Aligning Financial Intent with Accountability

Vayak'heil - P'kudei, Exodus 35:1–40:38

D'Var Torah By: Rabbi Mary Zamore

This Shabbat, Shabbat HaChodesh (announcing the new month of Nisan), is one of the four specially designated Shabbatot before Passover. In other words, Passover is almost here!

Six months ago, we were celebrating the Jewish new year by immersing ourselves in prayer and reflection, especially with cheshbon hanefesh: the accounting of our souls, making amends for our wrongdoings, and putting our lives back on track. Now, preparing for Passover and the commemoration of our freedom, we take stock of our pantries to remove chameitzchametzחָמֵץFoods not eaten during Passover. Chametz typically includes leavened bread or any food that contains wheat, rye, barley, oats, or spelt, unless production has been supervised to ensure that it has not leavened. and add matzah to our diets for the holiday.

This week’s double Torah portion Vayak’heil-P’kudei models a literal accounting with the public enumeration of the precious materials used to build the MishkanMishkanThe portable tabernacle.  , the portable Tabernacle. This audit ensured that the valuables donated by the Israelites were used appropriately, reflecting their communal goals and ideals.

The Torah declares: “These are p’kudei haMishkan, the records of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Pact, which were drawn up at Moses’ bidding…” (Exodus 38:21). The types and amounts of materials that went into the Mishkan, the priestly garments, and the sacred tools are listed in detail. While not an engaging narrative, this section sets a vital precedent for financial accountability and transparency among our public and private sector leaders from ancient times through today. However, financial accountability is not limited to grand projects and communal budgets; it is also necessary for our individual households. We must be willing to do regular private reviews of our finances to ensure they reflect our personal goals and values.

Such accounting is important whether you have money and assets of any amount, are struggling to meet your basic needs, or are trying to pay off debt. Here are three skills reflected in this week’s Torah portion to improve your personal financial review:

1. Talk about money.

When God calls upon Moses to be a prophet at the beginning of the book of Exodus, Moses demurs: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). God answers Moses’ concerns by reminding him that God will be with him (Exodus 3:12 and Exodus 4:12) and enlisting his brother Aaron to help (Exodus 4:14-16).

When confronting personal finances, many people feel overwhelmed by the task, believing their abilities are lacking. There are myriad free and low-cost services to help organize your personal finances, supplementing your skills. Yet the most important ability is the willingness to talk honestly about your financial situation with yourself, and, when applicable, with your partner, your family, your friends, or a professional advisor.

By this week’s Torah portion, the formerly reticent Moses has developed into a strong, outspoken leader who confronts difficult situations and guides the Israelites through them. Likewise, we can strive to set aside shame, embarrassment, and outdated taboos to embrace money talk. By fostering healthier communication about money, we can better understand our personal finances, set goals that reflect our values, and work toward funding those goals.

2. Set goals.

As commanded by God, Moses announced the building of the Mishkan, asking for free-will donations of the specific metals, gems, and materials needed (Exodus 35:4-9). In addition, he established a half-shekel tax to help with its maintenance (Exodus 38:36). He also called for skilled workers, announcing the specific sub-projects required (Exodus 35:10-19). Moses then appointed Bezalel and Oholiab to lead the efforts (Exodus 35:30-36:1). With the tasks outlined and details set, the goals were evident to all.

Our personal financial ambitions need to go beyond the abstract. Goals such as helping others, donating to important causes, having appropriate emergency reserves, saving for future retirement or family members’ education, and paying down debt must be clearly defined and budgeted. Merely acquiring more wealth as an end to itself does not build a life of meaning. Striving to live worthy values does, and your financial goals can and should reflect those ideals.

3. Review regularly.

The work does not end with the building of the Mishkan; integrated into this massive project is a thorough and transparent audit of how the donated resources were used. We can adopt this model by setting regular reviews of our household finances. Setting goals only works if we know where we are along the path toward reaching them.

The Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:11) was covered in gold both on the outside where it was in full view and on the inside, invisible to the public. Commenting on this verse, Rabbeinu Bahya (13th century, Spain) implores, “one’s inside must match the image one creates for oneself on the outside.” Starting with frank money-talk and value-based goal setting, a thorough and regular accounting of our personal finances ensures that our intent is aligned with our financial reality, supporting a life of meaning.