Our double Torah portion, ParshatVayakheil-Pekudei describes in the grandest of detail the contribution of the numerous items used in the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle). Moses sets up the Mishkan and each part is anointed and arranged in its proper location. And, as promised, God’s glory fills the Mishkan.
We are told in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 257) that even though the gabbi tzedakah, (distributors of charity), are explicitly trusted with funds, it is emphatic that they give a full report of their disbursements (not by name of the recipient), just as Moses does at the beginning of Pekudei. The value of transparency is likewise in demand today. We are constantly asking for transparency in our government on a larger scale and at our synagogue on a smaller scale. As a board member of the Rockland Jewish Academy, the constant mantra is doing everything in the open and completely above board—especially concerning finances. In every instance, the donor and recipient must be blind to each other.
There is a well-known story concerning the gabbai tzedakah who approached a wealthy man for a donation. The man agreed to give a significant donation with the proviso that he would be told to whom his money would be given. The gabbai refused and the man pressured him more and more. Finally, the man said “if you do not tell me, I will not make a donation.”
Then, the gabbai said something to the effect, “I see we will not get your donation.” “In that case” replied the man, “please add me to your list of recipients. People think I am rich and I am too embarrassed to admit I have lost all my money and am penniless. That is why I tested you!” At CSI, the strictest accounting procedures are maintained. and at the same time, aid distributed appropriately. That is why it is important to attend the Congregational Meeting in May to know where we are and where we are headed.
Transparency is paramount, especially in finances. Yet, there is another type of transparency exhibited and then removed at the end of the parsha. Each of the sacred objects of the Mishkan is described in loving detail, and each object was presumably displayed during construction. Finally, Moses (40:33) performs the last human act, yayitein et masach sha’ar hechatzeir by erecting the walls and screen. At that point, God’s glory fills the tabernacle, and even Moses cannot enter. What had once been visible to all in now hidden even from the prophet who had spoken to God panim el panim, face-to-face.
My take from this is that as much as we value transparency—with good reason—there is also a place for opacity and the mystery it engenders. At the very center of the tabernacle and of the soul, there should be some private space for God alone. The gate should be closed sometimes, and we should cherish and nurture that hidden place within.
Our contemporary confessional culture of Facebook and Twitter in which every insight must be shared with everyone, where people broadcast their every hiccup, is troubling (even if I occasionally participate). We must be open and share when appropriate and be modest and private when we can. This is not a luxury but a necessity. When the gate is closed, it makes our willingness to share deep thoughts far more significant. This is a type of spiritual tzniut, modesty, which we can learn from the end of Pekudei. Privacy can lead to holiness; and intimacy with God can lead us to make our connections with other people profound instead of banal with the divine spirit guiding and controlling our destinies.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham