Haftarah Parashat Mishpatim
Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
February 10, 2018 |25 Shevat 5772
This Shabbat, Shabbat Shekalim, marks the first of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. Its purpose was to remind the people to pay the special ‘Machatzit Hashekel – half shekel’ tax incumbent on the people to pay for the communal needs of the Temple, both sacrificial and for upkeep purposes. It was paid before Pesach, because Pesach is the first of the ‘Shelosh Regalim’ – the three pilgrimage festivals and hence was the beginning of the Temple’s fiscal year.
The haftarah for this special Shabbat is a bittersweet one. It recounts a period in biblical history where the Davidic monarchy had become corrupt and, consequently, the people’s faith in the nation’s institutions, including the Temple was at a low ebb. The previous king, Ahaziah, was murdered in a conspiracy. His mother, Athaliah, usurped the throne, murdering all other potential claimants to the throne, except for one, Jehoash, a seven-year-old child, who was protected by the high priest. Amidst all of this intrigue, the Temple fell into disrepair.
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) describes the situation: “The wicked Athaliah and her sons had broken into [and raided] the Temple of its riches. This made it necessary to rebuild [the Temple and replenish its treasury]. For the Temple was only one hundred and fifty years old and had been built well…. [On this account,] Jehoash [who became king] set about restoring it. This is why it was necessary [for Jehoash] to assemble to holy ones of Israel (the priests), that they should sanctify “Shekalim” for this purpose…”(adapted) This significance of this “sanctification” was that the king wanted to ensure that the money was used for its intended purpose: “The king Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and said to them: ‘Why don’t you repair the Temple? Now, no longer should you take the money for yourselves; it should be given over to the restoration of the Temple.'” (2 Kings 12:8) This action restored credibility to the Temple allotments.
It is interesting to note that this reading is incorporated into the liturgical reading to remind people to make their mandatory contributions. It is intended not only that the people have an obligation to give, but also, equally important, that those who are charged with responsibility for the dispersal of funds must make sure that the funds are used with proper “sanctity and integrity”.