Parshiyot Vayakhel/Pekudei 5770: Shabbos, the Mishkan and Accountability of National Leadership

by Moshe Burt

The terms leadership, accountability and transparency have often been bandied about in contemporary Medinat Yisrael where dedication, diligence and overriding concern for the welfare of the Kahal have often been wanting as compared with the influence, enrichment, protexia and political agendization of the few, the privileged, the elitists.

Our Parsha Vayakhel is dedicated to teaching B’nai Yisrael about Shabbos which has always, until recent times, been the unifying, defining factor of Judaism. It alludes to all else — Yishuv HaAretz, Kiddushin, etc. It symbolizes the Jew’s faith in Hashem. The parsha begins by stating that “Moshe assembled the entire congregation of B’nai Yisrael…” (Perek 35, Posuk 1) However, Torah’s loshen (language) “Adat B’nai Yisrael”, in the context of learning the laws of Shabbos as related to the construction of the Mishkan, seems to indicate a unity, as one, amongst the Assembly of the B’nai Yisrael.

The introduction of Parsha Vayakhel;

“…These are the words that Hashem commanded you to do” (Perek 35, Posuk 1)

is not merely an introduction but a rectification, a kapparah for the Chait HaEigel.

But there is question. Was Vayakhel meant only as a Mitzvah in the times of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Malchei Yisrael? Or was it also meant to have application for B’nai Yisrael throughout our travails in Galut? Was it meant to apply in our current troubled times where divisiveness, me-first self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement amidst a bitter war against murderous Arab terror threatens to destroy us from within in ways that the Arabs alone would never be able to accomplish were we truly “Adat B’nai Yisrael”?

The word Vayakhel — Assembling together of Kol B’nai Yisrael, introduces the building of the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting), the forerunner of the Beit HaMikdash, which would serve as a kappara (atonement) for the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf).

A few years ago, Rav Arye Gordon said on our Parsha;

Vayakhel, when used for Tov, is to actualize immense power and potential which is capable of being used for the most lofty, noble goals — building, growing and developing love for our fellow Jews, Kavod shel Shemayim V’Torah (man’s recognition of Hashem’s control of the world and Torah as Hashem’s blueprint for man’s service).

Vayakhel, when used for rah, is capable of being used, Heaven forbid, to undermine and destroy. Or if the vehicle, Vayakhel is not used at all, the reticence and inability of Am Yisrael to come together and even talk about unity is something for which we all would be held accountable.

Mida keneged Mida, Vayakhel of our Parsha, by Moshe Rabbeinu’s emphasis on the holiness of Shabbat and his appeal for funds and donations toward the building of the Mishkan, he serves to bring about rectification of the previous misuse both of gathering together and of the donations of gold which went into the making of the avodah zora. The message of Parsha Vayakhel seems meant to atone for the Chait HaEigel.

Much later on, as the B’nai Yisrael is finally about to enter the Land of Israel after their 40 years in Bamidbar, Moshe calls together the Kahal in parsha Vayeilich to give over his final discourse on Torah and Halacha before his passing.

And perhaps in our times, our Vayakhel conjures up a tikkun, an atonement for the disunity among us which has rendered us ineffective in opposing successive Israeli regimes which have merciful to the cruel and cruel to the merciful, as exemplified by the expulsion and by failure to remove and eradicate the resultant terror threat from Gaza. This regime mercy before the enemy has resulted in a vindictive cruelty to her own citizenry manifested by loss of life and crushing trauma amongst significant segments of Israel’s Jewish population, aside from the 10,000 former residents of Gush Katif and the 4 Shomron towns.

Our Parsha Pekudei begins;

“These are the accounts of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary), the Mishkan of testimony, which were drawn up on Moshe’s orders …” (Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 21 — Metsudah Linear Chumash, page 579).

In short, Pekudei is the accountant’s parsha, the parsha of crunching the numbers.

The Sefer L’lmod U’Lamed (Parsha Pekudei, pages 97-98) asks what the primary reason was for Moshe’s detailed accounting of the costs of the construction of the Mishkan. The Sages tell that “there were apparently some who suspected that Moshe might have keep some … contributions for his own use.” (L’lmod U’Lamed, page 98).

The Sefer “The Midrash Says” (pages 357-360) notes that Moshe Rabbeinu overheard mutterings among certain people, presumably sinful individuals such as Dasan and Aviram, who cast aspersions upon his (Moshe’s) honesty regarding the allocation of the people’s donations. Therefore, Moshe committed himself to account for the allocation and purpose of everything donated toward the construction of the Mishkan.
“The Midrash Says” (page 357) then relates that not only did Moshe account for all donations, but he “… gave his calculations to a second person, Ithamar Ben Aharon, for verification.” Perhaps this was the first real CPA-like audit.

The irony here is that when the jewelry and gold were collected for making the Chait HaEigel, no accountability or transparency, no source and allocation of donations was demanded of those who compelled the Eigel. However, when the donations came in and the Mishkan was constructed many demanded and expected such accountability and transparency from Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshe Rabbeinu therefore was the model of, and set the standard for accountability, oversight and transparency of leadership.

Moshe is, for all times, the prototype of a true Jewish Leader — humble, modest, without desire for self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. His first and foremost thought was for the welfare and well-being of his nation — the B’nai Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu was above corruption and self-enrichment. Nobody owned him as he could not be bought.

If only the modern-day “leaders” of Medinat Yisrael — from the prime minister and his cabinet; 120 Chavrei Knesset, even and perhaps particularly the so-called “religious” alignments, were to even begin to tip the scales toward moral integrity, fiscal accountability and transparency and caring for one’s fellow Jew as himself, then each of them would have been no files opened by the Attorney General’s office or be investigated by the state comptroller and no one would conjure up laws permitting the legalized ripping off one’s fellow Jews of their homes and possessions at politically agendized court sanctioned legalized gunpoint without proper lawful and transparent restitution.

The point of these twin parshiyot seems that the nation craves leaders who set the tone, model and standard for honesty, compassion and the good and welfare of the masses. When there is this standard of selfless morality among the leadership of Medinat Yisrael, there will inevitably be emulation by a unified Am (the people) who would then treat each other honestly and with loving compassion in their business and monetary dealings as well as in all levels of interaction Bein Adom L’Chaveiro.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to stand up to prevent any further evictions of Jews from their homes and to prevent any further handing over of Jewish land to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.