Politics & Parsha: Terumah 5771

Posted on February 4, 2011 In Archives

Politics & the Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

Terumah 5771: Gold Plated

G-d commands Moses to build the Tabernacle and so began history’s first ever – and possibly it’s most successful – building campaign.

The Bible goes to great detail, either extraordinarily or excruciatingly so, to describe how and of what each part of the Tabernacle was made from. How many cubits was it/were they? Were they made of gold, copper, linen? What precious stones (no, not that precious)? All this seems more appropriate to Better Homes & Gardens than the Bible.

Is all this really necessary?

Well, to state the obvious, yes. Public money is a public trust.

This is as true for a local community based project or institution as it is for the federal budget. This doesn’t mean random people get veto power or a decision-making role. That’s still left to the folks in charge. But even without a Freedom of Information request or a subpoena, the public has a right to know how and where the public’s funds are going on public projects.

Partly, that’s a practical matter. If you want buy in, be it a communal buy in or an individual’s, transparency matters. The Children of Israel didn’t – and we do not – question if Betzalel’s contract had him earning a management fee, or if the smithies and jewel cutters offered a more extravagant than needed design plan, or if they only got the contract because they had proteczia. We don’t, because the Bible lays it all out for us. We know today – & the People of Israel knew then – how big the curtains, alter, cherubs, and ark were. We know how much wood and gold and copper went into them and so did the folks at the time it was built. We can, with a minimum amount of effort figure out how much it cost them in their day and what it’d all be worth in ours.

But it’s also more than just being transparent. The Bible tells us that the Ark of the Covenant was built on the cheap. THE Ark of the Covenant. The one that had the Ten Commandments in it. The one placed in the Holy of Holies. The ark was made up of an inner layer of wood, encased in gold. (One wonders if they knew this?)

That’s a lesson for all of us charged with spending communal funds. We know that the Tabernacle, what with it’s precious stones, precious metals and hand woven tapestries, not to mention acacia wood, came cheap. Glamour, splendor both had their place. But at the same time, the piece de resistance of the entire edifice, the place from where G-d’s word came forth and where His Law rested, was gold plate.

Those were lessons for then, and lessons for now.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.