August 7, 2018

Transparent institutions (Mattot-Masei)

Parshat Matot includes the request to Moshe from the tribes of Reuven and Gad to remain across the Jordan. Initially, Moshe seems resistant to this arrangement as it would mean that these two tribes would choose a comfortable and undisturbed lifestyle while the rest of Bnei Yisrael fought to conquest the land of Israel. However, once the two tribes made it clear that they would assist with the conquest and only afterwards return to their flocks, Moshe acquiesced and agreed, noting that such actions would ensure that they would be ‘clean (ie. vindicated) before God and Bnei Yisrael’ (Bemidbar 32:22). Based on this teaching, the Mishna (Shekalim 3:2) rules that when someone entered the Terumat Halishka (the Temple treasury chamber where monies for the upkeep of the Temple were stored) with the special basket in which they were to bring out the necessary money, they were forbidden to wear any clothes or shoes where additional money could be hidden so that people would not suspect them of improper behavior. As the Artscroll commentary to this Mishna observes, this is because ‘acting in a way which may draw suspicion upon oneself is in itself sinful’. Moreover, basing himself on the Yerushalmi, Rambam then adds that “even though all these safeguards were taken, a poor person or someone who craved money should not [be appointed to] set aside these funds” (Hilkhot Shekalim 2:10). From here we learn a few very simple, yet timely and important lessons:
1. We must always act in a manner that brings positive recognition ‘in the eyes of God and mankind’ (see Mishlei 3:4).
2. We must ensure that systems are put in place to avoid improper behavior or the very suspicion that someone has behaved improperly.
3. There are some people who should never be put in a situation in which their tendency towards improper behavior is tested.
4. In addition to mourning for the destruction of our physical Temple this coming week, we are mourning the loss of transparent institutions where significant efforts were made to avoid impropriety. Until the Temple is rebuilt, it is our duty to bring more transparency back to such institutions. 

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