A Personal Accounting

The portions leading up to this week’s Torah portion described the building of the Tabernacle in the desert in great detail, including the donation of specific materials and the actual construction. This week, in Pekudei, Moses presents a precise accounting of how each donation was utilized.

For example, since a half-shekel had been collected from each of 603,550 men (totaling 301,775 shekels), Moses reports constructing 100 pillar sockets (at 3,000 shekels apiece), with the remaining 1,775 shekels going toward silver bands, hooks and caps. In much the same manner, Moses lists his allocation of gold, copper, wood, fabrics, animal skins and precious gems ― confirming that every last bit of every last donation went to the Tabernacle, and not into his personal Bank of Sinai checking account.

Since Moses was known for his integrity and no one asked for this information, why did he deem it necessary to give such a detailed accounting? Moses was entrusted with an enormous quantity of valuables. The potential for abuse was so great that Moses wanted to remove even the potential for suspicion that he might have misappropriated Tabernacle donations.

It’s interesting that this Torah portion always falls right in the middle of tax season here in the United States. Short of calling the IRS and requesting an audit, how might we apply the notion of Moses’ self-imposed accounting to our lives today? Can we re-purpose the concept of an audit to track how decent we are as human beings and how we might improve?

There is an app that has been helping those who are trying to lose weight find success. It is called My Fitness Pal, and it requires the user to record every single bite they eat each day, and every single bit of exercise in which they engage each day. It then calculates the user’s projected weight a few months from the present day, assuming the same daily behaviors take place over the coming months.

It has been shown to work much more effectively in changing behaviors for the positive than when people simply decide to diet or exercise more. Aside from the fact that diets don’t work, this daily accounting and concurrent projection have produced lasting, positive change for many people.

Most of us would agree that it is important to be a good person, but we don’t keep track of our daily deeds. Imagine a similar app for a spiritual accounting. In this scenario, the user would input all of their good and not-so-good deeds over the course of each day, and the app would calculate how ‘good’ or ‘not-so-good’ the user would be in a few months’ time if that behavior continued daily. This would almost certainly cause us to become better people, with each day’s behavioral adjustments altering the projections for the better or worse.

And this accounting shouldn’t only encompass good deeds toward others. We should also be exploring our relationship with ourselves. Are we working toward a meaningful life? Judaism posits that each of us was born with a unique purpose. Are we utilizing our God-given skills and unique purpose to craft lives of which we are proud?

During Elul, the month leading up to the High Holy Days, we are encouraged to perform a ‘Cheshbon Hanefesh’. A cheshbon hanefesh is an accounting of the soul, an annual determination of whether we have improved ourselves.

Many Jews engage in a personal accounting each year during Elul. But the details of what has occurred throughout the year are easily forgotten when behavior analysis is performed only once a year. Just as My Fitness Pal has been shown to be more effective than an annual New Year’s resolution to lose weight, so too would a daily spiritual accounting be more effective than an annual accounting.

Moses voluntarily performed a self-audit for the construction of the tabernacle. Perform your own daily accounting for the construction of your soul and the fulfillment of your life’s purpose.

Cantor Jacqui

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