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Haftarah Parshat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim

Haftarah Parshat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim (2 Kings 11:17-12:17)
February 25, 2017 / 29 Shevat 5777

This Shabbat begins the cycle of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. The first of these, Shabbat Shekalim, deals with the special Jewish half shekel tax which was collected for a variety of needs in the Temple. The special haftarah for this Shabbat records an episode in the Temple where the High Priest and the king worked to insure the proper use of the collected funds. The story related there also has some other twists and turns. The king, Jehoash was raised in the Temple from childhood by the High Priest, Jehoiada, in order to prevent his assassination by the queen mother, Athaliah. Jehoash assumed the kingship at age seven under the ward of the High Priest. His rule was described in the book of Kings this way: “And Jehoash did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days all the while that he was instructed by Jehoiada the High Priest.” (12:3)

The description here of what this verse might refer to is laconic. On this point, Rashi says: “But after Jehoiada died, then the princes of Judah came and worshiped the king; they made him a deity. They said to him: ‘One who enters into the Holy of Holies for a single hour, his life is endangered, and you were hidden there for six years, you are therefore worthy of being a deity.” (See Shmot Rabba 8:3)

From where could Rashi have developed such an idea? In the Book of Chronicles (the last book of the Tanach), a later, more expanded and less sanguine account of this episode is related: “But after the death of Jehoiada the officers of Judah came, bowing low to the king and the king listened to them. They forsook the House of the Lord God of their fathers to serve the Asherim and the idols; and there was wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem because of this guilt of theirs. The Lord sent prophets among them to bring them back to Him. They admonished them, but they paid no heed. Then the spirit of God enveloped Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; he stood above the people, and said to them: ‘Thus said God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, when you cannot succeed? Since you have forsaken the Lord, He has forsaken you.’ They conspired against him and pelted him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the House of the Lord. King Jehoash disregarded the loyalty that his father Jehoiada had shown to him and slew his son. And when he (Zechariah) died, he said: ‘May the Lord see and require it.’ (2 Chronicles 24:17-22)

Chronicles records Jehoash’s tragic transformation from a righteous person to an evil person. The change is all the more painful when contrasted with the righteous Zechariah son of Jehoiada as his foil. In addition, Zechariah was murdered in the very place where Jehoash was given sanctuary when his own life was threatened. What a terrible irony? (See D. Rothstein, Chronicles 2, The Jewish Study Bible)

How fragile life is the tipping point in our lives between being good and being evil. Perhaps this is why Rashi has Jehoash turned into a deity by his followers. Any of us have the potential to fall if we make of ourselves a god. And the higher we rise, the more tragic the fall.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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