I was listening to Freakonomics this past week while walking my dog. This podcast was about gossip and it began with an interview of a researcher who put together a set of metrics to distinguish correlations between very wealthy and very poor individuals. One of the metrics was that gossip was something very few of the wealthy and many of the poor practiced.
The first verse of our portion has the word Mishkan twice and it seems unnecessary. These are the accountings of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of testimony...
The classical understanding of this verse is that the double statement refers to the two permanent Temples built in Jerusalem, both of which were destroyed because of the sins of our people. And why would such an allusion be present in a portion detailing the value of the construction materials? According to one commentator, we have our most valuable possessions assessed. When friends see we have beautiful things, they bless us and ask us to enjoy them in good health. When people who don’t like us observe them, filled with an overwhelming sense ofSchadenfreude, they hope we’ll have to pawn them.
The first Temple was Biblically understood to be destroyed as a punishment for the three cardinal sins, Incest, Murder and, most egregiously as far as the prophets were concerned, Idolatry. The Second Temple was understood by the rabbis to be destroyed because of senseless hatred, שנאת חנם. What better method to sow senseless hatred than the joy we get in spreading malicious gossip about others?
The truth is, according to the podcast I listened to, Steve Dubner interviews people who suggest that the wealthy don’t really gossip less; they simply think their talk about others is more valuable than mere hearsay.
Later in the portion, Moses blesses the people, the opposite of gossip, for completing the Tabernacle but we’re not told what words he used. The rabbis have an answer: May it be Your will that God’s Presence will rest on the work of your hands.
Let me paraphrase: Let’s choose our words carefully about others so we can truly enjoy the sanctuary of time Shabbat is supposed to be.