Faithful Accounting

If you thought you were a person of firm principles, you may need to think again before you purchase that next lottery ticket. A joint study of Australian and British citizens has concluded that lottery winners tend to switch their political allegiances to the Right after receiving their windfalls. They also seem to become less democratic and worried about challenges faced by people on low incomes.

The study looked at more than 4,000 winners with payouts of up to £200,000 (equivalent to roughly $365,000) on the country’s national lottery. Most of these wins were relatively small; only 541 people won more than £500 ($910). Researchers found a clear trend of lottery winners (even those who pocketed smaller sums) switching support from Labour, traditionally a left-wing party, to the right-wing Conservatives, and were likelier to say that ordinary people already had a fair share of wealth. Logically, the rightward shift was more pronounced for those who won large amounts of money and was found to be more common among men than women.

Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee, a report co-author at the University of Melbourne, told Guardian Australia that the researchers were studying whether political ideologies are driven by deeply held ethical views or self-interest. “We saw that the more you win, the more right-leaning you become,” he said. “You are more likely to favor right-wing ideas, such as lower taxation, and are less favorable to redistributive policies.”

A similar study conducted by researchers at Berkeley University found that the wealthier people become, the less compassionate they are.

Clearly, when it comes to money, something funny happens to us. It has the power to adjust our thoughts and behaviors, even our political allegiances. With one massive deposit into our bank accounts, we can transform from thoughtful and considerate citizens into self-centered, me-first ideologues.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the Mishkan could not be blessed until its completion, until all of the monies had been properly utilized and transformed into something larger and more precious.

Anything accounted cannot wholly share in blessing… which is why it was essential for Moshe to pray that blessing should reside in the Mishkan, as it says, “Moshe blessed them.” (Zohar II:221b citing Shemos 39:43)

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 42a) suggests similarly: “Fortune does not shine on anything that is weighed, measured or counted (i.e., as isolated components).” In fact, it was only after the Mishkan was fully assembled that it could serve as a true House for the Divine Spirit. (See Shemos 40:34, 38.)

Of course, all of this begs the obvious question. If it is really the sum total that we’re after, why does the Torah place such an emphasis on the Mishkan’s “minutiae,” presenting us with a veritable spreadsheet of income and expenditures?

All the gold that was used for the work… was 29 talents, and 730 shekels… And the silver of those who were counted of the congregation was 100 talents, and 1775 shekels… One bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel… for every one who went to be counted… 603,550 men. The 100 talents of silver were to cast the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the curtain; 100 sockets of the 100 talents, a talent for a socket. And of the 1775 shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their capitals, and bound them. The copper came to 70 talents, and 2400 shekels. (Shemos 38:24 –29)

The standard explanation for such numeric detail is the fact that Moshe needed to be fully accountable to Klal Yisrael for every step of construction process, to be faithful in the sense of maintaining impeccable integrity (see Tanchuma, Pekudei 7). Still, why did it need to occupy such a prominent place in the parashah, so as to capture its very name (Pekudei)? Moreover, why was it necessary to record these figures in the Torah, and preserve them for perpetuity?

Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in the deeper understanding of emunah (faith).

A man of faith, many blessings (Mishlei 28:20). This refers to Moshe, who was treasurer of the Mishkan and was totally faithful, bringing blessing to everything to which he set his hand. (Tanchuma, Pekudei, 5)

The Mishkan was the outgrowth of consummate integrity and faithfulness, not only of Moshe, but of every craftsman (uman, related to emunah) who worked on the project. (Interestingly, the word Mishkan is closely connected with mashkon, meaning pledge or accountability. Another word for pledge is pikadon, which shares the same root as Pekudei.)

Judaism’s understanding of faith is not that of blind, irrational trust, but rather as a deep sense of connection and accountability, a fundamental purpose that pushes aside all selfish motivation. Emunah denotes an intense connection with the material and concepts out of which the uman’s artistic vision emerges and takes form.

True faithfulness is the outgrowth of excruciating integrity and honesty; it denies any credence to egotistical hypocrisy and moral variation. An artisan who could cheat the Mishkan in even the slightest of ways would bankrupt the entire process.

And while we certainly lend the greatest value to the end product, the Shechinah’s final resting place, there is also no question that a process that is comprised of selfish wants, rather than a commitment to something greater and nobler, is a project that is ultimately destined to failure. “Yerushalayim was only destroyed because there were no more men of faith… They were faithful in Torah, but not in monetary matters” (Shabbos 119b).


 

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach, writer and teacher who lives in Passaic, NJ. He can be contacted at rabbihoff1@yahoo.com.