June 23, 2024
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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 that tells of the campaign initiated by King Yeho’ash to raise funds for the much-needed repair of the Beit Hamikdash that had been built over 100 years earlier and was, therefore, in much need of repair. The haftarah parallels the special maftir that we read, for there, too, we read about the donations that were to be made for the functioning of the Mishkan. The reason why Chazal ordained that these readings be read on this Shabbat is because, the Gmara teaches, the collection of these funds took place during this coming month of Adar.

The king’s desire to repair the Beit Hamikdash is quite understandable when we recall the story of his childhood. Yeho’ash was the sole survivor of the royal family after his evil grandmother Atalya had murdered all of her grandchildren in her attempt to usurp the throne of the Kingdom of Yehudah. The infant “king” was then hidden by his aunt Yehosheva (sister of the late king, Yehoram) and her husband Yehoyada, the kohen gadol, in the Beit Hamikdash itself—hence, perhaps, his desire to restore and renovate the Holy Temple.

In his book “Netivei Nevuah,” Rav Moshe Lichtenstein offers a fascinating insight, sharing with us another connection, a parallel, between the Torah’s command to collect the half-shekel from every adult male to be used for the functioning of the Mishkan and the “fundraiser” that took place during the time of Yeho’ash. Both undertakings were preceded by a “brit,” a covenant between the people and Hashem. In the Torah we are told of the brit, formalized by the placing of blood in the basins and by sprinkling the blood on the altar, in response to which Bnei Yisrael proclaimed “na’aseh v’nishmah,” a pledge to obey and observe all of Hashem’s laws given to them at Har Sinai. Likewise, Yehoyada sealed a brit between Hashem, the king and the people, committing the nation to be a “people of Hashem,” before beginning on the campaign to restore the Beit HaMikdash, In fact, the minhag in Sefaradi communities is to start the haftarah with the mention of that very brit that led the people to destroy the idolatrous centers of Baal worship. Rav Lichtenstein rightly points out that, after having left the idolatry of Egypt, and after having heard God’s reminder that it was He who took them out of Egypt, it was essential for them to realize that the Mishkan they would build was one dedicated to the one and only God. Similarly, it was important to reinforce within the people the simple fact that the restored Beit Hamikdash must be dedicated to the service of Hashem alone, especially after the wicked reigns of Yehoram, Achazyahu and Atalya, when idolatrous worship had spread throughout the Southern Kingdom.

And, perhaps, there is yet one more similarity between the Maftir reading and the haftarah.

The mitzvah of the Machatzit Hashekel, the donation of one-half shekel toward the Mishkan, was an obligation incumbent upon every adult Jewish male. Although there were many voluntary donations made—so many that a call went out to the people to cease bringing any more gifts—those contributions varied according to one’s financial capabilities, affording those of means to give more than the average donation and those of lesser means to give less. The half-shekel donation was different. It was the great equalizer. “He’ashir lo yarbeh,” the wealthy could give no more than the half shekel, and the poor no less. It was a message taught each year reminding the nation that everyone had a share in God’s “house” and that no one was excluded.

That same message is echoed in the events of the haftarah as well, for the successful fund- raising was only accomplished when all donations were placed in a large box, a giant “pushka.” This way of giving removed the necessity of using the kohen as intermediary (something the king had attempted previously), thereby reassuring the donors that the money was being contributed to the Beit Mikdash and not to any individual. But more importantly, the success of this format was due to the fact that all donations were now anonymous, with no one knowing how much or how little one gave. As a result, every individual felt equal to the other and knew that they had a share in this restoration.

When we look to be part of the nation, we are all equal. Hashem judges us by our sincerity and desire—and not simply by amount; by quality and not quantity. Only the All-Knowing Judge can evaluate such things and no one else has a right to decide who is more or less part of the “Mikdash” of Am Yisrael.


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

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