Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Pikudei

In a parasha devoted almost entirely to providing a balance sheet for the construction of the Mishkan, we witness Moshe’s full observance of the halachic concept of Marit Ayin מראית עין‎ (‘Appearance to the eye.’)  He is wise to the importance of not only acting correctly, but to be seen to be doing so too, says the Chief Rabbi, and in this way serves as an exemplar for Jews today. For the full transcript, see below.

“This week’s parasha of Pikudei is remarkable. Most of the portion provides for us a detailed balance sheet. After the construction of the Mishkan we’re told exactly what the nation contributed and how Moshe used every single item in a responsible way. In this manner, Moshe wanted us for all time to know that what he had done was carried out faithfully and correctly.

Moshe was sensitive to what we call Marit Ayin מראית עין. He knew how important it is not only to do what is right , and to be seen to be doing what is right. For example, we are conscious of Marit Ayin if, let’s say, a person goes into a non-kosher butchery in order to buy some bones for his or her dog. Someone who sees this happening might conclude ‘ooh that’s terrible; they’re buying traif meat for themselves. Or alternatively an onlooker could say  ‘ah I didn’t know that that butchery is kosher.’ It’s right always to do what is right and to be seen to be doing what is right.

‘He knew how important it is not only to do what is right , and to be seen to be doing what is right’

In this spirt the Talmud tells us that in Temple times the tax collectors were instructed never to have pockets in their clothes nor folds in their garments. They would hold the monies that they had taken in their hands and similarly we are told that when raising funds for charity we should go around not as single individuals but in pairs.

The Mishnah tells us about the Garmu family. They were responsible for baking the shewbread in the Temple, and they kept the recipe secret within their family circles from generation to generation, and they had a tradition; they never served baked goods in any of their homes, They didn’t want the thought to cross anybody’s mind that they were using Temple ingredients for the baked goods that they were serving. Similarly the Mishnah adds that the Avtinas family were responsible for preparing he incense in the Temple, and they had a family custom when it came to their family simchas – none of the women ever wore perfume, lest it crossed the mind of anyone that these women were using some of the sweet fragrances of the Temple for their own personal needs.

The Torah is well-known to be exceptionally concise. Often we learn major laws from just one word, sometimes even from one single letter. But this week’s portion provides all the space necessary to provide the balance sheet, in order to let us know how sensitive Moshe Rabbeinu was to Marit Ayin. And so too should we be sensitive to it. Always to do that which is right, and to try to guarantee that we will be seen to be doing what is right. Shabbat Shalom.”

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