Accounting for Life, and All of Its Treasures



With just six weeks until April 15, tax season is upon us. And as we all gather our receipts and statements in the push to make it to the filing deadline, it's perhaps comforting to know that no less than Moses was audited. According to a fascinating Midrash on the subject, he even requested it.

This week's Torah portion begins with a careful accounting of all of the raw materials that went into the construction of the Tabernacle, listing first the amount of gold, silver and copper. But while the silver and copper tabulations are broken down into what exactly these metals were used for — including "1,775 shekels [of silver for] hooks for the pillars" — the amount of gold is simply given as a total, without any statement as to where it went.

The Midrash attempts to explain this curiosity by saying that the audit was Moses' idea. With the job of assembling all of the Tabernacle's required structures and priestly vestments complete, he wanted to prove to the Jewish people that he was above reproach, that everything that was collected went into the Tabernacle — and not into anyone's pocket.

But the audit showed 1,775 shekels of silver unaccounted for. Finally, a heavenly voice shouted down that the missing silver went into the "hooks for the pillars," as recorded by the Torah. Once everyone was satisfied, they decided that there was no need to go through the same process with the gold. Moses clearly had the backing of the heavenly court, so they moved on.

Most of the time, the stories recorded as Midrash are not to be taken literally, and this explanation of Moses' audit is no exception. After the events of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments, would anyone seriously question Moses? And if Moses and Aaron — who performed miracles in Egypt and spoke with the Almighty — decided to make an accounting of every facet of the Tabernacle, would they actually forget where such a large amount of silver went?

There had to be some other reason why the gold is mentioned almost in passing, as opposed to the other precious metals.

A person touring the Tabernacle would be struck by the sheer amount of gold that went into its construction. There was the menorah, made of a solid block of gold weighing 3,000 shekels. Then there was the Ark of the Covenant, which was encased in gold.

Add into the mix the golden altar, bread table and utensils, not to mention all of the gold that went into coating each of the Tabernacle's supporting beams, and we're talking a lot of gold.

It's safe to say that the amount of gold the Torah records as having been "offered-up" by the people — 87,730 shekels worth — was not enough, not by a long shot. We can conclude that none other than Moses offered the balance from his own private funds.

Not only was the quintessential Jewish leader above reproach, he was personally invested in the communal enterprise of creating a dwelling place for the Divine.

Moses' act of self-sacrifice offers a lesson for each of us: While the Jewish nation is an identity unto itself, it comprises so many different individuals, each with their own skills, traits, shortcomings and strengths. At the end of the day, it cannot succeed in its task of perfecting the world unless each and every member maximizes his or her contribution to the cause.

Rabbi Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is the editor of News. E-mail him at: [email protected]


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