Vayakhel - pekudei

"These are the inventories of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of testimony" Exodus 38:21

By Rabbi Natan Levy, March 11, 2010

Humans began to write over 5,000 years ago in order to count. They began to count because the advent of agriculture brought surplus. And someone else wanted to know how much surplus they had produced.

Someone wanted to know, because they wanted it for themselves. The powerful trained an elite class of court scribes to inventory and record the surplus. The scribes recorded the number of flocks, the bushels of grain and the hours of servitude on clay tablets that they alone could decipher or alter. To appreciate the radical nature of Judaism, this foray into history is essential. Hidden in the first line of the sidrah Pekudei is a revolutionary statement. It changes the history of counting forever.

Moses made an accounting of the precious metals used in the Tabernacle because Israel suspected their leader of graft. "By your life, when the Tabernacle is complete, I will inventory every penny!" (Midrash Tanchuma Yashan 4). It is, perhaps, the first moment in history where counting is not used as a tool for recording acquisition, but as an act of accountability. Moses took the language of numeracy out of the domain of the privileged and offered it up to public scrutiny. In one act of open counting in the desert, Torah transforms what counting could do; might we go so far to say that corporate transparency began on that day?

In Hebrew there are two words for counting, sapar and pakad. Sapar implies counting things, pakad makes things accountable. "The sins of the fathers will hold the sons to account [poked]" (Exodus 34:7). Walking through the supermarket, choosing between ethical fair-trade chocolate or the cheaper alternative is to choose between counting with sapar or pakad, between purse or purpose. Sidrah Pekudei teaches us to make the choice that counts.

Last updated: 11:16am, March 11 2010