort to chart profits and losses. The whole endeavor would be destined to fail!

The Sages note that this is exactly the approach many people take in their personal lives. When asked whether or not it is important to be a good person, virtually everyone will nod in the affirmative. Most people would also agree that to be a truly good person one should not be satisfied and complacent with one's current "level of goodness" but must continue to grow and improve. Yet one finds very few people keeping track of their growth and character development. We may check the status of our mutual funds each week, though we are far less likely to tally up the number of kindnesses we performed during the same period!

The Sages say that every person must regularly do "Cheshbon Hanefesh" – a spiritual accounting. For example, if someone is trying to refrain from speaking Loshon Hara (gossip), he should keep track of the number of times he speaks Loshon Hara during the day. The power of this exercise is so great, that if a person performs a Cheshbon for 80 consecutive days, they will assuredly become an new person.

This idea of monitoring one's progress is built into the Jewish calendar as well. The final day of any time period is considered an ideal time to conduct a review. For example, during Elul (the last month of the Jewish year) we are expected to analyze the previous year's doings.

Similarly, the last day of each Hebrew month is called Yom Kippur Katan ("small Yom Kippur"), in which we are enjoined to review the month's activities. Also before the start of each Shabbat is an opportune time to analyze the events of the week.

This concept of a spiritual accounting plays an important role in this week's Torah portion, Pekudei. A major theme in the Parsha is how Moses gives an accounting of the materials used to build the Tabernacle.

But why was there a need for an accounting of how the materials were used? Could not Moses have been trusted to keep things above board?

Various answers are offered to this question; among them how this emphasizes the need for all charity collectors (no matter who they are) to make an accounting to their donors.

Another explanation is that an accounting of all the materials revealed the miraculous nature of its construction – since the gifts the people gave were exactly what was needed!

The Chassidic masters offer another explanation: Moses' recounting of how the materials were used is consistent with the aforementioned principle that, at the end of an important period, one should take an accounting of one's actions.

The construction – and completion – of the Tabernacle was a truly fantastic event. Never before had a human project been so blessed by God. While in the past, the Almighty had performed great miracles for the Jewish people, He had never placed His blessing on something the nation itself had built. With the completion of the Tabernacle, however, the Almighty rested His cloud of glory upon the structure.

Given the incomparable holiness of this event, it is evident that everything associated with the Tabernacle must be in perfect order. A Cheshbon, therefore, was a quite necessary part of the construction process!

It should be a necessary part of the construction of our own lives as well.

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