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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Ready for Audit

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Our second parasha begins with an inventory, by type and amount, of the materials donated and used in the preparation of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The midrash (Tanchuma, Pekudei 4) asks: "Why did Moshe make an accounting with them when Hashem trusted him, as the pasuk says: "My servant, Moshe, is not that way; in all My house he is trustworthy" (Bamidbar 12:7)?"
The midrash gives a frightening answer from which we should learn for all generations. It says that Moshe heard people speaking about him: "Look at all the things he has. He eats from the Jews’ property, drinks from the Jews’ property, and all that he has is from the Jews." Another one said: "Would you think that the one who is in charge of all the work of the Mishkan would not be rich?" The Midrash concludes that Moshe decided that when he finished the Mishkan, he would do an exact accounting of everything that was collected and used.
A different midrash (ibid.) describes the drama that occurred when the final accounting report was issued. Moshe invited everyone to the presentation of the report. When he made the calculation of what had been used, he forgot the silver used for "vavim" of the posts of the tent walls, which was the weight of 1,775 shekel coins. (This is the reason that the Torah writes separately the amount used on the vavim (Shemot 38:28). Imagine the pandemonium that erupted when Moshe was unable to justify his use of the donations. The solution to the situation was no less dramatic: a Heavenly voice came out and said that the unaccounted silver had indeed been used for the vavim.
The issue of Moshe’s propriety was a matter that was argued with the opponents of the Jewish people over the centuries. The Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 1:4) relates that the Roman governor, Antignus taunted: "Your teacher, Moshe, was either a thief or did not know arithmetic." If Moshe Rabbeinu was subject to such criticism, simple people can also expect to be liable to be suspected.
During the month when our ancestors would prepare donations for the year’s service in the Temple, which we make a point of reading publicly, we would like to remind all those who are in public and mitzva-related funds to be very careful. If Moshe Rabbeinu could take steps to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, we should as well. It is important to keep books with transparency, pay taxes diligently, and give workers their full rights. The public can do its part by checking that the places to which they donate are above board in their finances. Rabbinic leaders would be wise to leave the ability to sign checks in the hands of voluntary members of the board and not assume more monetary authority than is safe for their reputations.
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