Yom Rivii, 25 Tammuz 5774
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Parashat Pekudei 2011

Parashat Pekudei by Rabbi Danny Rich
4 March 2011

Parashat P’kudei is the concluding section of the Book of Exodus (38:21-40:38) and tells of the completion of the construction of the Tabernacle, the making of the priestly vestments, and the dedication of this mobile House of God whose appearance is signified by cloud or fire. In addition to the temporal leadership of Moses which is evident now and in the rest of the Torah, cultic leadership is vested in Moses’ brother, Aaron, and all members of the Levitical family, all of whom will have a uniform in which to carry out their various functions.  Chapter 39 contains a reminder of the complex and colourful accoutrements of High Priest Aaron in particular.  The next and final chapter records the first formal use of the priestly garments as the tabernacle is dedicated in an impressive opening ceremony.

The concept of an hereditary priestly family is balanced elsewhere by the idea found in the Torah that the Jews ought be ‘a kingdom of priests’, and it may at first seem that these two ideas might be in conflict.

Is it possible to maintain, on the one hand, the idea of a democratic leadership- where all have the possibility of a role to play- but, on the other hand, to advocate for an hereditary priesthood which invariably passes from male to male along the family line?

As I write this article tension is evident in many of the countries which surround the State of Israel which –in spite of all its political foibles- has opted for an advanced democracy in which its leaders (Prime Ministers) arguably change too quickly and too often and its ceremonial leader, the President, is about to face a period in custody.

Following the examples of Tunisia and Egypt where omnipotent military leaders might well have been succeeded by their sons, apprehension has risen in Jordan (where the hereditary Hashemeite monarchy hold unchallengeable power) and in Syria (where the Assad family brooks no political interference).  Rebellion has broken out in Bahrain (where the Royal Family controls military and other forces, newspapers and the media, and oil and other industries) and in Libya where its leader for 42c years, Colonel Qadaffi and his sons are seeking to crush any dissent with violence.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom campaigners have begun to seek your ‘Yes’ or your ‘No’ vote in the country-wide referendum which will ask British voters to approve or reject the reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 but more importantly to sanction or refuse the use of the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

One of the arguments being used to persuade voters in favour is that the AV way of doing things will lead to less ‘safe’ seats, thus encouraging less complacent Members of Parliament who have been widely discredited in the recent ‘expenses scandal’.

The discrediting of politicians as a class is a tragedy for the vast majority who enter politics to serve the public, is dangerous for the principle of democracy itself, and has led to a tightening of the expenses system such that there is a fear that, instead of opening up the possibility to all to become representatives, a wealthy, restricted and ‘professional’ class of politician will become the norm.

The solution is usually not simple, neither black nor white.  A healthy democracy needs some long-serving politicians, and Members of Parliament drawn from various walks of like, and an ‘expenses’ scheme should meet the expenses of carrying out the tasks laid upon politicians.

This brings me back to the very first verse of P’kudei in which Moses orders an inventory of the valuable metals used to make the Tabernacle.  Why was this necessary?  It was a form of transparency to show that the craftspersons and others who had collected the materials had not benefited from them personally.   Because, according to the Midrash, some Israelites knew they would have taken advantage of such a situation for their own enrichment, Moses wanted the leaders of the community to be above suspicion, and our British Parliamentarians might have fared better had the recalled the ancient example of Moses.

In a democracy we do not require that our representatives are from political elites or families, and we are content to meet the legitimate expenses of their work.  A transparent expenses system means that no person profits at the public expense, that our politicians can afford to do their job without suspicion, and that democracy is strengthened and the possibility of a ‘strong man’ in power for generations is reduced.