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.