Shabbat Pekudey: Get Over Yourself and Go Learn

Our parashat hashavua this week, Pekudey, could be known as “the Accountants’ Parashah”. Pekudey means “records”, and our text begins with 

אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת, אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל-פִּי מֹשֶׁה:  עֲבֹדַת, הַלְוִיִּם, בְּיַד אִיתָמָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן

These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, as they were rendered under Moses’s supervision: the work done by the Levites, under Itamar, son of Aaron the priest. (Ex.38.21)

Why is this report of expenses and materials used included in the Torah? According to midrashic interpretation, it was to prove to suspicious Israelites that neither Moshe nor anyone else involved in the work had stolen anything.

Moshe heard people speaking about him: “Look at all the things he has. He eats from the Jews’ property, drinks from the Jews’ property, and all that he has is from the Jews.” Another one said: “Would you think that the one who is in charge of all the work of the Mishkan would not be rich?” 

The midrash concludes that Moshe decided that when he finished the Mishkan, he would do an exact accounting of everything that was collected and used. (TanhumaPekudei 4)

This is a sad, but highly believable, explanation, and it is certainly not limited to the Generation of the Wilderness, as they are called. Although Moshe has done nothing to merit suspicion, the jealousy of those who feel inadequate is turned upon him. The jealousy, and the anger it creates, is not expressed openly and truthfully, but rather comes cloaked in perfectly “normal” comments. But underneath it everyone can tell that the real problem is with the accuser.

Moshe is called trustworthy by G-d, no less. In our own terms, he has done nothing to provoke the attack, and actually is demonstrably innocent. We are left with the question of why he was accused.

The Israelites were on the cusp of a great new thing: the Mishkan was nearly completed, and the path to which they had committed was to become a reality. Were they having second thoughts, these suspicious fault-finders? Was this their way to express a personal sense of fear or vulnerability? Perhaps – and their inability to see themselves and their true feelings led them toward an even worse place: vulnerable turns to suspicious, and then to anger – and then to evil.

“Blessing is only possible in things hidden from sight.” (Talmud, Taanit 8b). The Sochotchover Rebbe (Poland, 1838-1910) noted that a blessing has an inner, quiet strength of holiness; that which is done in awareness of observers is more often vulnerable to evil. Yet we live in community! And so from time to time, those who do good quietly are going to be unjustly accused in public of wrong doing by those who are jealous, or frightened. 

In community we of course have the right and the responsibility to keep honest records. But we do not have the right to pretend to ask for an accounting when it is only a cloak for a truth that is more difficult.

The mystics bid us pay attention to the fact that when our I is foremost in our vision, we can’t see anything but ourselves. Move your “I think, I feel, I need” out of the center of your vision, and see what vistas are revealed.

The next time you are moved to suspicion, remember the Jewish ethic of judging l’khaf zekhut, “giving the benefit of the doubt”. It does not matter who it is or what you suspect: you must work on yourself here. Before you formulate an accusation even in your heart, do the ethical exercise of considering the many ways in which the person you suspect may actually be innocent. Then look at yourself and ask – why you are angry, really?

And then remind yourself of the Jewish way out of anger and toward peace and wholeness – go and study Torah.

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