Corporations could benefit from heeding Moses’ lessons

Friday, March 8, 2002 | by

Rabbi Pinchas Lipner



Vayakhel-Pekude

Shabbat HaKodesh

Exodus 35:1-40:38, 12:1-20

Ezekiel 45:16-46:18

I Samuel 20:18, 42

"These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle which were reckoned by Moses" (Exodus 38:21). This is how Parashat Pekude begins.

When the heroic task of building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was completed, Moses offered a detailed reckoning of the amounts of gold, silver and copper that were contributed by the Jewish people. He in fact gave a complete accounting of everything that had been collected, as well as the use of all of the donations.

Why did Moses feel it necessary to put forth this fully itemized statement? Did he know of some nasty gossip making the rounds? Did he feel that he was not trusted by the masses to be meticulously honest?

There does not seem to be any evidence of this. There is, however, an injunction in the Torah in the Book of Numbers where Moses himself uses the expression, "And you shall be clean from G-d and from Israel" (Numbers 32:22). It is an extremely important moral concept that is not necessarily accepted in today's society.

Moses cautions that a person must be above suspicion and blame in the eyes of both G-d and his fellow man. To be blameless in the sight of G-d is in a sense more easily accomplished. It requires that we make every effort to discern His will and to do it. He knows our desires and motives, our strengths and weaknesses. There can be nothing hidden from Him.

To appear clean, however, in the sight of man, who can be petty, suspicious, quick to judge and limited in understanding, is a good deal more challenging. The Torah does not accept the position that if a person knows in his heart that what he is doing is right, it doesn't matter if his actions appear shady or illegal or immoral to others. He must always concern himself with the appearance of proper behavior.

This does not mean, of course, that we have to obsess on what others think about what kind of car we drive or our choice of a spouse or where we choose to live. We must, however, strive to be and to appear honest and trustworthy. It is for this reason, that even though Moses was certainly not (G-d forbid) suspected by the people of embezzlement or theft or misuse of the contributions made toward the building of the Mishkan, he nevertheless felt obliged to be totally forthcoming.

This was in order to teach us forever that a true leader must be accountable for his actions and deeds. In the grace after meals, we express this notion, "And may we find favor and good understanding in the eyes of G-d and man." We ask to be beyond reproach or suspicion in all of our dealings in order to create a just civil society.

The Talmud (Yoma 38a) provides several extraordinary, remarkable and perhaps even extreme examples that underline the need to conduct ourselves in a manner that demonstrates that we are above suspicion. It tells us that the people who were responsible for baking the lechem hapanim (show bread) for the Temple did not permit the same fine quality flour needed for this task to be used in the baking of their own bread lest they be suspected or accused of pilfering the fine flour meant for the Temple.

Those who were assigned to prepare the incense for the divine Temple service did not allow their daughters even at their own weddings to be perfumed lest people say that they perfumed themselves with the incense preparation of the Temple. Also we are taught that when the priest entered the Temple chamber where the shekalim (funds) were stored, he did not wear a sleeved cloak, shoes or sandals lest he be suspected of removing some of the shekalim for his own use.

All this we are told was done to fulfill Moses' admonition to be guiltless before G-d and Israel. Small wonder that our teacher Moses felt compelled at the conclusion of the monumental project of building the Mishkan to account fully to the Jewish people for every contribution.

In our financially troubled and scandal-ridden times, the complexion of our society would certainly be considerably different if the leaders of our institutions and companies felt thus compelled. If stockholders and the public could count on detailed, honest and forthcoming reports from CEOs and board members who were anxious to be "clean" in everyone's eyes, a good deal of tragic financial loss might be prevented.

Shabbat Shalom.