March 16, 2012

This past Sunday many of us sat at the Islamic Center for an inspirational Interfaith Symposium.  It was invigorating hearing from our moderate Muslim friends regarding Islamic practice inRocklandCountyandAmericain general as well as their feelings about their “brethren” outside of theUnited Stateswe so often hear about.  Their answer, given innumerable times throughout the evening, was how these Muslims in theMiddle Eastare deviating from the Koran in multiple ways.

The Muslim panelists made it clear that they did not approve of the way countries, such asSaudi Arabia,Iran,Iraq, andEgypt, treat women and their overall interpretation of the Koran.  What became extremely apparent by the end was that in the same way we struggle with the extremists in Judaism, they too are struggling with the extremists in Islam.  It is hard to speak for the Muslims, but the Jews certainly have not always been fragmented.  We see in the greatest building fund drive of all time in this week’s parsha that the donations produced materials far in excess of what was needed.  Moses had to tell the people to stop bringing!

Our double parsha Vayakeil-Pekudei repeats the descriptions of the Mishkan construction, including long, detailed lists of items donated by the Israelites.  Biblical interpreter Don Isaac Abravanel counts five repetitions of building plans and donation lists within the Torah.  Abravanel queries, “Why would the Torah keep reiterating such details?”

Ramban, Nachmanides, answers Abravanel by claiming that all the repetition reflects the love with which the sanctuary was viewed by God.  Such repetition is designed to underscore its importance in the hearts of the Israelites.  On the other hand, modern commentator Rabbi Umberto Cassuto suggests that all the duplication is merely a matter of “style”.  Ancient Middle Eastern documents, he claims, all contain repetitions of details, especially plans describing sacred places of worship.

Early rabbinic commentators would disagree with Cassuto.  They believe that the details and lists serve an important function.  Moses, they say, carefully records each heart-given gift.  Afterwards, he reviews the contribution and checks his list against others made by the “contractors”, Bezalel and Oholiab.  Then he scrutinizes each entry, making sure that nothing has been overlooked or misplaced.  All this repetition attention to detail and recapitulation of what was given and how it was used, is a matter of accountability.  For Moses, the rabbis observe, accountability by public officials of what they collect and how they use it is a moral responsibility.  Public officials must be above reproach.

Why did Moses insist on such accountability?  Was he not the trusted leader of his people?  Could anyone have thought he was misusing these sacred donations?  What is the Torah telling us?

The answer is clear.  Jewish tradition mandates that public officials must be above suspicion.  The community must have full confidence in the integrity and honesty of those chosen to serve.  Handling the funds of others demands open and scrupulous scrutiny.  Just as Moses makes a detailed public accounting of his collection and expenditure of funds, all public and religious officials are to be held to the highest ethical standards.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham