In this, the last perasha in Sefer Shemot, we are going to deal with one of the more ostensibly uninteresting passages in the Torah, and some quite interesting possible readings of it. This week, as the multiply repeated narratives of the Mishkan come to a close, an inventory list is given, an accounting of just how much precious metal was used overall, and then the breakdown of gold, silver and bronze used per Mishkan related item. What is all this actuarial information supposed to relay to us? The Midrashic reading is no less curious. The Midrash in Shemot Raba 51:6 tells us that at the conclusion of building the Mishkan Moshe decided to give an accounting of all the material used, but couldn’t figure out where 1757 shekel went. He began to worry, that now the people will say that Moshe skimmed a little off the Mishkan funds for his own pocket, until Gd caused him to look upward, and he remembered that the money was used to make the vavim, the hooks for the columns. The Midrash changes person, saying that at that moment ‘all of Israel’, not just Moshe, was relieved. If the imputation of suspicion onto Moshe by the people was not explicit enough in that section of the Midrash, it is added later, that all of Israel suspected Moshe of getting rich off of the Mishkan. This theme appears in several places, for example in the Jerusalem Talmud, at the end of Sanhedrin, where the people make a similar accusation based on an erroneous calculation of the monetary standard.
It does seem a little odd that the people still don’t trust Moshe, and that he must submit to this kind of audit to ‘clear’ himself. I would like to present three accounts of this accounting, each of which leads to a very different set of lessons. The most apologetic reading for the people is that of the Tiferet Shelomo (Radomsk). He furthers the question by pointing out how absurd this accusation would be against Moshe, after all, after the victory of the Yam Suf, it was Moshe who took nothing from the spoils and had to urge the people to move on. Thus, he rereads this account entirely. He explains that the whole point of the Mishkan was to create a sacred space out of the good intentions of the people; prior to giving money the people had to transform themselves, make their own hearts equivalent to the Ark, etc, as stated in the Zohar. But, the people were concerned that perhaps they were inadequate to the task, had ulterior motives such as pride, and therefore their gifts would be unworthy and not used in the construction of the Mishkan. Thus, in his reading, what the people wanted to see was how much of the money was used and what was rejected. Thus, when they saw that all the donations were used, they felt relieved and validated. What was at question was not Moshe’s propriety, but the peoples’. When Moshe showed them by this accounting was that they were indeed all included in the making of the Mishkan.