Things were different with the tabernacle erected by the Israelites in the wilderness. “The Children of Israel made it in accordance with all that God commanded Moses, so they made it” (Ex. 39:32). Not only were the Divine instructions carried out to the letter, but everything was above board.
This, say the rabbis, is why today’s sidra is called P’kudei – “Accounts”. In case anyone harboured any suspicion that Moses might have pocketed any of the funds donated for the tabernacle, here is an itemised list of everything that came in and where it was spent.
The Talmud reports that Rabbi Yose said, “May my lot be among those who collect charity, not those who disburse it” (Shabbat 118b).
These days most of us regard fundraising as a thankless task and would rather distribute the funds, but Rabbi Yose knew what Moses knew, that it is easy to be suspected. That is why the same rabbi added, “May my lot be among those who are suspected whilst innocent” – not that that’s so easy either.
Rabbi Yose is reported further as saying, “I have never disregarded the words of my neighbours… I have never in my life said anything which I had to retract”.
Note that he says “never”. In Gilbert and Sullivan there is the line, “Never? Well, hardly ever!” How remarkable you have to be to know that, however lowly your social status, you have never let yourself steal from the system or do anything mean or unworthy.
Today we see all the time that public figures have feet of clay, even people who hold high positions of trust. What a change it would be for someone to say, “I never rorted the system… I never betrayed my trust… I never compromised my office”.
Greatness does not lie only in grand moments, charismatic appearances and impressive oratory, but in the quiet unsung daily discipline of constant decency, honesty and integrity. We have much to learn about this from Moshe Rabbenu and Rabbi Yose.