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Parashat Va-Yakhel/ Pekudei 5767

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Accounting for Charitable Donations


Rabbi Dr. Neriah Gutel


School of Education and Midrasha for Women


The accounting that Moses gave the Israelites of their contributions to building the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:24-39:1) [1] provided posekim with a model of how public officials should deal with public funds.  The guideline given by the Tur (Yoreh De’ah 157) – “Authorized charity collectors should not be checked up on, but just to be sure that they are clear of suspicion by the Lord and Israel,” – evoked wonderment from the Bayit Hadash (Bah):   “That [‘it is well for them to give an accounting’] is not to be found in the posekim!”   To this the Bah himself responded, “Perhaps it was learned from the behavior of Moses, who gave an accounting of the contributions to the Tabernacle, for never was there anyone as trustworthy as he, yet he gave an accounting so that he would be clear of any suspicion by the Lord and by Israel.” [2]   Accordingly, Rema (Yoreh De’ah, loc. sit., 2) resolved the issue with the following practical ruling:  If Moses, who was the most trustworthy person, did so, then also “authorized charity collectors would do well to give an accounting so that they be clear of suspicion by the Lord and by Israel.”

All this would be well and good, to learn a lesson for all time from the leadership of that particular time, were it not for the fact which looms before us that Moses only gave the Israelites a partial accounting of their contributions.

Examining the text closely, we find that Moses’ detailed report of what he received, how much he received, and what he did with the contributions is divided into four categories:

  1. “The elevation offering of gold – came to 29 talents and 730 shekels by the sanctuary weight” (Ex. 38:24); used for making in gold or overlaying in gold most of the implements, and was also incorporated in quite a few items of clothing;
  2. “The silver …   came to 100 talents and 1,775 shekels by the sanctuary weight: a half-shekel a head, … for each one who was entered in the records”; used for “casting the sockets of the sanctuary and the sockets for the curtain, and … hooks for the posts” (Ex. 38:25-28);
  3. “The copper … came to 70 talents and 2,400 shekels,” of which they made “the sockets for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; the copper altar and its copper grating and all the utensils of the altar; the sockets of the enclosure … and the sockets of the gate of the enclosure; and all the pegs of the Tabernacle and all the pegs of the enclosure round about” (Ex. 38:29-31);
  4. “Of the blue, purple, and crimson yarns they also made the service vestments for officiating in the sanctuary; … sacral vestments” (Ex. 39:1).

For all the metals – gold, silver and copper – a detailed accounting of quantities was given, noting explicitly how they were used for the purposes of the Tabernacle.   For the rest of the donations, however – fabrics, skins, oil, spices and stones (Ex. 25:4-7; 35:6-9) – while an accounting is given of what was made with them, there is no precise statement of how much was received.  We know that such donations were made (Ex. 35:23-28), and that the donations even exceeded the requirements (Ex. 36:5-7), but we do not know precisely how much they amounted to. In other words, for these donations we have no record of an accounting having been given.

How much silver?

Moreover, the report is incomplete not only in this regard, but also with respect to the donations of silver. [3]   Scriptures themselves explicitly attest that the amount specified came only from the half-shekel that each person was obliged to give.  Accordingly, a very precise accounting is given:  “for each one … 603,550 men” (Ex. 38:26), and as Rashi comments on this verse:

The half-shekels from six hundred thousand people come to one hundred talents, each talent being three thousand shekels.  How so?  Six hundred thousand half-shekels comes to three hundred thousand whole shekels, which is one hundred talents, and the three thousand five hundred and fifty half-shekels come to one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels.

It follows from this fact that the silver was not given as a donation at all, as Rashi emphasizes in his commentary at the beginning of Parashat Terumah (Ex. 25:2-3):  “Each and everyone came voluntarily and donated what they were moved to give, save for the silver, which was given equally, half a shekel a person.   In all the work on the Tabernacle, we note that this amount of silver was adequate … and the remaining silver that was given as a donation was used for service utensils.”   In other words, aside from the head-tax of a fixed sum, obligatory on each and every person and used for making the sockets, and aside from the “contributions for the altar, a half-shekel per person to the coffers, used to buy the public offerings” (Rashi, Ex. 25:2), there were also donations of silver, each person deciding whether and how much he would give, as his heart moved him to give.   These contributions were not ear-marked for the sockets and hooks, detailed in Parashat Pekudei, rather they were used for making “service utensils.”

A compulsory amount

Thus the donations of silver had unique as well as common characteristics with the other donations.   According to Scripture, everyone was obliged to give an equal amount – half a shekel – but they also had the right to contribute more, if they wished.  Silver, after all, was included in the list of items to be accepted as “gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Ex. 25:2), even though it was also given as a duty and not only as a voluntary contribution.  Thus there was an obligatory element as well as a voluntary one, and the voluntary donations were used for service utensils.  So we see that Moses did not give an accounting of all the extra contributions of silver, which is surprising.  Why did his report differ here from the detailed accounting which he provided of the other metals – gold and copper – which were also given as each person’s heart moved him to give, and which were reported in his accounting?   Just because an accounting of the obligatory half-shekel was given, was there no need to report the silver that had been donated voluntarily?  Quite the contrary; one might have considered not reporting the obligatory contribution, since everyone could compute that for himself, multiplying half a shekel by the number of Israelites.  If, nevertheless, a precise accounting was given of the obligatory sum, it is all the more surprising that the voluntary donations, whose quantity was unknown, should have been omitted from the report. [4]

One wonders, further, what “service utensils” were made from the contributions of silver.   Save for the sockets and hooks, which were made from the obligatory donations, all the other utensils of the Tabernacle were made either of pure gold, or gold overlay; so for what “service utensils” was the voluntarily donated silver used?   We can only conclude that these “service utensils” were not of primary importance among the utensils of the Tabernacle, not even the flesh hooks and fire pans and the like; rather, they must have been other sundry other utensils and tools – be it hammers and nails, saws or files – which were made of silver in honor of G-d’s House. [5]

We conclude that the entire report was not made with a view to accounting for the total contributions received, rather in order to report how the contributions were used:  how much gold went into the lampstand, overlaying the ark, the table, and the altar, etc., and how much silver went into the sockets and hooks, how much copper into sockets, hooks, and altar, etc., how many hangings were needed, how many planks, etc., all this being in relationship to the central implements and “actual” service utensils.   Moreover, Scriptures themselves explicitly attest that the contributions exceeded what was needed – “their efforts had been more than enough” – but where is there an accounting of the surplus?  Everything was so very precise; so where was the balance if the accounting was so exact, and where was the surplus?  This can only be explained by saying that the report was not on the quantities received, rather on the use that had been made of the donations.   As the Tosafists spelled out:   “Much silver was freely donated, however only one hundred talents was required for the work...   He did not list anything other than what was needed for the work, and the rest was put in the treasury for maintenance and public needs.” [6]   The surplus remained as a slush fund to be used in due time for one purpose or another – to replace service utensils, flesh hooks and fire pans, trumpets, etc.  There was no detailed listing of such things whose use was not strictly defined, [7] since that was not the objective of Scripture.

Thus it was with the general body of contributions – planks, fabrics, stones, etc. – and also with the silver given as a voluntary donation:  the accounting lists explicit, obligatory uses – sockets and hooks.   It does not deal with the surpluses, which were not put to immediate use – neither the gold nor the copper, nor likewise the silver.

If this is the proper explanation from an exegetical point of view, it should also be so from the halakhic-moral standpoint.  In view of the principle to which we adhere, that a derivative law should never be stricter than its source, [8] it seems that the recommendation for “authorized charity collectors” ought not to set a higher standard than that observed by Moses.   Although they would “do well to give an accounting,” in truth it appears that they need not report all receipts, rather only those which are put to use, the remaining balance being safely set aside.


[1] Cf. Midrash Tanhuma (Buber ed.), Parashat Pekudei, par. 4:   “When the work on the Tabernacle had been completed, he said to them:  Come and I shall make a reckoning for you…   Why did he make a reckoning for them, when the Holy One, blessed be He trusted him? … Because Moses had heard the Israelites talking behind his back…  What had they been saying?  Rabbi Isaac says they had been saying things in his praise, that he had been born with good fortune, for all his life the Holy One, blessed be He, spoke with him and all his life the Holy One, blessed be He, was at one with him …  Rabbi Hama said they had been saying things against him, ‘Look at his(thick) neck, look at his (heavy) thighs, he eats the Jews’ food and drinks the Jews’ drink, and all that he possesses comes from the Jews.’  One person would say to another, would one not expect the person who presided over the work on the Tabernacle to be wealthy?  Upon hearing this, Moses said:  Upon your life, when the Tabernacle is completed, I will make a reckoning with you, as it is said, These are the records of the Tabernacle.”   Also cf. Exodus Rabbah (Shinan ed.), ch. 4:  He who has clean hands – that is Moses, as it is written, ‘I have not taken the ass of any one of them.’”  Also Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bekhorot 5a:  “The Roman official named Constroktos challenged Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai … ‘When the silver was collected for the Mishkan there were two hundred and one talents and eleven minahs, … and when it was presented there were one hundred … talents.  Your Rabbi Moses was either a thief, or a gambler, or he did not know how to do arithmetic!   He gave half and took half, and an entire half he did not return!’  He responded, ‘Our Rabbi Moses was a reliable treasurer, he was expert in arithmetic, and a minah in the shekel of the Sanctuary weighed twice as much [as a regular minah].’”

[2]  A reference to the verse in Num.32:22, “You shall be clear before the Lord and before Israel.”

[3] The opposite remark regarding the “elevation offering of gold” – that the exact amount is given (Ex. 38:24), but the uses to which it was put are not detailed – is not germane to our argument here, since the people received a precise accounting of the “receipts.”  On the question itself, see Ibn Ezra, Nahmanides, Hizkuni, Toledot Yitzhak, Tzedah la-Derekh, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and others on this verse.   Also see Y. Gellis, Tosefot ha-Shalem, 10 (Jerusalem 1995), p. 219, par. 3; 230, par. 2; 226, par. 2; 233, par. 1, on the absence of any mention of the clasps for the cloths in the listing of all that was made from the copper.

[4] Rabbi M. M. Schneersohn (the Lubavitch Rebbe), Be’urim le-Perush Rashi al ha-Torah, Brooklyn 1987, p. 362, maintained that Scripture wanted simply to emphasize Moses’ role as the person in charge of the Tabernacle, and therefore it sufficed to provide just an example of an accounting, not the reckoning itself.   This seems far-fetched for the following reasons:  1) If it was to provide an example, fewer would have sufficed.  2) Why precisely these examples?  3) What reason or benefit is there in the examples?   4)  The plain reading of the text certainly does not lean towards this, since it deals with very precise figures.

[5]  [However, silver is actually far too soft a metal for any of these uses—Editor]

[6] Gellis, Tosefot ha-Shalem, pp. 228-229, par. 5, adding that “it must needs be said so, for it cannot be that they gave sparingly only what was needed.”   Also see par. 2, ibid.:   “It turns out that his accounting was aimed at what was used for the things they made,” and the rest went into the coffers.  Also cf. Torah Shelemah, Ex. 38, par. 46, quoting Hadar Zekenim, Moshav Zekenim and Pa’aneah Raza.

[7] Such as tools that could be made equally well of brass or of silver – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Ex. 38:24-31.

[8] Encylopedia Talmudit, 7, col. 282:  dayyo la-ba min ha-din lihiyot ka-nidon.