The Final Exam 

Transparency and accountability — these are the new buzz words for 21st century corporate governance. No doubt all upright, honorable people welcome every genuine effort to stop corruption and dishonesty in whatever sphere of society — corporate, governmental or personal. But is this really a new phenomenon? Is ours, in fact, the first generation in history concerned about such issues?

In this week's Torah reading, Pikudei (Exodus 38-40), we learn that way back in the days of Moses a transparent accounting and detailed audit was conducted over the donations made by the Israelites towards the building campaign for the Sanctuary and its sacred vessels. The contributions of gold, silver and copper were all weighed and totaled, so that no one could cast any aspersions on the integrity of Moshe and his team. In fac t, the commentaries derive from this episode that those in charge of communal charity funds should likewise hold themselves accountable. We all need to be "innocent in the eyes of G‑d and man."

Ethics of the Fathers reminds us to consider that one day we will all face ultimate accountability. Each of us will stand before the heavenly tribunal to give a din v'cheshbon, a "full justification and an accounting" for the way we lived our lives.

It's fascinating to note that somehow the Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) was able to get wind of the actual questions we will be asked by that supernal tribunal. Know what the very first question is going to be? Surprise, it's not "Did you believe in G‑d," or "Did you fast on Yom Kippur?" Believe it or not, the first question on this final of final exams is: "Did you deal faithfully in business?" Not how religious you were with G‑d but how you conducted your business affairs. Were you honest and fair with people?

The second question, however, does go to the heart of our Jewishness. "Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study?" It would appear that familiarizing oneself with Torah and becoming a knowledgeable Jew is the key that opens the doors to everything else in Jewish life.

Is it not an anomaly of our times that many of our most brilliant legal minds — attorneys, advocates and judges — may have never opened a single page of the Talmud, Judaism's classic encyclopedia of law? Or that some of our finest doctors may be completely unfamiliar with the medical writings of Maimonides, the great 12th century physician and scholar? Or that our brightest business magnates remain Jewishly ignorant, even illiterate?

When it comes to crossing a red light, ignorance of the law is no excuse. No traffic cop will buy the story that the driver didn't know it was illegal. In our day and age, with so many new opportunities for Torah study available, Jewish ignorance just doesn't wash. If the Talmud was once a closed book, today it's available in English — and there are teachers to go with it too. Jewish studies opportunities abound in every community. And if one is geographically challenged, the internet can work wonders. You'll even find yourself a virtual Rabbi!

Let's ensure that when the Cop in Sky pulls us over to "ask a few questions" we'll all be able to answer in the affirmative.