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Parshat Pekuday

WHEN THE CLOUD ROSE UP FROM OVER THE TABERNACLE, THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL SET OUT IN ALL THEIR JOURNEYS.

(Shemot 40:36)

 

Tabernacle and Temple - Temporariness and Constancy

When the cloud rose up - the Shekhinah's presence in the Tabernacle was so constant that it would only leave it when the Israelites had to travel. This was not the situation in Shiloh, or in the First Temple, or in the Second Temple. However, in the Third Temple, may it be built speedily in our time, it will be even more constant, as it says, But I will be for it-says the Lord-a wall of fire around, and for glory I will be in its midst. (Zachariah 2:9).

(Seforno Shemot 40:36)

 

all the gold - it reports on the quantities of gold, silver, and copper used in constructing the Tabernacle, which was of much less value than was the wealth of the First Temple as described in the Book of Kings, and the wealth of Herod's Temple was even greater (Sukka 51b). Despite all that, the appearance of God's glory in Moses' Tabernacle was more constant than in the First Temple, and was not seen at all in the Second Temple. This shows that the quantity of wealth and the size of the building are not cause for the Shekhinah to reside in Israel. Rather, it is people who fear God and the deeds of such people that makes Him want to dwell in their midst.

(Seforno Shemot 38:24)

 

And find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man

Yehudah Pinchover1

This year Shabbat Shkalim falls out on the Shabbat of parashat Pekudei. It is interesting to note that the two parshiyot - Pekudei and Shkalim - as well as the haftorah from the Book of Kings, all mention the moral rectitude required of public servants who deal with communal funds.

Ours is not the first generation to be suspicious of its leaders and to gossip about them. Even our Rabbi Moses, whom the Holy One blessed be He called faithful throughout My house, was suspected of embezzling funds belonging to the Tabernacle. Midrash Tanhuma (Parashat Pekudei, 8) describes the distrust accorded to public servants and the practices of transparency they had to adopt in order to avoid talk of links between money and political power:

These are the numbers of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses' command (Shemot 38:21). When the construction of the Tabernacle was complete, he told them: "Come and I shall prepare an accounting for you"... and why did he prepare an accounting for them? The Holy One blessed be He would have trusted him, for it says: Not so is My servant Moses; he is faithful throughout My house (Bamidbar 12:7). Yet Moses gave an accounting! Rather, he did this because he (Moses) heard the jokesters of the generation talking behind his back, for it says: And it would be that when Moses would go out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each one at the entrance of his tent, and they would gaze after Moses until he went into the tent (Shemot 23:8). And what would they say? They would look at him from behind and one would say to the other: "See his neck! See his calf! His food is from us, his drink is from us." And the other would say, "Worthless man! Someone is put in charge of the construction of the Tabernacle, in charge of unfathomable quantities of silver and gold ingots that that are beyond being weighed or counted - and you want him not to be rich?" When he heard this, he [Moses] said: "By your lives, when the construction of the Tabernacle is completed, I will give them an accounting. As soon as it was completed, he told them: These are the numbers of the Tabernacle.

Every slander requires supporting evidence. According to the midrash, Moses was slim; the son of Amram had enough flesh on his back to raise and support the suspicions of the riff-raff of the generation regarding their leader. In order to silence the chatter, Moses decided to give a detailed accounting, a comprehensive report of all the revenues and expenditures surrounding the Tabernacle's construction.

The haftorah gives us a contrasting and ideal picture of the Temple's refurbishment in the reign of King Yehoash. Those involved in work were assumed to be honest and no demands of transparency or accountability were made of them:

And they would not reckon with the men into whose hand they would give the money to give the foremen over the work, for they did [the work] honestly. (II Kings 12:16)

An atmosphere of suspicion towards public servants can deter people from taking on public roles, lest they end up suffering reproach and humiliation. Therefore, as we have seen in the Book of Kings, the public is duty-bound to nurture, support, and encourage its faithful representatives. On the other hand, as we have seen in the case of Moses, transparency and accountability are required of the public servant.

This tension between faith in public servants and the need to keep track of community funds finds expression in the laws of charity. The RaMBaM writes in Hilkhot Matnot Ani'im:

He [the charity collector] shall not count the coins from the charity-box two by two, but rather one by one, because of suspicion, for it is said, And be guiltless towards the Lord and towards Israel (Bamidbar 32:22)

And one does not calculate charitable funds with the charity collectors, nor funds dedicated [to the Temple] with the treasurer, for it is said: However, no reckoning shall be made with them of the silver that is given into their hands, for they deal honestly (II Kings22:7).

Let us return to consider the commandment of the half-shekel. This commandment is described in Parashat Shkalim as a one-time order given to the Generation of the Wilderness. However, the haftorah and its parallel in Chronicles teach us that it was a permanent commandment. Indeed, the half-shekel is counted among the positive commandments that are in force in all places when the Temple is standing. The entire Mishnaic tractate of Shkalim is devoted to it. That is the only tractate in the entire order Mo'ed that has no Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud. My father of blessed memory, who served for many years as a charity collector, had the privilege of editing this unique tractate in the dissertation he completed in 5758.

Like the Midrash Tanhuma, the tractate Shkalim deals with the steps that community leaders must take in order to avoid slander:

He who made the appropriation did not enter the chamber wearing either a bordered cloak or shoes or sandals or tefillin or an amulet, lest if he become poor people might say that he became poor because of an iniquity committed in the chamber, or if he became rich people might say that he became rich from the appropriation in the chamber. For it is a man's duty to be free of blame before men as before God, as it is said: And be guiltless towards the Lord and towards Israel (Bamidbar 32), and again it says: And find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. (Shkalim 3:2, based on Soncino translation)

The Mishnah is discussing a charity collector who wants to take silver from the Temple donation-boxes that were found in a special room in the Temple, in order to use it for the public good. The Mishnah requires the collector to enter the office wearing only items of apparel that lack pockets. If the collector fails to follow his policy the public might suspect him of taking some of the silver for himself, and then it would be too late for explanations, since if he becomes poor that will be counted as a punishment for embezzlement and if he becomes rich they will say that he became wealthy with embezzled funds.

The Mishnah sets up the following principle: one must fulfill one's duties in the eyes of humanity as one must fulfill one's duties in the eyes of God. This is an egalitarian demand; every human being in general and every Jew in particular is obliged to be guided by it. The principle states that a person must strive to be considered faithful and honest by his fellow human beings and blameless and good in the eyes of God. It is not sufficient to be faithful to the Holy One blessed be He; transparency and faithfulness in the eyes of the public is also required. In particular, one must be thought of as honest by a civilized society.

In his marvelous and famous statement, HaRav Kook goes even farther than this egalitarian principle. The Rav is considering what must be done when there appears to be a contradiction between finding favor in God's eyes and finding favor in the eyes of humanity. What should be our scale of values and order of priorities? He writes:

It is forbidden for fear of Heaven to push aside one's natural morality, for then it would no longer be pure fear of Heaven. The sign [by which one can recognize] pure fear of Heaven is when the natural morality which is rooted in man's honest nature ascends by means of [the fear of Heaven] to higher levels than it would have attained without it.

But if there should be a fear of Heaven, such that without its influence, life would tend to function better, and would actualize things beneficial to the individual and society, whereas with its influence that actualizing power would diminish - such a fear of Heaven is invalid.(Orot haKodesh, vol 3, Rosh Davar, paragraph 11, pg. 27 translation from haretzion.org website)

A Jew whose behavior contradicts the standards of natural morality is not considered to fear Heaven because the commandments of the Torah only serve to complete and add to the standards of moral behavior required by any enlightened, just, and civilized society. HaRav Kook says that we possess a human criterion for discovering whether an individual truly loves God. This criterion is the standard of moral behavior that is universally accepted by humanity. May we find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

[1]. In memory of my father and teacher, Eliezer Pinchover, who passed away on the 16 of Shevat 5768.

Yehudah Pinchover is a founder of Netivot Shalom

 

 

You shall be clear before the Lord and before Israel.

The house of Garmu was expert in preparing the showbread... Never was fine bread to be found in their children's hand, lest people say: These feed from the [preparation of] the showbread - Thus [they endeavored] to fulfill [the command]: You shall be clear before the Lord and before Israel.

Our Rabbis taught: The house of Abtinas was expert in preparing the incense... Never did a bride of their house go forth perfumed and when they married a woman from elsewhere they expressly forbade her to do so lest people say: From [the preparation of] the incense they are perfuming themselves. [They did so] to fulfill the command: You shall be clear before the Lord and before Israel.

(Yoma 38a Soncino translation)

 

There are other things that are a profanation of the Name of God. When a man, great in the knowledge of the Torah and reputed for his piety, does things which cause people to talk about him, even if the acts are not express violations, he profanes the Name of God. As, for example, if such a person makes a purchase and does not pay promptly, provided that he has means and the creditors ask for payment and he puts them off; or if he indulges immoderately in jesting, eating, or drinking, when he is staying with ignorant people or living among them; or if his mode of addressing people is not gentle, or he does not receive people affably, but is quarrelsome and irascible. The greater a man is, the more scrupulous should he be in all such things, and do more than the strict letter of the law requires. And if a man has been scrupulous in his conduct, gentle in his conversation, pleasant toward his fellow-creatures, affable in manner when receiving them, not retorting, even when affronted, but showing courtesy to all, even to those who treat him with disdain, conducting his commercial affairs with integrity, not readily accepting the hospitality of the ignorant nor frequenting their company, not seen at all times, but devoting himself to the study of Torah, wrapped in a tallit, and crowned with phylacteries, and doing more than his duty in all things, avoiding, however, extremes and exaggerations - such a man has sanctified God, and concerning him, Scripture says, And He said to me, "You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified" (Isaiah 49:3).

(RaMBaM Hilkhot Yesodei Ha'Torah 5:11, Hyamson translation)

 

The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel.

(Shemot 30:15)

 

This [they]... shall pay - Not with the amount of what he actually does for the common good, but with the symbolic expression of what he knows is his duty, has he to approach God in the moment when he is to pass-over out of the ranks of the uncounted into the circle of those counted... But the symbolic expression of the duty to work for the common weal is a half-shekel per person. Objectively, actually, even the most complete and most perfect work of any single individual is never the whole of the work, can never accomplish everything, the work of any single person will always remain a fragment, it requires an equally devoted sacrifice on the part of his brother to establish a whole. No individual is asked to do the whole, as it states in Avot 2:21, "It is not for you to complete the work." But it must be a contribution to the whole, weighed on the scales of the Sanctuary. The shekel must be one of twenty geras, and that which the individual gives must be ten, in itself, subjectively, a rounded whole. As far as the giver is concerned, it must be a whole, his whole, conscientiously weighed out. However small a fragment what he does may be, in relation to all that has to be done, he may leave nothing out, no power, no ability, no possessions, that could further the happiness of the whole may he keep back, although "It is not for you to complete the work" nevertheless "and neither are you free to disengage from it."

(R. S. R. Hirsch on Shemot 30:13, following Levi translation)

 

But will God really dwell on the earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built!

(I Kings 8:27)

 

One would say: "When our love was strong, we could lay together on the flat of a sword; now that our love is not strong - a bed of sixty cubits is not large enough for us." Rav Huna said: The things are written in biblical verses - first it says and I will make myself known to you there and I will speak to you from over the covering, and we learn from a braita that the Ark was nine handbreadths high, and the covering itself a single handbreadth, making a total of ten - in the beginning when God loved Israel, the Divine Presence would reveal itself even in such a cramped place! But regarding the Temple it is said: And the House that Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long and twenty wide and thirty cubits tall. In the end, it is written: So spoke the Lord: The sky is My throne and the earth My footstool; what house shall you make for Me? When Israel sinned, the entire Temple was not sufficiently spacious for the Divine Presence to dwell in it.

(Sanhedrin 7a)

 

The Calf and the Tabernacle

The Israelites were commanded: Bring Me gifts, gifts of all that was needed for constructing the Tabernacle. Afterwards, when the command was executed, we read that all those whose heart moved them brought the gifts. The midrash reads this passage carefully, noting that when a good cause is involved, e.g., building the Tabernacle - all those whose heart moved them brought gifts. All those whose heart moved them is not a collective name for all of the people, all of the community, or all of the public. In contrast, when the people themselves wanted to worship what they saw as a god - the calf - it is written: and all of the people removed their golden nose-rings.

So: for the good - all those whose heart moved them, for the bad - all of the people.

The worship of God does not derive from an innate human drive. It requires that man make a psychological effort to overcome his nature and accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven upon himself. However, people are naturally driven to idolatry...

(Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz ztz"l, He'arot le'parashiyot ha'shavua, pp. 63-64)

 

The Tabernacle as a Divine "Concession" and Atonement for the Sin of the Calf

And Moses blessed them - how did he bless them? "May it be God's will that the Divine Presence shall dwell in the product of your hands: May the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us... (Psalms 90:17)" Rabbeinu Behayeiy explained: This is in accordance with that which is said in the beginning of the Psalm: A prayer of Moses, the man of God, etc. However, this is not enough to make the point if there is no mention of the Tabernacle in the whole psalm. But I say that the beginning and end of the psalm hint clearly at the building of the Tabernacle, for in the beginning it says, Lord, you have been our refuge in every generation, and this is in agreement with what Solomon said in his prayer at the Temple's consecration: Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House - that is in keeping with what is said, You have been our refuge - You are the world's refuge, but the world is not Your place and refuge. If so, how could it ever occur to anyone to say that they would prepare a house for You to be located in? And he proved it, since before the mountains were born and the land and earth created throughout eternity You are God - if God needed to occupy a space, which space did He occupy before creating the world? Rather, the world is certainly not His place. Quite to the contrary, may He be blessed is the place and refuge for the whole world. And how could it be that God commanded him to build a house for Him, as if He was going to live there? Regarding that, he said by means of an answer, You return man to dust; You decreed, "Return you mortals!" God had to concede His honor and make Himself a dwelling among the mortals in order to absolve them for the sin of the calf, for according to the Sages the entire Tabernacle was built as atonement for the calf (Tanhuma Pekudei 6).

(Keli Yakar on Shemot 39:43)

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