We find, when reading the Torah portion of Pekudei, that, when Moses appealed to the nation of Israel to provide funds and raw materials needed for the inauguration of the Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle), everyone responded with such amazing warm-hearted generosity that, in a relatively short time, Moses declared a halt to the contributions, and, afterwards, the Mishkan’s construction was completed according to G-d’s instructions.
As we continue to read, we find that, despite G-d’s expressed absolute trust in Moses (Bamidbar 12:7), our great leader, saw it fitting to make a detailed accounting of how all the contributions were utilized.
Was it really necessary that one having the integrity of the likes of none other than Moses should need to delineate what exactly he did with the monies that he was entrusted with?
In A Vort from Rav Pam, pp. 125-126, the respected rosh yeshiva of Torah VaDaat R. Avraham Pam affirms that, indeed, despite all logic, as cited in various statements of our Sages, even Moses was treated with suspicion by those whom who led out of Egypt, and, therefore, felt compelled to make a detailed accounting of his actions. In light of this necessity, R. Pam suggests how much more so must every one of us, especially those of us in the public eye, be cognizant of the need to do whatever possible to avoid anything that may arouse suspicion – especially when it comes to money matters.
In fact, R. Pam notes an anecdote regarding R. Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), the father of the Mussar Movement, who once visited the office of a very wealthy philanthropist. On the philanthropist’s desk were stacks of hundred ruble notes. During their discussion, the wealthy man was called out of his office, leaving R. Salanter alone in the office. When the philanthropist returned after a few minutes, he found the room empty. R. Salanter was no longer there! Puzzled, the man searched for his special guest until he found R. Salanter standing outside on the street. Upon being queried concerning his actions, R. Salanter replied, “You know that the Gemara (Bava Batra 165a) says that most people are suspected of some form of thievery, while only a minority are suspected when it comes to immoral behavior. However, it is forbidden to be secluded (yichud) with a woman (who is not one’s wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, or granddaughter). So, certainly one must be careful not to permit ‘yichud’ with money that is not one’s own … You left me alone with all those stacks of hundred-ruble notes. How could I remain in the room?”
While this anecdote may prompt a smile from the reader, R. Pam points out that it emphasizes how careful Jewish leaders, in the footsteps of the great leader of our nation Moses, were to avoid any suspicion when it came to other people’s money – even when in the company of those who implicitly trusted them. How much more so should all of us be careful when dealing with those who may be looking for an excuse to find fault with us or to point an accusatory finger at us.
Establishing accountability is important for all! It was important for Moses when he collected funds and materials for the Mishkan. It was important for the great scion of ethics R. Salanter a number of generations ago. It is certainly important for every one of us.