Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Money is not the Root of All Evil, But it can be a right Devil to Manage

Last weekend the Torah portion that was read was Pekudei, it was also Shabbat Shekalim. It’s rare for these two to fall together and the basic message I’d like to highlight from this is: manage your Costs.

Pekudei is about Moses accounting for all the contributions to the building of the Mishkan (the temporary sanctuary in which the Divine manifest). Shekalim is about the collection of the half-shekel for the upkeep of the Temple.

So you might ask, what’s the big deal with doing all this accounting and making such a fuss about collecting funds? In fact, why are the previous two Torah portions about explaining how the Mishkan should be built then followed by a two portions detailing how they were built? Could it not just be written: “And then they built it as per instructions”?

Plans don’t run themselves
From a project management point of view, planning does not seamlessly translate in to successful execution of a project. In fact in addition to there being an Execution phase of a project, during this phase the processes of Monitor and Control are being acted upon.

In plain English, plans need to be acted upon and checked regularly to make sure that they are on track. If minor deviations from the plan occur they can often be corrected. Major deviations often require more focus and attention to correct probably involving stakeholder involvement to save or cancel the project.

Another way of looking at this is to say that plotting a course for a sailing ship, tracing a series of paths for a nature ramble and planning a round the world holiday are not the same things as actually making those journeys. The Execution phase of the project is the journey and part of doing the journey part is keeping on top of your spending.

Dimensions and how to go from the abstract to the practical
From a Golem Builder point of view (and as explained by my Rabbi), Sefer Yetzirah speaks of Creation in terms of the following dimensions: World (Space), Year (Time) and Soul (Morality).

The dimension of world (space) refers to the Mishkan or Temple. The dimension of year (time) refers to the Shabbat and the dimension of soul (morality) refers to the community praying together.

So these dimensions are not just abstract ideas to be contemplated, they are mapped to physical reality that need active work to make them happen.

  • Pekudei describes how the dimension of space was worked on to create a place for the Divine to manifest.
  • Shabbat has lots of laws about what should not be done to create boundaries in time during which no creative work is done (these laws are derived from the 39 creative activities performed for building the Mishkan).
  • People need to gather in a quorum for certain communal prayers to be allowed to be said.

So in my desperate attempt to tie this together… we’ve seen how planning and doing are two separate phases of a project. Similarly the three dimensions of space, time are translated from the abstract to mundane through execution (i.e. making it happen).

This hopefully answers the questions posed at the start of this post about why it was important to count all the contributions to the building of the Mishkan and to detail the actual building of the Mishkan. The message is that making the journey, executing the plan require as much care and attention as the planning.
Half Shekel coin

Now let’s close off with a final mention about the money. I’ve talked about staying on top of your finances without actually giving you any constructive ways of making this happen. Fortunately there are a number of web sites that give practical advice and have calculator programs built in to help analyze your spending patterns.

Here are a few links:

  1. Money Saving Expert advice and budget planning:
  2. UK government website for Planning Your Personal Finances.
  3. Guardian newspaper money planner