Who Do You Trust?

Posted On Mar 5, 2011 / 5771

שמות רבה נא:א

ואלה פקודי המשכן כך פתח ר׳ תנחומא בר אבא (משלי כח) איש אמונות רב ברכות אתה מוצא כל מי שהוא נאמן הקב״ה מביא ברכות על ידיו מי שאינו נאמן ואץ להעשיר לא ינקה

דבר אחר איש אמונות זה משה שנעשה גזבר על מלאכת המשכן שנו רבותינו אין ממנין שררה על הצבור בממון פחות משנים והרי אתה מוצא שהיה משה גזבר לעצמו וכאן אתה אומר אין ממנין פחות מב׳ אלא אע״פ שהיה משה גזבר לעצמו הוא קורא לאחרים ומחשב על ידיהם שנאמר (שמות לח) אלה פקודי המשכן אשר פקד משה אין כתיב כאן אלא אשר פקד ע״פ משה ע״י משה ביד איתמר

Exodus Rabbah 51:1

“These are the [inventory] accounts of the Tabernacle, [ . . . which were rendered at Moses’ bidding—the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron the Priest.”] (Exod. 38:21) R. Tanhuma b. Abba opened [his interpretation of this verse by quoting]: “‘A dependable man will receive many blessings, but one hurrying to get rich will not go unpunished.’ (Prov. 28:20). You will find that the Blessed Holy One brings blessings to anyone who is trustworthy, yet any that are not trustworthy but ‘hurrying to get rich will not go unpunished.’”

. . . Another explanation: “A dependable man”—this [refers to] Moses, who was made the treasurer over the construction of the Tabernacle. Our Rabbis [also] taught: “We do not appoint fewer than two people with control over public finances.” But behold that you find that Moses alone was treasurer, while here you say that “we do not appoint fewer than two” [with this authority]? Instead, [we understand that,] even though Moses alone was treasurer, he called upon others to audit [the accounts] on their own, for it says, “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle . . . which were rendered at Moses’ bidding . . .” It does not say “which Moses rendered” but “which were rendered at Moses’ bidding,” namely, for Moses but “under the direction of Ithamar . . . “

While I always read the Torah and its rabbinic interpretations in search of contemporary relevance, I rarely find texts that seem to mirror my own life history so closely. The two parts of the midrash above reflect in many ways the lessons I have learned from my father’s first and second careers: as a litigator for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and then as a personal financial planner. His work experiences have taught me a great deal about what it means to be “trustworthy” as opposed to “hurrying to get rich.”

At the IRS, my father would represent the government against wealthy individuals and corporations who had underpaid or cheated on their tax returns. One of his last trials involved a prominent Jewish family known for their business success and their philanthropic generosity. While publicly presenting themselves as “trustworthy,” a tax audit revealed that this family privately withheld earnings from their estate and thereby contributed less than they were obligated to put into the public coffers.

While that family “did not go unpunished,” a similar outcome has unfortunately eluded those who bent or broke the rules and created the recent financial crisis of the “Great Recession.” Many of my father’s clients, like almost all modest American investors planning for their own retirement, lost much of their portfolios’ worth. Few of them had even invested directly in the most problematic sectors of the stock market, like derivatives and credit default swaps, vehicles created by those “hurrying to get rich.” Will those who perpetrated this crisis “go unpunished” much longer?

While I await justice, my father, “a dependable man,” continues to lead by example, focusing on his own business ethics and on restoring his clients to financial stability.