In the Eyes of God and Man
Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )
Why did Moses make a public accounting?
Previous parshas described building the Tabernacle in the desert, including the donation of materials and the actual construction. This week, Moses presents a precise accounting of how each donation was utilized. For example, since one silver half-shekel had been collected from each of the 603,550 men (totaling 301,775 shekels), Moses reports constructing 100 pillar sockets (at 3,000 shekels apiece), with the remaining 1,775 shekels going toward silver bands, hooks and caps. In much the same manner, Moses lists his allocation of gold, copper, wood, fabrics, animal skins and precious gems – confirming that every penny went to the Tabernacle – not into his own Swiss bank account.
Yet since Moses was known for his utmost integrity and had a reputation beyond reproach, why did he deem it necessary to make a detailed public accounting? Nowhere do we see God requesting this information. Yet Moses does so voluntarily. Why?
The answer offers insight into the two-way street of integrity: Not only do others have the responsibility to judge me favorably, but at the same time it is my responsibility to avoid creating a situation where others may draw the wrong conclusion.
All too often we hear someone say, "I don't care what anybody thinks – I know I'm doing the right thing." The Torah approach, however, is that while we certainly strive to do what's right in the eyes of God, neither may we give the wrong impression to our fellow man.
The Talmud (Shekalim 3:2) states that when the treasurer would withdraw funds from the Temple coffers, he was not permitted to wear any garment that might possibly conceal money – e.g. pockets, cuffs or even shoes. These precautions were taken not because of apprehension that money would actually be stolen, but rather lest people come to think it was! As King Solomon says:
"You shall find favor and understanding in the eyes of God and mankind." (Proverbs 3:4)
In the case of Moses, there was a particular need for full disclosure. After Moses smashed the tablets at the Golden Calf, God forgave the Jewish people and commanded Moses to chisel out a second set of tablets. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32:2) says that God placed a sapphire quarry right in Moses' tent, thereby making him a very wealthy man.
Immediately thereafter, construction began on the Tabernacle, and Moses was entrusted with approximately one ton of gold and silver. The potential for abuse was so great, that even though there was never any accusation of misdeed, Moses still wanted to remove the slightest suspicion that he'd become wealthy from misappropriated Tabernacle funds.
Moses' concern was further compounded by his position of public prominence. He knew that all eyes were upon him. So while this sensitivity is incumbent upon each of us, it is all the more so upon our leaders.
This has particular implications for observant Jews. Imagine an observant Jew going into McDonalds to make a phone call. A passer-by might mistakenly draw one of the following conclusions:
- That McDonalds is really kosher and it's OK to eat there, or
- That this Jew (who purports to keep kosher) is sneaking around doing something he shouldn't, or
- Even though McDonalds is not kosher, but if others are lax in observance, then somehow it's okay for me, too.
We don't live in an isolated, compartmentalized world. Rather, we are a community and a nation – and that puts each of us in the position to inspire others and lift the baseline of acceptable behavior. Like it or not, we are all role models for each other. And one person's actions – even those misconstrued – can generate either good or bad PR for God and the Jewish people.
The joke is told of a rabbi who is bothered by the fact that he's never been able to eat pork. So he flies to a remote tropical island and checks into a hotel. He immediately gets himself a table at the finest restaurant and orders the most expensive pork dish on the menu. As he's eagerly waiting for it to be served, he is shocked to hear his name called from across the restaurant. He looks up to see 10 of his loyal congregants approaching. Just his luck, they'd chosen the same time to visit the same remote location!
At that moment, the waiter comes out with a huge silver tray carrying a whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. The rabbi looks up sheepishly at his congregants and says, "Wow – you order an apple in this place and look how it's served!"
Putting It Into Practice
This concept has endless applications in everyday life.
Imagine you've just purchased a magazine at the newsstand, and now you're going into the supermarket. If you walk out of the supermarket with a magazine in your hand, you're setting yourself up for unpleasant accusations. So based on what we've said, take one of the following precautions:
- Get a bag from the newsstand and keep the magazine in the bag with the receipt.
- As you pass through the checkout line, announce loudly that you've purchased the magazine elsewhere.
- Stick the magazine in your car before even entering the supermarket. In this way, no one might misconstrue.
This Shabbat, let's take inspiration from Moses and think about steps to enhance our integrity.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons