(As an aside, Chazal point out that we derive a very interesting insight into human nature from this episode. When it came to the Golden Calf, despite the fact that only a little calf was produced from all the gold collected, nobody questioned where the money went. However, when it came to the Mishkan, despite the fact that a large edifice was erected, with many vessels, people demanded an accounting – down to the last penny. This phenomenon clearly demonstrates that when it comes to bad things people don’t question. However, when it comes to mitzvot, people suddenly need to know every detail.
Rav Zalman Sorotskin in his commentary Oznaim LaTorah puts a positive slant on this notion. When it comes to supporting an ignoble cause, people don’t want an accounting as they can assuage their conscience by thinking that their money may just be sitting in the bank or going to something insignificant. But when it comes to a noble cause, people want to be assured that they too have a part in the mitzvah.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l posits that Moshe is teaching us the importance of making an accounting of how we use everything G-d gives us, not just the donations to the Mishkan. The Torah is not simply describing to us something Moshe did as a one-time expedient, but rather it is instructing us in what to do with everything we have and everything we do. We must constantly ask ourselves whether we are using our possessions, our knowledge and our talents for good and for the furtherance of Torah, or G-d forbid for the opposite. Only by making constant accountings can we be certain that we are doing the right thing in the right way.
In this sense, like General Dempsey, leaders must have their own boxes where they keep track of the costs involved in what they do. They must continuously bear in mind the costs of their decisions and make sure that their decisions are worth the costs. Only by doing so will they be able to make it matter. Perhaps the underlying lesson of Parshat Pikudei is that the real targeted audience of such accountings is not a leader’s followers but the leader himself.