Thursday, April 02, 2020

Parshat Mishpatim

Shabbat Shekalim

The special haftarah ordained by Chazal to be read on Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat of, or before, Rosh Chodesh Adar, is a selection taken from Sefer Melachim Bet in which we read of the fundraising campaign initiated by King Yeho’ash to provide the funds for the much-needed repair of the Beit Hamikdash, a structure that had been built over 100 years earlier.

The reason for the selection of this episode for Shabbat Shekalim is rather obvious. As the opening Mishna of Masechet Shekalim teaches, public announcements were made starting with Rosh Chodesh Adar to remind the people of their obligation to donate one-half-shekel to the Beit Hamikdash during this month. The half-shekel donation was used for the purchase of the communal sacrifices that were offered daily, thereby giving each and every Jew a share in each and every public sacrifice. Likewise, the haftarah tells us of how the king also raised funds for the Holy Temple, although the donations as described in the haftarah do not seem to be obligatory nor of a set amount, as was the mitzvah of machatzit hashekel.

The story told in our haftarah, however, is but a partial one. The specifics that led to the successful campaign run by Yeho’ash are revealed to us in the 24th perek of Divrei HaYamim II, where we learn that the treasures of the Beit Hamikdash had been plundered by the previous regent, the wicked Atalya, whose forces had broken in to the Temple, thereby requiring the repair undertaken by Yeho’ash.

We also learn that the king’s initial attempts at fundraising were not successful because the Levi’im failed to collect the funds from the people throughout the kingdom. Yeho’ash then summoned his uncle and mentor, the kohen gadol, Yehoyada, and urged him to demand from the Levites that they collect the donation. And, in demanding that the funds be gathered, the king uses the term “mas’at Moshe, eved Hashem,” the tax commanded by Moshe, i.e. the half-shekel. This also explains our rabbis’ choice for reading this haftarah on Shabbat Shekalim, for the entire story (as clarified in Divrei HaYamim) includes the fact that the donation demanded by Yeho’ash was, indeed, the half-shekel, precisely what we read in the special maftir.

Of course, as in the collection made by Moshe Rabbeinu, this compulsory tax allowed all to take part in the construction and repair of the Beit Hamikdash and thereby had a share in the Holy Temple as well.

Interestingly, HaRav Y. A. HaLevi points out that this story marks a quiet “revolution,” for, although the functioning in the Holy Temple and the religious rites there remained unchanged, the control of the finances and the administration of the Beit Hamikdash were taken away from the kohanim and given to the monarchy, where they remained until Churban HaBayit. All in all, the haftarah gives us a fascinating glimpse into the events that shaped the ancient world and teaches us the importance of seeing to it that all of Israel has a part in the ritual avoda, worship, of Hashem.

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.