Parashat Pekude

אלה פקודי המשכן, (שמות לח כא) ולמה עשה עמהם חשבון, והקב"ה מאמינו, שנאמר לא כן עבדי משה [בכל ביתי נאמן הוא] (במדבר יב ז), ומשה אמר בואו ועשו עמי חשבון, אלא ששמע משה ישראל מדברים מאחריו, שנאמר (והיה כבא משה האהלה וגו') (שמות לג ט) [והיה כצאת משה אל האהל וגו' והביטו אחרי משה (שם שם /שמות ל"ג/ ח)], ומה היו אומרים, ר' יצחק אומר לשבח היו אומרים, אשרי יולדתו של זה, כל ימיו הקב"ה מדבר עמו, כל ימיו הוא משולם להקב"ה, והביטו אחרי משה וגו', ור' חמא אמר לגנאי, היו אומרים ראה צואר, ראה שוקים, אוכל משל יהודים, ושותה משל יהודים, וכל מה שיש לו מן היהודים, וחבירו משיבו אדם ששלט על מלאכת המשכן אין אתה מבקש שיהא עשיר, כיון ששמע משה כך אמר להן חייכם משהמשכן נגמר אני עושה עמכם חשבון, שנאמר אלה פקודי המשכן וגו’.

These are the accounts of the Mishkan: Why did he do a reckoning with them? Gd trusted him, and Moshe says “Come, let’s do an accounting!” But Moshe heard what Israel was saying behind his back, as it says “It was when Moshe went to the tent… and they would gaze after Moshe.” What did they say? R Yitzhak said they praised him. “Happy is this one’s mother. All his life, Gd talks with him. All his life, he is genuine with Gd” But R Hama said they with denigrating him, They would say “Look at his neck. Look at his thighs [how fat they are]. All that he eats is from us Jews. All his drinks is from us Jews. All that he has is from us. If anyone else were appointed to build a Mishkan, would you even question why he was wealthy?” When Moshe heard this, he told them “By your lives, when the Mishkan is finished, I will give you a full reckoning,” as it says “These are the accounts of the Mishkan”  -(Tanhuma Buber Pequde  4) 

Our sages tell us the Jewish people in the desert constantly had suspicions of Moshe. Indeed,  Tanhuma on our parasha writes that there were people who complained that Moshe’s very food and water was stolen from the Jews.

The Tanhuma is saying two very deep points here. First, no matter how righteous someone is, people will find a way to attack them. Even our Teacher Moshe, who was upright and Gdly in everything he did, had detractors. The food in the Desert was the manna, which fell only in Moshe’s merit. The water in the Desert was from a rock, which flowed through a miracle he performed. Yet, instead of being grateful to Moshe for providing them with food and drink in an inhospitable land, there were people who managed to twist this around, blaming Moshe for taking their manna and water, just as he certainly must have taken from the funds for the Mishkan.

That brings us to the second teaching of the Tanhuma, that regardless of the unjustness of the charges, one must always seek to acquit themselves before Man as well as Gd. Moshe had every right to refuse to address these people. He could have ordered them flogged and shut them up. He was the leader and prophet. He didn’t need to stand for such nonsense. Besides, the law is we don’t force an audit of tzedaka collections or of Temple treasury, so he had every right to refuse the request. Gd trusted him. The Mishkan was built, and that should have been enough.

But Moshe didn’t resent the suspicions. He immediately set about publicly going through each item in the Mishkan, detailing the amounts of materials used and the source of that material. In this way, he showed how important personal integrity is. The people had no right to demand anything of Moshe, yet he was able to see that there was wisdom in providing the detailed reckoning. Indeed, Tanhuma tells us that the reckoning turned out to be necessary. During the course of it, Moshe realized he had forgotten that he allocated some of the silver for the hooks to hang the curtains, and when he and the people found that it had not been misplaced or misused, they rejoiced in his integrity.

Moshe’s example was followed by the Temple treasury. The Mishna writes that there is an elaborate procedure whenever withdrawing the shekalim funds. Furthermore, the person taking the funds out of the treasury could wear no clothes with pockets or even tefillin, where he could potentially hide coins. This was because whenever the treasurer would come into wealth, people would say that he stole from the Temple, and should he become poor, people would instead say the poverty was do to a Heavenly curse for setting his sight on Temple assets. Do we really need to go through such effort to appease people who seem determined to trash-talk regardless of circumstance? 

My teacher, Rabbi Pianko, explained that we certainly do not expect the treasurer would dare steal from the Temple treasury, but nonetheless, we want to show that the Temple runs on honesty. Furthermore, in the uncounted and unwatched treasury, there really is a temptation to steal, which anyone, even the high priest, might momentarily fall prey to. All these precautions are not just to satisfy scoffers. They serve as a reminder to the workers themselves that they are to remain on their best behavior to justify the trust placed in them. The workers accept these restrictions without anger. After all, even Moshe was willing the justify the trust placed in him. Should they not follow his example?

As the Tanhuma tells us, all of us, no matter how upright, will have accusations leveled against us. We can indignantly refuse to pay them heed. Or we can do as Moshe did, and take the opportunity to conduct a self-reckoning. One must always endeavor to justify their behavior to their fellows, not necessarily because it will get rid of suspicions, but because there is a virtue in proving oneself aboveboard.