Rabbi Shmuel Elikan
Participant in the Selwyn and Ros Smith Manhigut Toranit Program at Eretz Hemdah
In Parashat Pekudei, which ends Sefer Shmot, Moshe counts the silver and the copper received as donations to the Mishkan, and we’re given a specific account of what each material was used for; the word Pekudei means account, or sum.
It’s interesting to note, that contrary to the silver and copper, the Torah doesn’t give us an account of what the gold donations were used for. This disturbed several of the commentators.
Rav Yehonathan Eybeshütz (1690-1764) suggests that while the silver was a mandatory donation given by the entire population, and the copper was the donation of the poor – and therefore they both require a receipt – the gold was given by the wealthy, and they didn’t need any receipt or acknowledgement.
Nevertheless, our Sages taught us:
“One must look clean in the eyes of others, just as one must look clean in the eyes of G-d. Who do we learn this from? We learn it from Moshe himself, of whom G-d said ‘He is most trustworthy within My entire house’, and yet, he made sure to look clean in the eyes of the People. For when the Mishkan’s work was concluded, he reported to them: ‘this is the account of the donations to the Mishkan'” [Midrash from a manuscript found in the Geniza and cited in Rav Kasher’s Torah Shelema vol. 23, n. 14, pg. 55].
It was accordingly ruled in the Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh De’ah 257] that charity collectors must give an exact fiscal report, so as to be “clean” both in the eyes of men, as in the eyes of G-d. Rav Yoël Sirkis (Poland 1561-1640), the Bach commented [ibid] that there is no source for this ruling, and that maybe it was deduced from Moshe’s behavior, as mentioned above.
But if Moshe was so famously honest, as G-d Himself testified, and as the People surely knew – a fact our Sages mentioned in the Talmud of Jerusalem (Sanhedrin 1,4) – why does he need to give the People a monetary report?
The Poskim differ on whether the requirement to be seen as “clean” is ordained by the Torah [de’orayta] or by our sages [de’rabanan] (cf. Iggrot Moshe O.H. vol. IV, §82) but they all agree that distancing oneself from any suspicion is both an halachic obligation as well as an ethical requirement. One is obligated to avoid a situation in which one’s fellow might suspect him of anything…
This sounds really far-fetched! Why should someone be held responsible for his fellow’s thoughts?! And what exactly is expected in upholding this requirement?
The Divrei Malkiel (Rav Tannenbaum’s (1847-1910) responsa, vol. IV, §61) writes that a person is only responsible for damages resulting from his changing something [e.g. running in the public domain, as opposed to walking normally, see Baba Kama 32]; likewise, when Reuven’s behavior causes Shimon to suspect Reuven of any wrongdoing, it’s considered a diversion from normalcy which can be held against Reuven! In certain ways, one who causes his fellow to sin [like here, where Reuven caused Shimon to suspect Reuven of sinning, which is in itself a sin] – is worse than killing one’s fellow. And so, if one behaves normally without any alteration, one cannot be held responsible for other’s suspecting him for no reason.
Going back to Moshe, apparently there was no obligation for him to give the People a monetary report at the conclusion of the Mishkan’s work, as he did not divert from normal behavior in any way, shape or form. Still, Moshe decided to “err on the safe side” by being extra careful and reducing the chances of any suspicion of theft against him.
The Brisker Rav (Beit HaLevy, Shemot 31) emphasizes this, saying that almost every single paragraph in Parashat Pekudei ends with the words: “Just as G-d has commanded Moshe”. From here we can see that the whole monetary report was an act of piety and there was – according to the halakha – no need for it.
So, the question is, after all, is there any reason Moshe gave this report other than as an act of piety?
Rav Yitzchak Weiss (2nd Spinka Rebbe, 1875-1944) suggested that the reason the People demanded a fiscal report from Moshe was not due to their suspicion. Rather, they wanted to show how excited they were to partake in this special mitzvah, and accordingly wished to receive some form of guarantee that all their donations were indeed used only for their original purpose. He juxtaposes this with the Golden Calf, where the People didn’t demand any fiscal report from Aharon, because deep down inside they knew that their money was going to waste… But here, the silver and the copper are “eternal” (cf. Sforno 38,21), and the request for a report came from a pure heart, from a will to check that everything was used for holy purposes.