Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

ch.12 A final word. Integrity of Public Officials.

Appendix to the Yoash Story

Communal Trust and Financial Abuse.

As I write these lines, Israel is in the midst of a series of scandals that have been leveled at government ministers, the Prime Minister and the President. One of the issues that are weighing upon my mind then is the question of moral integrity of public officials and the communal measures taken to ensure full honesty especially in financial matters. All institutions need safeguards against impropriety. And yet, no institution can function without creating relationships of trust and allowing its workers to contribute their unique skills and talents unhindered, to the service of the institution.

In this context, two pesukim in our story come to mind:

[7] Then king Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest, and the other priests , and said unto them, Why repair ye not the breaches of the house? now therefore receive no more money of your acquaintance, but deliver it for the breaches of the house.[8] And the priests consented to receive no more money of the people, neither to repair the breaches of the house.

Here it would appear that the priests are somehow collecting money from friends and associates. This in turn leads to an abuse of the system in place for funding the Mikdash!

What is going on? It would seem (see Radak) that the original system was that Koahnim would collect contributions from their friends, or "acquaintances." This system, that probably worked for many decades or even centuries, was an opening for corruption (similar to that which we saw in the past in Israel's central party committees.) Certain Kohanim would become "activists" lobbying for extra funds, and then having greater power to decide on the designation of those funds.

And even if the system was not corrupt, it certainly was ineffective! The question as to whether the system worked lay in the results. The Beit Mikdash was dilapidated! The system was not working well.

Were they corrupt or just inept? We don't know. But whether it was their fraudulent handling of the money or their amateur approach, the money failed to reach the desired destination.

Interestingly the pesukim suggest the latter. They were simply ineffective at financial affairs and fundraising. Sometimes, communal organizations do suffer from this. Well meaning individuals who have little training in money-management handle immense budgets and due to their relative ignorance of finance and investment, they make costly mistakes at significant loss to public funds.

[In Divrei Hayamim there is a slightly different explanation, but once again, there it would appear that the Kohanim were rather unmotivated it when it came to financial concerns. Maybe, being men of the spirit, they felt a lack of confidence in demanding money from the rank an file of Bnei Yisrael]


On the other hand:

[15] Moreover they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully.

Despite the earlier misappropriation of Temple funds, the treasurers who paid all the builders and craftsmen in the Temple, were given a free hand to write the cheques and make the orders for the Mikdash renovations seemingly, without accountability.

Indeed. The Gemara in Bava Batra bases a Halakha on our chapter:

"Our Rabbis taught: The collectors of charity are not required to give an account of the moneys entrusted to them for charity, nor the treasurers of the Temple of the moneys given for holy purposes. There is no actual proof of this (in Tanakh), but there is a hint of it in the words: 'They reckoned not with the men into whose hand they delivered the money to give to them that did the work, for they dealt faithfully.'"

Now, this after the Talmud has already established that there need to be no less than 2 and preferably 3 treasurers who may not distribute or collect charity except in the others' presence, and so there are some safeguards. Moreover the Talmud mandates that the Tzedaka treasurer be a person of impeccable reputation. On the other hand, if every charity official is summoned for a cheque misplaced, then few people will be willing to take the task upon themselves.

When is it appropriate to express trust, and when is it advisable to investigate and express criticism?


In our chapter the solution involes a number of elements:
1. Now the money management is taken away from the control of the Kohanim.
2. Donation is now anonymous, breaking the power of the people who mismanaged the Temple funds.
3. Transparency and joint management: There are two "supervisors" (#11) – one from the government and another from the Temple – allowing for full transparency. The money is managed by both sources allowing for the interests and skills of both groups.

And yet, as reported in passuk 16, there is always a certain degree of discretion when running a project. Do you take the cheaper or more expensive craftsman? Which fabric or material do you choose? Do you take standard goods or have them especially crafted by a designer? When it comes to these questions , it would appear that license was given to the trustworthy work-managers to appropriate the funds as needed be. And t would appear that part of their professional pride was precisely that trait of integrity and honesty – כי באמונה הם עושים.