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