When it comes to income tax returns, the process does not conclude until the IRS obtains our documents-and our checks- in hand. Yet, I always feel a great sense of relief after gathering my records and submitting then to the accountant. What follows now rests in his capable hands.
Our annual tax ritual reflects a major, societal contribution we offer (hopefully) fairly, albeit reluctantly. Few of us enjoy providing the US Treasury with our hard-earned money. Despite our indisputable patriotism, we explore every legal means of minimizing our taxes. Consequently, our personal tax returns also become a necessary safeguard against cheaters and tax evaders.
It would be ideal if each of us would honestly contribute our fair share without agonizing over forms, documents, legalities or the ongoing complexities of tax code legislation. Unfortunately, relying merely on our good will and personal integrity would bankrupt the nation sooner rather than later.
We live in a society where record keeping is essential, not only for accurate accounting, but for protecting society from fraud and deception. It is this latter concern which leads me to a different reflection about our Torah portion of Pekuday. We learn that b’nai yisrael have stepped forward-beyond expectations-to volunteer their materials and objects for the Tabernacle. Moses now takes inventory of each contributed item.
Why is this accounting necessary? After all, unlike our tax returns the people were not legally bound to contribute anything. They stepped forward out of loyalty or sense of duty. Part of the rationale for the accounting was to insure that if something wears out, there will be a record of what needs replacing. However, I think there is another reason. With a new spiritual institution there is great elation and passion. As time passes, the euphoria will wane and the passion will subside. Future generations, though hopefully eager to leave a personal imprimatur on their own sanctuaries and institutions, may not step forward with the same eagerness or sense of volunteerism. As we discover, the First Temple was built with heavy taxes imposed upon the nation. Were everyone so willing to contribute, no impositions would have been necessary. Reality suggests that the good will of the people is in short supply. This is not necessarily a criticism, but an inevitable reflection of life.
As a high school senior, my Honors History class was filled with the elite of our school. Our teacher often left the room after assigning us a topic to discuss until he returned. In addition, he only demanded that we complete the thick, American history book by year’s end. We never partook of those discussions and most of us read little of that book, because without more established demands, we teens were not volunteering a greater effort. Whatever our general academic records, we were not stepping forward without impositions.
Such is the nature of a society which requires the imposition of an annual income tax return. Such is the nature of a Jewish community, which needed the formal accounting of Tabernacle materials: In the future, when volunteerism was not forthcoming, the people would be obligated to contribute their fair share so that the nation and its Temple would survive.
In the meantime, whatever the results of our tax returns, may our contributions truly make a significant impact on the society in which we live.