The demand for truth or the politically correct

Parsha and its Implementation - Parashat Pekudei - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

After the completion of the construction of the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu, on his initiative, prepares a "performance report" which he presents to the entire nation. The report included the total "income" from the contribution collected from the people and the "expenses" spent in the building of the Mishkan.

"אֵ֣לֶּה פְקוּדֵ֤י These are the records" it is written in full with the Vav to show all six hundred thousand, they should not suspect he took the money" (Baal Haturim Shmot 38:21). The commentators explained the initiative of Moshe Rabbeinu to create transparency in his financial conduct and to prevent suspicion of corruption and embezzlement of donations. Therefore, the report was presented to the whole nation - six hundred thousand people.

The Kli Yakar was strict to mention that in order to prevent the suspicion, Moshe Rabbeinu even hastened to prepare an interim report before the work was completed: "Therefore Moshe was happy that the silver and copper work was completed, and he was eager to give an account to remove himself from the suspicion. And did not want to wait until the priestly garments mentioned in this Parsha were made and to give account of the money, gold and copper together"(Kli Yakar Shmot ibid).

Moshe Rabbeinu saw the need to submit a report even though there was no basis for suspicion against him: "Even though Moshe Rabbeinu was loyal to all of Israel, he took account of the expenses from the Mishkan etc."(Lekach Tov, ibid).

Hence, the sages learned that public leadership must be conducted in accordance with the rules of public cleanliness in order to strengthen the trust between them and the people and to prevent gossip: "Rabbi Shmuel said: We find in the Torah, the Nevi'im and the Ktuvim that one must go with people the same way that he must go with Hashem. In the Torah, where? "…you shall be clear before Hashem and before Israel…" וִהְיִיתֶ֧ם נְקִיִּ֛ים מֵה' וּמִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֑ל (Bamidvar 32:22). And from the Ktuvim? וּמְצָא־חֵ֖ן וְשֵֽׂכֶל־ט֑וֹב בְּעֵינֵ֖י אֱלֹהִ֣ים וְאָדָֽם׃"And you will find favor and approbation in the eyes of G-d and man" (Proverbs 3:4) And who do you learn from? From Moshe.

Even though it is written in Bamidvar 12:7: "Not so with My servant Moshe; he is trusted throughout My household".

לֹא־כֵ֖ן עַבְדִּ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה בְּכָל־בֵּיתִ֖י נֶאֱמָ֥ן הֽוּא׃

He asked to be clear with the people, because when the work of the Mishkan was taking place, he said to them, "These are the records of the Tabernacle." More so the public leaders who need to be clear with the public". (מדרש מכת"י תורה שלמה כאן אות יד).

But here there is room to ask the question, what is the limit to fear and the need to prevent gossip? Who were the vile people who might have raised suspicion about Moshe the faithful shepherd? And is such fear necessary that even Moshe, who was known for his loyalty, should fear that someone might be suspicious? And are these suspicions such, that they are trying to please, which may make the leadership "apologetic."

Leadership must control and exercise authority especially when it is required to firmly lead unpopular public moves.

On the other hand, a leadership that tries to please the public and goes out of its way to find favor, might find itself acting in a populist manner.

This danger is increasing in the modern age in which the choice of leadership is conducted democratically, and public dissatisfaction may lead to the overthrow of the leadership.

Populist decision-making may win the leadership in public favor in the short term, but in the long run the public will realize that such decisions are not real and do not work in its favor. In general, a populist leadership is a blackmailing leadership, and invites interested pressure groups at the expense of the rest of the public.

In the era of "political correctness", there is another front in which the leadership must courageously express its positions and make correct and necessary decisions that are not "politically correct". There is a public and even spiritual leadership that seeks to please the Politicly correct, to favor them and to align with them.

The public knows how to identify a populist leadership and it will lose its status, power and authority. Perhaps this is how Moshe Rabbeinu taught us that there is a difference between the public cleanliness in the field of preventing corruption and transparency of financial conduct and the tendency to please the public in other areas.

This is how it is possible to explain Rabi Abaye's words:

אמר אביי האי צורבא מרבנן דמרחמין ליה בני מתא לאו משום דמעלי טפי אלא משום דלא מוכח להו במילי דשמיא

Abaye said: With regard to this Torah scholar who is beloved by the residents of his town, it is not because he is a superior Sage than others; rather, it is because he does not reprove them in Heavenly matters. He is beloved because he is not strict with them with regard to the observance of mitzvot. " (Ketubot 105b).

That is; a Talmid chacham whose fellow townsmen love him does not mean that he is excellent and successful, but because he does not prove them wrong or challenge them spiritually. There is a saying attributed to Ben-Gurion: "I do not ask myself, 'What do the people want?', But 'What do the people need?' This kind of leadership sometimes finds itself bravely led against the tide.

What is the boundary between Abaye's statement, and the measure given by the Sages?

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, כָּל שֶׁרוּחַ הַבְּרִיּוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ, רוּחַ הַמָּקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ. וְכָל שֶּׁאֵין רוּחַ הַבְּרִיּוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ, אֵין רוּחַ הַמָּקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ.

He would say: Anyone from whom the spirit of creations find pleasure, from him the spirit of God finds pleasure. And anyone from whom the spirit of creations do not find pleasure, from him the spirit of God does not find pleasure. (Pirkei Avot 3:10) And,

אביי אמר כדתניא (דברים ו, ה) ואהבת את ה' אלהיך שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך

Abaye said: As it was taught in a baraita that it is stated: “And you shall love the Lord your G-d” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which means that you shall make the name of Heaven beloved (Yoma 86a).

The limit is the pure truth! The leadership should strive to satisfy the public, but not at the price of giving up the absolute truth. Even in telling the truth, one must consider whether things will be heard, since

..."כשם שמצוה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע כך מצוה על אדם שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע"

"Just as it is a mitzva for a person to say that which will be heeded, so is it a mitzva for a person not to say that which will not be heeded". (Yevamot 65b).

But then it is better to remain silent and not say anything that is not true just because it is popular.

Parshat Pikudei תשע"ו– Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

Our parsha is the conclusion of the national project of constructing the Mishkan, and G-d's bestowing Hashra'at Shechinah (the indwelling of the Divine Presence). At its close, Moshe Rabbenu presents the nation with an exact account of the amounts of the donations given for the Mishkan and the way these donations were used. "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were counted by Moshe, for the work of the Leviim by the hand of Itamar the son of Aharon the Kohen. All the gold used in the work, in all the holy work…was… And the silver of those of the nation who were counted was… And the brass that was brought up was… And from the blue, the purple and the scarlet, they made… (Shemot 38: 21-30)

The Torah doesn't explain why Moshe had to give a detailed account of the use of the donations to the Mishkan. Similarly, the Torah mentions the fact that Moshe does this in conjunction with another person – Itamar. What for?

In the words of our sages we find two different directions in answering these questions. The first: Because there were those who accused Moshe Rabbenu of taking from the contributions for himself. "But Moshe heard Israel talking behind his back… (One) said: look at his neck, look at his legs. He eats from the Jews and drinks from the Jews and all he has is from the Jews. His companion answers him: The one who is in charge of the work of the Mishkan, don't you expect him to get rich?! When Moshe heard this, he said to them: "By your lives, when the Mishkan will be finished I will make an account with you! As it says, "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, etc." (Midrash Tanhuma Pikudei 4)

The second explanation: Exactly for the reason that no one would think of suspecting Moshe Rabbenu of taking for himself from the contributions. "And even though Moshe Rabbenu was trusted by all of Israel, he made an account of the materials of the Mishkan." (Leket Tov)
To the contrary, Moshe appoints Itamar to be treasurer together with him so that he will see clearly that there is absolutely no chance that he took anything for himself. "The man of faith" is Moshe who was made treasurer of the construction of the Mishkan. The Rabbis learned: Monetary authority over the public isn't delegated to less than two people. But we see that Moshe was treasurer by himself, so how can we say that we can't appoint less than two? The answer is: even though Moshe alone was appointed, he called on others and made the calculation with them, as is written (Shemot 38): "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were counted by Moshe." The Torah didn't write "which Moshe counted (by himself)" but "which were counted by Moshe…by the hand of Itamar." (Shemot Rabbah Pikudei 51)

The first explanation is very clear, even though it's hard to believe that anyone suspected Moshe Rabbenu of corruption or misuse of the donations. However the second direction is not clear enough. Why should Moshe bring up an unnecessary debate, and why invent an answer for a question that wasn't asked?
Moshe Rabbenu's behavior sets a basic public norm for transparency and for placing high barriers against public corruption. Rav Shmuel bar Nachman said: We saw in the Torah, in the Prophets and the Writings that a man must fulfill his obligation to other people just like he must fulfill his obligation to G-d. Where does the Torah say this? "And you will be clean before G-d and Israel." Where in the Writings? "And (he) found grace and good sense in the eyes of G-d and man." Whom do we learn this from? From Moshe. Even though G-d testifies about him: "In all My house he is trusted" Moshe made a point of being clean before the people. When the construction of the Mishkan was finished, he said to them "These are the accounts of the Mishkan." All the more so, (regular) public leaders must be clean before the public." (Midrash from manuscripts, Torat Shlomo there, 14)
Even if there is no chance that someone would suspect Moshe or someone like him, it is important that the civic system and its leaders act according to high standards of public hygiene and, transparency and "clean hands."

From this, our Sages prescribed the manner of handling of the Shekalim collected for the purchase of public sacrifices offered in the Temple, three times a year: "The purchaser (who takes the Shekalim for the sacrifices) doesn't enter the Lishkah (Temple treasury) with either pargod hafut, or shoes, or sandals, or Tefillin or an amulet. (All of these are things where theoretically money could be hidden). Lest he should become poor, and people will say it's because of his sin of stealing from the treasury, or lest he become wealthy and people will say that he got rich from the treasury. (All this is) because a person must be clean before men like he must before G-d, as it is written (Bamidbar 32): And you will be clean before G-d and Israel. And it is also written (Mishlei 3): And (he) found grace and good sense in the eyes of G-d and man." (Mishnah Shekalim 3,3)

In a situation of elected officials administering public funds, the potential for moral failure is great. There is a great temptation to take from the public's money, or to exploit the position to receive favors. The corruption of public officials who embezzle community funds is a severe blow to the public. One result could be the public's loss of trust in its leaders, and avoiding giving to the community's fund in the future. Public transparency removes the basis for accusations, inspires the public's trust and strengthens the communal resilience.
Not every field of public affairs lends itself to transparency. There are areas which must be concealed from the public, whether to protect the privacy of individuals or to protect military or professional secrets (to prevent stealing information and unfair competition). But regarding money and benefits of public figures, transparency is necessary.

On the other side of the coin, in every society there are people, motivated by jealousy or fanaticism, who look for every excuse to raise suspicions about others and to incite disputes. Public figures are easy targets. It is easy to convince the public that they are the reason for deprivation and discrimination.
Therefore the Sages obliged the gabbaim (collectors and distributors) of tzedakah, even if they are considered trustworthy, to give an account to the public: "Administrators of charity, even if they are trustworthy, don't have to be checked after. Nevertheless, in order to be clean before G-d and Israel, they should give an account." (Tur, Yoreh De'ah 257) This law, which has no source in the Poskim (codifiers of Jewish law), is also learned from Moshe Rabbenu: "This is not found in the Poskim, and maybe they learned it from Moshe Rabbenu of blessed memory, who gave an account of the contributions to the Mishkan. For who is like him, trusted in his (G-d's) house? And he gave an account in order to be clean before G-d and Israel. (the Bach)

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