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Mishpatim 5770

Parshat Mishpatim
Shabbat Shekalim
(2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17)
February 13, 2010
29 Shevat 5770

The events of this week\’s haftarah were not born of easy times. The royal palace of Judah was filled with intrigue. Idolatry and murder mixed freely amongst the royals who seemed more preoccupied with power and ego than with service to God and the nation. If it had not been for a few heroic figures, this destructive combination would have brought down the nation.

The villain of the story was the queen, Athaliah. She was the wife of Jehoram, king of the southern kingdom of Judah and daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, the evil king and queen of the northern kingdom of Israel. After the death of her husband, she sought to wrest the monarchy of Judah for herself and for her idolatrous beliefs, stopping at nothing for this purpose, including the murder of any potential rivals from the royal house. She was an outsider, who attained power through violence and had no legitimacy, not even being from the Davidic royal family. However, one potential scion to the throne remained alive, Joash, an infant, who had been spirited away to the Temple, for safekeeping by his aunt Jehosheba, to be raised up as a true heir to the throne. In the meantime, Athaliah led the nation astray from God.

During this period, the high priest Jehoiada, the hero of this story, attempted to preserve the tradition of loyalty to God and the royal family of David. The haftarah opens with an important act performed by Jehoiada: \”And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord, on the one hand, and the king and the people, on the other – as well as between the king and the people – that they should be the people of the Lord.\” (11:17)

The medieval commentators perceptively noticed that Jehoiada made two covenants, one with God and the other with the king. Rashi explains the significance of these covenants: \”that the king and the people should first be loyal to God and afterwards, the people should serve the king.\” Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel (15th century Portugal and Spain), who was no stranger to government, having served as treasury minister to both nations before the expulsion of the Jews from these two countries, adds a tiny nuance to Rashi\’s explanation: \”that the king and the people should serve God and not Baal, and that the people should serve the king and he should have mercy on them and put his life on the line to protect them.\”

Jehoiada seems to have learned a thing or two from what the nation had suffered under Athaliah\’s reign. Her misdirected and self-serving leadership had almost destroyed the nation. He wanted to anchor the nation\’s leadership in service and loyalty to God in order to preserve it and its values. Loyalty to God, to his mind, insured that the king would try to guarantee what was best for his people and the nation.

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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