Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

>Shabbat Pekudei/Shekalim 5771

We find ourselves at the stage between collection and construction. The materials for the Mishkan have been gathered; the people have been more than generous. The time has come to put it all together, and eventually, Moshe will set it up. But first, there’s business to conduct: an audit.

Seriously, now! The project was commissioned by God, Moshe laid out the instructions, and Bezalel and Oholiav directed the project from the artistic standpoint. This group is of unimpeachable character; the Torah is actually going to bring their ethical reputations under a microscope so we can measure the materials one talent and one shekel at a time?

Actually, yes. We are going to count gold, silver, and copper meticulously, but not as an indictment of the collectors. It might, though, be an indictment of the cynical way others think about the collectors. As explained by the mystic and commentator Rabbi Hayyim ben Attar (18th century, North Africa) in his work Or Hahayyim, Moshe himself commissions the audit for the sake of full transparency, so that no one will suspect him of any misappropriations. This approach is the source of a law codified in the Shulkhan ‘Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 257) that even tzedakah collectors with sparkling ethical reputations should submit reports, following Moshe’s lead.

The lesson here is that when communal funds go to a sacred purpose, the sanctity of the project is dependent on the confidence of the participants in its legitimacy. Having witnessed examples of corruption in the corporate world, and with the devastating impact of Madoff’s fraudulent schemes on Jewish philanthropy, maybe we can be forgiven our cynicism. A voluntary audit is a sound preemptive strike at that cynicism. If Moshe can open the books, every Jewish organization large and small should be willing to do the same.