The chapter begins with Moses’ accounting (the meaning of “pekudei”) of what was collected and what was used in building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.
One thing has been true about me all of my life, ever since Miss Turner tried to teach me how to add in first grade: my eyes glaze over when I hear numbers. Give me a word and I’m intrigued. Give me a number and I think of other things. So my first inclination in this Rabbi’s Message would be to write about something other than the treasurer’s report Moses is now going to give to the Israelites.
A modern midrash (story to explain a Torah text) is that when the Israelites began building, Moses overheard them speculating that Moses would become wealthy from the project. The leader was hurt that they could imagine him using their donations for his personal gain. From the beginning of the construction, Moses intended to keep his own careful records of each donation, the giver’s name, how the gift was used, and a total accounting of all donations and expenditures. Instead, to be sure that he was not accused of an impropriety, he appointed leading members of the Levite tribe to keep the records of exactly what was done with the community monies, from start to finish. Moses wanted to be sure no one could accuse him of any wrongdoing.
Any organization holding community funds must use this Torah model. At Emeth, as at most religious and non-profit institutions, all checks are signed by at least two signatures. Every month the treasurer gives a full accounting to the board. And any member of the congregation can see the budget, with full transparency.
This is the lesson of Pekudei – “leaders of a community must be above suspicion of personal aggrandizement.” The family that prepared the incense for the Temple services would never let their relatives wear perfume, lest some people suspect them of using Temple incense for their personal benefit. The official who supervised the shekel (money) offering would wear a special garment with no pockets and no long sleeves when he did so, so that no one could suspect him of pocketing public funds (Song. R. 3:7, quoted in Etz Hayim).
Pay attention to the treasurer’s report.
May this be a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace,
Rabbi Debbie Israel