The importance of accountability

The concluding book of Exodus highlights a critical social concept, writes Sina Kahen in an extract from his second volume of essays on the weekly Torah portion


As the construction of the Tabernacle ends, so too does Sefer Shemot.

Bereshit begins with God making the cosmos. Shemot ends with human beings making a micro-cosmos – a miniature and symbolic universe.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

It is worth noting that the Tabernacle (Mishkan) is only a temporary dwelling, as it will eventually be replaced by The Temple (Mikdash) in the Land. After all, the command to build the Tabernacle was only given in the context of the provisional and physical reality of the wilderness.

Yet, regardless of its temporary nature, God never forgets the love and commitment that lay behind Yisrael’s first successful communal project.

I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, when you did go after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.  
Yirmiyahu 2:2

From the early verses of Pekudei, it is evident that the people shall not forget it, either. This is a perashah of noting, auditing, and recording.

Moshe has switched from architecture to accounting, as we are presented with the details of every material donated and used in the construction project.

These are the records of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Pact, which were drawn up at Moshe’s bidding
Shemot 38:21

The pages of the Torah are limited, so “filler content” cannot be a possible explanation for the inclusion of all these accounting details. What are we to learn from their inclusion? What is a man of few words trying to tell us by presenting such painstaking detail about his management activities?

The etymology of our perashah’s name – Pekudei (literally, “accounts”) may hold the answer.

At the root of this word is pakad, which is usually translated as “to visit”. When we come across variations of this word used in Tanakh, it is definitely not referring to any sort of leisurely visit over tea and biscuits.

The Lord took note [pakad] of Sarah as He had promised, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken.
Bereshit 21:1

You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting [pokeid] the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me.
Shemot 20:5

Let Your Majesty appoint [pakad] overseer’s [pakidim] in every province of your realm to assemble all the beautiful young virgins at the fortress Shushan…
Esther 2:3

The root of the word therefore denotes some sort of overseeing, appointing, supervising, taking note, and judging. Each of these variations share the same core characteristic – accountability.

In Pekudei, Moshe is holding himself to account, making sure that the precious donations had been dealt with responsibly, and the Tabernacle has become what it was meant to become.

After all, to be accountable is to accept consequences for one’s performance or actions. Without it, it becomes difficult to get one to assume ownership of their behaviour. Therefore, what may seem like a simple exercise in inventory management is more so an example of Moshe being accountable in his accounting in front of God and His people.

There are those who say that the people of Yisrael had not even requested an accounting from Moshe, but rather Moshe himself wanted to acquit himself
Keli Yekar

A faithful person will receive many blessings (Mishle 28:20)-
This refers to Moshe, who was appointed treasurer of the Tabernacle, and all things were blessed because of his faithfulness

Midrash Tanhuma

Moshe’s accountability is another example of his uprightness and faithfulness – key qualities of a successful leader then and now. It is this very concept of accountability that lies at the foundation of free will, of reward and punishment, and of being a conscious member of Yisrael.

The Torah is Sefer HaYashar (The Book of the upright). Jews should be the most honest, straightforward people in the world
Rabbi Asher Weiss

In the last analysis of life, accountability is the main challenge and test that faces us
Rabbi Berel Wein

In the realm of business, an accountant is accountable for the integrity and accuracy of his or her financial statements. Processes are in place to maintain the reliability of the entire system of accounting, which can crumble at the slightest instance of malpractice. Indeed, the world is no stranger to the high-profile scandals and crises that have taken place because of accounting that lacked accountability.

The 2008 financial crisis was a crisis of accountability, as much as a crisis of accounting
Jacob Soll

In other words, accountability is a necessity for viability, even beyond the realm of business. Many of the greatest tragedies in human history are rooted in a lack of accountability. This is why in the realm of politics, elections are held regularly enough to hold political ideas and ideologues to account. In the realm of science, journals and reports are prepared by the most experienced of scientists and subjected to peer-review, to hold theories and experiments to account. Even in our own history, the prophets held the kings to account!

Nathan said to King David… “Why have you flouted the command of the Lord and done what displeases Him?”
II Shmuel 12:9

The prophets of Yisrael served as the necessary brake to an otherwise dictatorial, all-powerful monarchy. 
Rabbi Berel Wein  

However, to be accountable is to be more than transparent and faithful – it is to be responsive to the world around you. It requires an astute awareness of the expectations of others. In other words, accountability requires being accountable to something – whether it is your self, family, society, species, or God. Without it, we stunt our ability to respond to an ever-evolving reality.

Accountability breeds response-ability.
Stephen Covey

If we lack a sense of accountability in our personal and professional lives, we consign ourselves to a perpetual state of immaturity that is averse to self-awareness. And since self-awareness is the precursor for self-development, we will end up being powered by the synapses of our ego and will fail to grow.

The lesson is clear. To assume the impossibility of making an error is the antithesis of humility – the defining trait of Moshe, our teacher.

We believe that in reducing the scope and importance of our errors, we are properly humble; in truth, we are merely unwilling to bear the weight of our true responsibility. Dr Jordan Peterson

Now Moses was a very humble man, more than any other man that was upon the face of the earth.
Bamidbar 12:3

From Ideas – Shemot, see

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