(2 Kings 12:1-17; 1 Samuel 20:18,42)
This Shabbat marks the first of the four special Shabbatot before Passover. Parshat Shekalim always falls on the Shabbat before or on Rosh Hodesh Adar closest to the month of Nisan, since it served as a reminder that it was time to contribute the annual half shekel tax used to provide for the daily sacrifices and maintenance to the Temple. This year it also coincides with the day before Rosh Hodesh (Mahar Hodesh) . Consequently, in addition to the special haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim, we also read the first and last verses of the special haftarah for Mahar Hodesh.
King Yehoash is the hero of this week’s special haftarah. He won this accolade by being responsible for the reestablishment of the proper use of the half shekel tax collected for the Temple’s maintenance. This role, however, did not preclude the tradition’s ambivalent attitude toward his rule as king. The haftarah introduces him with the words: “All his days Jehoash did what was pleasing to the Lord, as the priest Jehoiada instructed him. The shrines, however, were not removed; the people continued to sacrifice and offer at the shrines” (2 Kings 12:3-4)
Targum Yonaton, the 7th century Aramaic translation, translates this verse differently. Jehoash was only faithful to God “all the days that he was taught by Jehoiada”. This translation is based on the tradition about Jehoash found in the parallel passage to our story found in 2 Chronicles: “And Joash did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” (24:2) Later in the chapter, after the chronicler recorded Joash meritorious restoration of fiscal responsibility, we are privy to a less heroic episode not recorded in the book of Kings: But Jehoiada [the priest] waxed old and died… Now after the death of Jehoiada, the princes of Judah came and prostrated themselves before the king. Then the king hearkened unto them and they forsook the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers and served the Asherim and the idols and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guiltiness. And God sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord and they admonished them but they did not listen. And the spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest and he stood above the people and said unto them: ‘Thus said the God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness of Jehoiada his father and slew his son…(24:18-22)
Jehoash, who did what was right under the aegis of his spiritual mentor, did not continue on this path after his master’s death. The lose of Jehoiada’s guidance left Jehoash without a moral and religious compass. His earlier good deeds did not protect him nor did they provide him with immunity from temptation or sin later in his life. This troubling episode in the life of Jehoash reminds us that each of us must be constantly vigilant in our behavior.