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Torah reading:  Exodus chapters 35 to 38:21.  The name of the parsha is Vayakhal - and he (Moses) convoked.

Haftarah reading:  First Kings 7: 13-26 or 7: 40-50.  

The fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt. . . .  The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.
So wrote Anthony Kennedy on behalf of himself and his fellow right wing activists in Citizens United.  And in the context of what he was writing, "speakers" mean donors, big time donors, because, as far as Kennedy/Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas are concerned, speech means money and money means speech.  But, hey, just because the Koch brothers are spending tens of millions to remake the country in their own image, does not mean that the politicians they bought and paid for are corrupt!  It was Anatole France who said:  
La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

And Citizens United, in its majestic equality, allows both the Koch brothers, and you and I, to   spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to exercise our "speech."  No corruption here, not even the appearance of corruption.

But, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with this week's Torah reading?  The answer lies below the orange squiggly.


Much of these last chapters of Exodus are a repetition of chapter 25 through 30.  In the earlier chapters, God instructed Moses on the construction of the portable Temple to be carried through the desert, in chapters 35 to 40, the Israelites actually build it.  In Exodus chapter 35 lines 20:29, the Israelites enthusiastically donate their money, jewelry, fabrics and wood, until, at chapter 36: 5-7, we are told that they had contributed too much and that Moses was left with a surplus.  No hint here of teabaggers grumbling about how they weren't going to let the guvment grab their hard earned money!   And, presumably, those with much gave much, those with little gave what they could afford.

Then starting at chapter 36, line 8, almost to the end of Exodus, in sentence after sentence, the words are virtually identical to the parallel text of Exodus 25:10 through chapter 30, with only a change of tense.  In the earlier passages, God gave the building instructions, in the latter, the Israelites carried them out.  But why does the Bible engage in all this seemingly superfluous, and definitely tedious, repetition?

According to the Talmudic literature, whose authors, the rabbis, were fully aware of the venality of the Roman government, all this repetition is necessary, because the Bible is teaching us that all the funds that the Israelites contributed for this construction project were accounted for and appropriately spent.  Exodus Rabbah, Pekude 1-3, recounts that Moses recorded every contribution in a ledger, and ordered the artisans Bezalel and Oholiab (Exodus 35: 30-34) to do the same.  Then Moses reviewed all three ledgers to make sure they matched.  Exodus Rabbah 51:6 explains why Moses maintained these accounts:

Because Moses overheard certain Israelites scoffing behind his back, saying, “See the back of the neck of this son of Amram [how fat it is].”  To which his friend retorted: “What!  Do you expect a man in charge of the construction of the Tabernacle not to be rich?”  When Moses heard all this, he said, “I vow, as you live, that as soon as the Tabernacle is completed, I will give you an account of everything.”
Therefore, according to the rabbis, Moses, Bezalel and Oholiab kept their books open to allow any Israelite to examine them, to keep them from any suspicion.

As stated above, Exodus 36: 5-7 indicates that, unlike in Washington DC today, the Israelite government in the Sinai enjoyed a surplus of funds.  The rabbis recounted in Exodus Rabbah that Moses went to God and asked, "What is to be done with the surplus contributions?" God instructed Moses to spend these surplus funds by building a synagogue inside the portable Temple, where people could pray as well a bring and watch the animal sacrifices.  (You may be thinking: synagogues didn't exist until 1,000 or more years later, but this stuff is not to be taken literally.)  When the synagogue was completed, Moses, ledgers in hand, assembled the Israelites and publicly accounted for the expenditure of the surplus funds.  

Elsewhere in the Talmud, the Mishnah, Shekalim 3:2, states:  

Temple officials who withdraw money from the funds of the Temple may not enter the Temple treasury with garments containing pockets, nor wearing shoes or even sandals . . . lest he become poor and people say, "Because of the sin of stealing from the Temple Treasury, he has been punished by poverty."  Or, lest he become rich, and people say, "He has become rich by stealing from the Temple Treasury!"
And the Talmud also describes, at Yoma 38a, how the Garmu family, which baked the bread that was offered in the Temple, never allowed their children to enjoy any of the bread they baked, so that no one would accuse them of profiting from their position as the Temple bakers.  And, similarly, the Avtinas family, which prepared and mixed the spices for the Temple incense, never allowed their daughters to wear perfume, even as brides, so no one would suspect that they were profiting from their position as the Temple incense makers.

So, what can we learn from these final chapters of Exodus, chapters that, on the surface, appear to be quite tedious?  

First, there are community needs that the individual cannot provide.  Building for the benefit of the community requires the contribution of all in the community, based on which each member of the community can afford.  The rich must give more, the middle class less, and the poor may well need the assistance of a portion of the funds collected.  In other words, progressive taxation - a taxation system we used to have in the United States but, today, not so much.

And, second, the government must be open as to how our tax dollars are spent.  Just as Moses did not have a secret slush fund, there should be no secret appropriations today.  And there should be no billionaires hiding behind the curtain pulling the strings of their puppets - puppets accountable to their billionaire masters but not to the rest of us.

And, third, government is the sum product of all of our citizens, rich, poor and middle class alike.  It is the height of arrogance for Kennedy/Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas to declare that the rich must have their tens of millions of dollars of "speech", who pay their bought and paid for legislators to suppress voting rights, and leave the rest of us to poke away on our keyboards in penniless futility.

What would Moses, and the rabbis, think of Citizens United?  I suspect they would be outraged and angry.

Shabbat Shalom

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 05:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Need volunteers for the next two weeks (6+ / 0-)

    March 1st.  Pekudey and Shabbat Shekalim (Shabbat of Shekels):  First Torah reading Exodus 38:21 to end of Exodus.  Second Torah reading Exodus 30:  11-16.  Haftarah Second Kings 11:17 to 12:17.

    March 8th.  Vayikra:  Torah reading Leviticus chapters 1 through 5.  Haftarah Isaiah 43:21 to 44:23.

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 05:33:15 PM PST

  •  Voting rights (9+ / 0-)

    are human rights, not economic rights.

    We must all stand against the blasphemy which is Citizens United.

    Still using my fake name...

    by Rex Freedom on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 06:41:21 PM PST

  •  Citizens United - the ultimate confirmation that (5+ / 0-)

    money indeed talks.

    Ted Cruz president? Pardon my Vietnamese, but Ngo Pho King Way.

    by ZedMont on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 03:01:05 AM PST

  •  When people think of dystopia Orwell's 1984 (5+ / 0-)

    usually comes to mind.

    However, there is another dystopia that warns about the type of government that we are becoming with the introduction of Anti-American travesties such as Citizens United.

    George Lucas' "THX 1138" is the futuristic culmination of a gradual amalgamation of government and corporations, so that as a central character put it, " It all happened so slowly that most men failed to realize that anything had happened at all."

    Religion devolved to a computerized deity whose sole purpose was to make consumerism for the sake of consumerism a
    "holy" duty.

    Ted Cruz president? Pardon my Vietnamese, but Ngo Pho King Way.

    by ZedMont on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 03:45:52 AM PST

  •   כסף = דיבור = בולשיט (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueyedace2, mettle fatigue

    would be my guess

    Fiat justitia ruat caelum "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."

    by bobdevo on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 04:13:47 AM PST

  •  Thank you for a great diary-- (6+ / 0-)

    I've learned so much through reading this series and look forward to it every week.  Passages I've always skimmed over  I now see as rich and resonant with meaning, nuance, and subtlety (sorry, I'm a partisan of the Oxford comma).

    Shabbat Shalom

    "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

    by DrLori on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 04:32:35 AM PST

  •  It's nice to know that Moses had (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    such morals when it came to financial issues. I suppose that makes up for his utter lack of morals when it came to war, human rights and law making?

    •  Relative to the prevailing morals of 4000yrs ago, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whaddaya, Navy Vet Terp

      and recognizing the millenia it takes (as witness the classic empires) for sequences of cultures to try to etch different ethics into themselves than they inherited, the Mosaic concepts are pretty remarkable advances even for the era in which they were codified into scripture,

      Which, with all its internal contradictions and repetitions, itself occurs around roughly 300 years of time before the common calender (somebody correct me on this) and follows at least 1 millenia or possibly even more (ibid.) of oral and fragmentary (as far as archaeology tells us) written transmission of evolutionary ideas about morality.  So, to say "his... morals," is kind of like pancaking ethical evolution —which worldwide shows little evidence of developing in any straighter or more efficient a line than biological evolution— over thousands of years and comparing them to the ethical dilemnas the entire world has been struggling toward in really only the modern epoch at most.

      We know this from other cultures such as India where  similar seeds of changes of ethical thought (e.g, Buddhaism) occurring around the same epoch approximately, in which the character of Moses as a mythical construct (for carrying the ideas) or as an actual human being (personally I'm not that literal) was attempting to initiate a similar quantum leap in thinking.  It seems reasonable to speculate that ancient cultures had become numerous enough in population and interactive enough one with the next and the next and the next, throughout the contiguous 'old world', that  there was cross-fertilization of ideas and recognition of being not alone in the universe and that there is more than one way to think about survival in it as an actual individual, subjegated or free or somewhere in between, and how to enact being human as members of an entire human community.

      If we don't recognize how literally alien to the present day (in which war, nonexistence of human rights, non-role in lawmaking, etc are still extensively imposed by the power elite upon everyone else including us in DK) was the thinking of 4thousand and 5 thousand years ago and more, we have no way to chart what course the evolution of human ethics has taken.

      I don't really know any shorter way to reply. I hope that helped.

      •  I think the confusion comes in (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mettle fatigue

        when discussions of these texts dances between treating the characters as if they really existed and then switching to them as being fictional or metaphorical or whatever.   Either there is a god who directed a man to perform certain tasks or write certain laws, or there wasn't, and the whole 5 books are a total mishmash of writings with sources unknown.   It sometimes comes down to this.... what do Jewish people who practice their faith teach kids about Moses?  That he was real or not?  Certainly the Passover celebration teaches children that the events being celebrated really happened, and if so, there is a huge moral conundrum with that story, and with the implication that the Exodus etc. were all real events.  

        I appreciate your analysis, but I am pretty certain that it is not the way the character of Moses or the questions of his and his god's morality are generally presented.

        •  based on 1st 40yrs of life in VERY jewish all-kind (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          -of-approaches (ultra orthodox, modern orthodox, atheist orthodox [yes, there are orthodox people who live their way of life on principle without supernatural believe], conservative, reform, reconstructionist, feminist, ashkenazi, sephardi, mizrachi, secular yiddishist, etc) community and family, i would respond that there is no one way anything about judaism is "generally presented", and the use of allegory and metaphor is far more widespread than it appears you've been exposed to.

          in other words, there is no "generally" except within very clearly-defined specific contexts.  the fact that jews have sustained literate materials and studied them for millenia doesn't require or imply any 'party line' viewpoint.  in fact, during the eras in which the canon was being codified (roughly 300 b.c.e. onward, i believe), the differing viewpoints, interpretations, disputations and arguments among the leading rabbis (who constituted something of a new phenomenon at the time) were extremely heated.

          The fact that this is so is how Maimonides (1135 Cordoba, Spain to  December 12, 1204 what is now part of Cairo, Egypt) could express concepts of judaism in concert with science of the era, of which he as a physician was a master.  it's an extremely interesting article that will illuminate beautifully for you this entire issue.  

          Be sure to click on the link to the Cairo Geniza, 3 or so lines below the photo of the Cordoba monument, because the discussion of the extent of materials still being analyzed from the geniza, both in terms of breadth of content and in terms of timespan, conveys a sense of the scope of literacy and literate materials that are exactly why we have the humorous saying "Among any two Jews, three opinions" on anything up for discussion.

          •  Quite a complicated life... (0+ / 0-)

            However, even Maimonides seemed to think that Moses was an actual person who was a prophet (you have to be a living person to be a prophet) and was physically given the Torah by a supernatural entity (God). His conclusions were...

            1.The existence of God.
            2.God's unity and indivisibility into elements.
            3.God's spirituality and incorporeality.
            4.God's eternity.
            5.God alone should be the object of worship.
            6.Revelation through God's prophets.
            7.The preeminence of Moses among the prophets.
            8.The Torah that we have today is the one dictated to Moses by God.
            9.The Torah given by Moses will not be replaced and that nothing may be added or removed from it.
            10.God's awareness of human actions.
            11.Reward of good and punishment of evil.
            12.The coming of the Jewish Messiah.
            13.The resurrection of the dead.

            Now, I understand certainly that within a set of religious ideas and philosophies there are sub-sets. But this diary presents Moses as a living human being and I would be that this is the way he is predominately presented in Judaism. If not, the arguements for god given lands in a certain part of the world kind of falls apart, since Moses is the carrier of that claim.

            •  my point re Maimonides & the geniza is that (0+ / 0-)

              jewish thought is constantly evolving in all directions, and certainly even if i'm the only secularist deeply jewish atheist you might meet here, i'm not unique in the u.s. or in the west otherwise the odds of you and i meeting would be too unlikely for it to have occurred.  the existence of jewish secularism is demonstrate that jewish thought is extremely diverse, and in constant evolution.

              here's Abraham Joshua Heschel, and here's the yiddishkayt organization (i don't know why they spelt it that way) founded by aaron paley, whose parents were friends of my parents and friends of mine, all of us in same extensive community.

              to admittedly oversimplify, compare presentation of moses as a person to george washington chopping down cherry tree as a person, when cherry trees didnt yet exist in the new world.  human beings as individual characters in any mythology function like picture hooks on walls that turn corners here and there - to hang grouped ideas (pictures) on with studyable context, one to the next and around the corner to the next and so on.  you've joined many discussions here so you've seen that there are many many many mythological characters in the ancient materials of the canon that function in that way, and the function operates whether the individual student/scholar considers them to have been real people or not.

              the names of these characters may be in our canon somewhat (often not greatly) different from names in cultures the earliest concepts of judaism draw upon and build upon and grow out of, but there is still enough evidence (e.g., Testament, by John Romer, early chapters identifying concepts and images rooted in the entire expanse of thefertile crescent and wider to recognize the possibility that the names are remembered (or devised) because of turning points in thought.  the turning points may not always come thru clearly developed (they were likely not in the least intentionally developed compared to how, for example, the [ existentials really cobbled hard at their lasts to intentionally develop their philosophies) but the fact that characters and names are used throughout mythologies of the world reinforces that characters and names have function, otherwise we wouldn't remember them at all.  some judaic scholars believe they were real individuals, some theorize that they are composites, others that they are more or less historical names (as seem to be the names in, for example, icelandic sages, the narratives of which have such a similar feel to biblical, and they both similar to other narratives of other mythologies) to which changing concepts of thought adhered early on whether or not the persons so named had all that much to do with those concepts or changes; and there are more viewpoints about names as well.   none of which, i'm guessing are particularly new to you personally.

              to sum up, no doubt moses is presented as a person extensively in many areas of jewish teaching, for various ages of student, and in some of them revered and believed to have been a person.  judaism still has a habit of turning the ideas inside out and upside down to see how they work and whether they work well and whether their components can be reassembled into better workings.  being born into and my most formative and scholarly years spent within a context of many seemingly contradictory concepts, i have no difficulty with that reality.  i also had relatives & friends who would be scandalized and outraged at me to read this entire comment, yet others who would have smiled and said "cool!" (or the 80yr-old & 100-yr-old equivalent), and others who simply be puzzled that any of this needs explaining.   i can see how it all could constitute a stumbling block to some individuals studying from a completely different other context.  it sort of depends, 'tho, on whether those individuals want to understand more of the dynamics of the time-tested survival of this whole ball'o'wax (the dalai lama wanted to and did, he got a whole bunch of jewish thinkings to have a conference together with him for that purpose, i think the book about it is called the jew in the lotus but you can probably find it yourself).

              the final sentence of your comment is on a different topic entirely, and since you've participated in so many other discussions here, i'm guessing you realized after you wrote that sentence that its thrust is only a part of that entire issue.  which it's my understanding is discussed at other groups in DK.

              thanks for a stimulating conversation!

              •  Thank you so much for taking the time (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                mettle fatigue

                to address my comments. You have given me much food for thought.  In my travels out of Christianity, I absorbed a tremendous amount of information on that tradition and it is also very very complicated.  In fact, I am looking forward to a new book coming out by Richard Carrier titled On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.  So you can see that although I have personally rejected and am a harsh critic of that religion, I still am interested in it as a topic. One of the first books to usher me out the door was The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.  As a Christian growing up, no one ever told me in Sunday school that there were other gospels written that the early RCC had banned, so that idea planted the first seed of doubt about the whole thing.  While there are plenty of philosophical arguements going on all the time in Christianity, it is more apologetics based than exploratory. Or it's the cherry picking interpretation war going on between the religious rightists fundamentalists and the liberal progressives.  That is a never ending salvo and I actually find that the fundamentalists are more true to the scriptures than the liberals. Jesus was not a totally nice guy and he wasn't very ecumenical either.   Anyway, I digress...

                I wonder how an atheist functions within any religious tradition and still do, except your have given me a glimpse of that.  


  •  Citizen United decision KILLED democracy in the US (4+ / 0-)

    This is not the type of democracy that the US exported to Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Democracy is simple: one person, one vote. Period. There is no "skin in the game", "money is free speech", etc.

    The Supreme Court literally put a "For Sale" sign on Congress' front yard.

  •  Traditional Judaism never heard of corporations (3+ / 0-)

    much less considering them as a person!

    Limited liability does not exist in Judaism. While you only have to pay a debt when you get the money, the debt never disappears unless it is forgiven by the lender. It even passes on from generation to generation.

  •  The rabbis instituted a system of support for the (4+ / 0-)

    poor that matches what you wrote:

    The rich must give more, the middle class less, and the poor may well need the assistance of a portion of the funds collected.  In other words, progressive taxation - a taxation system we used to have in the United States but, today, not so much.

    And, second, the government must be open as to how our tax dollars are spent

    Here is a mishnah in the last chapter of Peah:
    ח,ז  אין פוחתין לעני העובר ממקום למקום מכיכר בפונדיון, מארבע סאין בסלע.  לן, נותנין לו פרנסת לינה; שבת, נותנין לו מזון שלוש סעודות.  מי שיש לו מזון שתי סעודות, לא ייטול מן התמחוי; מזון ארבע עשרה סעודות, לא ייטול מן הקופה.  והקופה נגבית בשניים, ומתחלקת בשלושה.

    Here is the Soncino translation:


    The "charity dish" was like a food bank. The "communal fund" was just that. The Yerushalmi that follows (sorry, no translation is online) explains that the communal fund is collected by two community officials who go out each week to see what people can afford to pay, and distributed by three officials who determine what are the needs for the poor. It also provides more details regarding eligibility. Maimonides elaborates (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Matanot L'evyonim, Chapter 10), implying that the collectors are also the distributors:

    א  כל עיר שיש בה ישראל--חייבין להעמיד גבאי צדקה, אנשים ידועים ונאמנים שיהיו מחזרין על העם מערב שבת לערב שבת, ולוקחין מכל אחד ואחד מה שהוא ראוי ליתן, ודבר הקצוב עליו; והן מחלקין המעות מערב שבת לערב שבת, ונותנין לכל עני ועני מזונות המספיקין לשבעת ימים.  וזו היא הנקראת קופה של צדקה.

    ב  וכן מעמידין גבאין שלוקחין בכל יום ויום מכל חצר פת ומיני מאכל ופירות, או מעות ממי שהוא מתנדב לפי שעה; ומחלקין את הגבוי לערב בין העניים, ונותנין לכל עני ממנו פרנסת יומו.  וזה הוא הנקרא תמחוי.

    ג  מעולם לא ראינו ולא שמענו, בקהל מישראל שאין להן קופה של צדקה; אבל התמחוי, יש מקומות שנהגו בו ויש מקומות שלא נהגו בו.  והמנהג הפשוט היום, שיהיו גבאי הקופה מחזרין בכל יום ומחלקין מערב שבת לערב שבת.


    Halacha 1
    In every city where Jews live, they are obligated to appoint faithful,1 men of renown as trustees of a charitable fund. They should circulate among the people from Friday to Friday and take from each person what is appropriate for him to give and the assessment made upon him. They then allocate the money from Friday to Friday, giving each poor person sufficient food for seven days. This is called the kupah.2

    Halacha 2
    Similarly, we appoint trustees who take bread, different types of food, fruit, or money from every courtyard from those who make a spontaneous donation and divide what was collected among the poor in the evening, giving each poor person sustenance for that day. This is called the tamchui.3

    Halacha 3
    We have never seen nor heard of a Jewish community that does not have a kupah for charity. A tamchui, by contrast, exists in some communities, but not in others. The common practice at present is that the trustees of the kupah circulate [among the community and collect] every day and divide [the proceeds] every Friday.4

    And giving to the poor is not optional, contrary to what you hear from allegedly religious apologists for Ayn Rand. Here is what Maimonides has to say (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Matanot L'evyonim, Chapter 7):

    ט  [י] מי שאינו רוצה ליתן צדקה, או שייתן מעט ממה שראוי לו--בית דין כופין אותו, ומכין אותו עד שייתן מה שאמדוהו ליתן; ויורדין לנכסיו בפניו, ולוקחין מהן מה שראוי לו ליתן.  וממשכנין על הצדקה, ואפילו בערבי שבתות.


    Halacha 10
    When a person does not want to give charity or desires to give less than what is appropriate for him, the court should compel him and give him stripes for rebellious conduct28 until he gives the amount it was estimated that he should give. We take possession of his property when he is present29 and expropriate the amount that is appropriate for him to give. We expropriate property for the sake of charity even on Fridays.30

    Yup, you don't want to support the poor, you get corporal punishment and you get your property taken away.

    •  England under Queen Elizabeth I (4+ / 0-)

      enacted a remarkably similar system:

      Note the role that churches played! Every one of the English speaking colonies would implement a version here in America. So don't let some Randian idiot claim that supporting the poor is either contrary to religion (either Christianity or Judaism) or to American values.

    •  "charity" actually tzedaka צדקה (justice, (0+ / 0-)

      righteousness) in halacha 3, to belabor one of my favorite points that we don't have a word for charity in the sense of giving as an optional virtue.

      we have instead  צדקה and "chaluka" (remember the little blue metal chaluka boxes for putting coins in?) which is allotment/allocation or "the sharing-out", reflected in halacha 1 מחלקין which comes from a root that i was taught is then built in various ways to mean "share"(noun) and "share"(verb) in the sense of proper-shares or fair-shares amongst many (not in the sense of "johnny, share your toys with your little brothers!!!), alternatively "apportion", or piece or part.

      it's a responsibility and obligation and requirement of being a human bean, not the applauded but optional virtue that the word "charity" tends to mean in english.

      thanks so much for bring the Rambam's hebrew to this, 'tho my reading is so rusty i go practically cross-eyed, even enlarging the text. Much appreciation!

  •  Kol HaKavod (2+ / 0-)
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    whaddaya, Navy Vet Terp

    Love it! Great job :-)

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