Parashat Pekudei

Keeping Accounts

Moses' account of all of the materials of the Tabernacle is a model for the honesty and transparency with which we should run our businesses.

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Now, why did he feel he had to give an accounting? The Holy One trusted him, as is said, "He is trusted in all My house" (Numbers 12:7). Why then did he give an accounting?

Because he heard the scoffers of the generation talk behind his back, as is said, "Whenever Moses went out to the Tent [of Meeting], all the people would rise and stand... and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent." (Exodus 33:8).

Of course, when we read Exodus 33:8, we imagine the people rising out of honor and gazing in awe as Moses is enveloped in the pillar of cloud at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The rabbis of the midrash, however, give us a different sense--the people standing in sullen resentment, sniping behind his back:

What were they saying? Eyeing him with contempt from behind, one would say to the other: Look at his neck! Look at his thighs! He stuffs himself with what belongs to us and guzzles what is ours. And the other would reply: Stupid! A man appointed over the work of the Tabernacle, over talents of silver and talents of gold whose weight and number are too great to measure--what do you expect? That he would not enrich himself?

When Moses heard this talk, he said: As you live, when the work of the Tabernacle is finished, I will give you an accounting. When it was finished, he said, "These are the accounts of the Tabernacle" (Exodus 38:21).

How Apropos

How apropos to read about the need for proper accounting in the aftermath some of the largest bankruptcies in American history. It is not merely the collapse of companies and the loss of jobs and business that has so shocked the country. It is the damage caused by companies' dishonest accounting practices, and the fury with executives who cashed out billions of dollars in company stocks when they were near their peaks.

By contrast, the accounts of the Tabernacle are transparent, made public, for the entire community to hear. It is not just the people's gold, silver, and copper that have been given to the building of the mishkan--it is their trust as well. Pekudei serves as a useful reminder to our community organizations and businesses that they must operate--and be seen to operate--at the highest levels of honesty and transparency in bookkeeping.

The word pekudei from which the parashah derives its name can be translated in various ways--accounts, records, remembrances. It cautions us that keeping accounts is not only a responsibility to those involved in an enterprise, but a remembrance of how one has acted in the world.

"These are the accounts of the mishkan--the mishkan of witnessing," begins the parashah. The structures we build in our communities bear witness to what we have put into them. How we use, or misuse, the trust and assets of other people is ultimately recorded, witnessed, and remembered.

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Gilah Langer

Gilah Langner is a consultant and mother living in Washington, DC. She is co-editor of Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism.