A Seamless White Cloak

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by Doron Beckerman

The success of the holy enterprise rested on the broad shoulders of the seasoned prophet. This was to be the climax of the Exodus, the end of the Redemption, the return to the glory days of the Forefathers.

Seven days of preparation were to be followed by the Presence of the A-mighty, dwelling within the Jewish nation. Any misstep, even a wrong thought, from Moshe Rabbeinu, would trigger a tidal wave of frustration, misery, and defeat. The enormous tension must have been palpable, and the unimaginably intense deveikus of Moshe Rabbeinu was readily visible during that momentous, awesome, final week of Adar.

Mar Ukva visited Ginzaq. He was asked… what did Moshe wear while performing the Service during the Seven Days of Induction? …A white cloak. Rav Cahana taught: A seamless white cloak” (Taanis 11a).
Rashi: “So that he would not be suspected of removing consecrated funds in the seam, since it is written: ‘And you shall be innocent before G-d and man’.

I understand that Moshe Rabbeinu had his share of detractors, but this seems patently ridiculous. When Achan stole some loot from the city of Jericho, G-d was rather swift in His retribution. Nadav and Avihu were killed on the spot for their faux pas during that time. One can assume that Moshe would have suffered a horrible fate immediately upon embezzling from the Temple funds.

Even if, for some unfathomable reason, Moshe would have been granted a Divine reprieve, there certainly would have been a delay in the appearance of G-d’s Cloud. The consternation would be directed squarely at Moshe, and the finger pointing would begin. He could not have gotten away with it.

Rashi (Avodah Zarah 34a) writes: “Someone says [he had no seam] so that he would not be suspected of placing some of the tabernacle donations in it. But this is incorrect (because it is preposterous, right? Wrong.) because the construction was already complete, and where would he take money from while he was serving [in the sanctuary]?

The answer to our vexing problem must lie in the risk/reward ratio. Moshe Rabbeinu surely knew that anyone who would accuse him of such a deplorable act was probably not worth his time. However, with the very integrity of Torah on the line, Moshe was taking no chances at all, and got himself a seamless white cloak. No talk, no mumbles, no whispers, not even from the backbenchers.

Anyone familiar with my writings here and in other forums would guess, I hope correctly, that I would not be among those accusing the Gadol Hador, let alone the Gadol Hanevi’im, of embezzlement. In fact, if a wisp of such an allegation would reach my ears, I would be furious. I would be the first to call it “pernicious gossip” (and run the risk of having my rant rejected by Rabbi Adlerstein as too fulminating and frothy for cross-currents.)

The Chazon Ish (Emunah UBitachon chapter 3 writes: “It is the obligation of the student to believe that there is no bias in the world that has the power to shift the heart of the sage to distort judgment, since the focus of the sage is to purify his soul, and to soil himself with some guilt would be more painful to him than any injury or wound. How could it be that for avarice or flattery he would injure his soul to distort judgment? In addition, the characteristic of truth is to the sage the core of his soul and the root of its existence, and any speck of falsehood is beyond him, and such is the belief of the upright multitude who sit in the dust at the feet of the sages.”

Yet, here the student/child asks. With the integrity of Torah on the line, there seems to be, at times, a responsibility on the part of the leadership to preempt any possibility of an accusation, farfetched and insidious as it may be (see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:20). The recent EJF scandal would look to be one of those times. I am firm in my conviction that all is seamlessly white. What is lacking, though, is transparency.

[Rabbi Doron Beckerman is a Rebbe at Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim, and a frequent guest contributor.]

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8 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Beckerman, Consider yourself in good company; my question remains regardless of who might agree with you. The CI ztl’s explanation, as you reference it, is neither the pshat of rishonim (see – Rashi or Seforna) nor is it normative (Choshen Mishpat 9). I suspect he may be making a related but different point; I need to think about his viewpoint more carefully. Perhaps, in “brisker” fashion how a student should treat his teachers may be different than how indviduals (even tzaddikim) ought treat themselves.

    In this case, particularly, given the financial aid and largesse that was funneled through the individual in question, one would expect many not to investigate but recuse themselves.

  2. Ori says:

    Garnel Ironheart, you didn’t say it – but it read as if you were thinking in that direction, so I wanted to check.

    A related question, would it be “not putting a stumbling block” if we today try to act in a way that looks like we couldn’t cheat?

  3. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Hi Ori,
    I don’t think I mentioned stumbling blocks before the blind. Besides, the midrash and Rashi’s commentary bring plenty of examples of how the people complained about Moshe Rabeinu’s behaviour and nitpicked about every little thing he did. Perhaps this is why he made such a tremendous effort to avoid any opportunity for complaint on this occasion.

  4. Ori says:

    Garnel Ironheart, do you think Moses’s behavior was an example of not putting a stumbling block in front of the blind? If people suspected him of embezzlement, they’d probably speak about it. It would be extremely difficult for them to avoid Lashon haRa. This way, the Israelites were not tempted to commit that particular sin on that particular occasion.

  5. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Rav Beckerman, Moshe Rabeinu wore a white cloak for a reason. The Torah is like water. Moshe Rabeinu, a”h, was immersed in water. And we all know what happens to white garments when they get wet.
    Moshe Rabeinu was completely transparent in his dealings with Klal Yisrael. There was no hidden agenda, no hope for personal gain even without harm happening to someone else, nothing other than a sincere dedication to bring his people closer to God.
    But there was also something more, a knowledge that even if one is totally honest, one must also take into account the perception of others. Moshe Rabeinu could have worn a regular outfit (bekisher, sthreiml?) and stood in front of Klal Yisrael 100% confident that he had embezzled nothing. But he didn’t want to rest on his own confidence. He wanted the people to be confident too. That perception is often missing today. Yes, certain great rabbinic figures may have had nothing to do with EJF’s missteps and they know they are blameless. But that’s not how many on the outside see it and their perceptions should matter too.

  6. Doron Beckerman says:

    3.Ori,

    Perhaps it just makes it a bit harder.

    Dr. Bill,

    See Chazon Ish there two paragraphs later and on, that Shochad is an exceedingly narrow exception which is a Chok.

  7. dr. bill says:

    I am dumbfounded. You write: “The recent EJF scandal would look to be one of those times. I am firm in my conviction that all is seamlessly white. What is lacking, though, is transparency.” Devarim (16, 19), particulalry as interpreted by Chazal says otherwise. If one called a tzaddik in the Torah can be corrupted by (even innocent) kindness, are we to assume our generation is immune to such possibilities. Yes, we need transparency, but to be “firm in my conviction” given the largesse involved goes well beyond “havei dan et kol haadam lekav zechut” and imho opposes a verse in the Bible.

  8. Ori says:

    In other words, it is not enough to be honest. One must strive to appear honest too.

    However, there seems to be a conflict of interests between being a leader who must appear honest to his followers, and being the head of an institution that relies on donations. Maybe that’s the reason so many of the Tanaim and Amoraim had jobs.