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)