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Mishpatim 5772

Haftarah Parshat Mishpatim
Shabbat Shekalim
(2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17)
February 18, 2012
25 Shevat 5772

Parshat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim (2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17)

This Shabbat begins the cycle of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesach. The first of these Shabbatot, Shabbat Shekalim, was intended as a reminder that, in ancient times, the month of Adar marked the period when each Jew was responsible to pay the half shekel tax necessary for the maintenance of the Temple and the sacrificial order. The haftarah for this Shabbat records the tale of a monarch, Jehoash, who demanded fiscal responsibility from the Temple in the use of its funds. The story of Jehoash, however, also has a dark side. This young king was raised in the Temple by the High Priest, Jehoiada, in order to hide him from his step-mother, Athaliah, who sought to kill him, as the last heir to the throne from his family.

Jehoash was renowned for his righteousness, under the tutelage of Jehoiada: “And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” (12:3) Later in life, though, Jehoash apparently turned from the right path, as is noted in the parallel account of this story in the book of Chronicles: “But after the death of Jehoiada, the officers of Judah came, bowing down to the king; and the king listened to them. They forsook the House of the Lord God of their fathers to serve the sacred post and idols…” (2 Chronicles 24:17-18)

The polymath, Rabbi Moshe Luzzato (Italy 18th century), taught a moral lesson from this sad transformation in Jehoash’s behavior: “Association with flatterers, or making use of their services, is another hindrance to humility. These are people who, when they want a favor, have recourse to flattery… They ascribe to him merits which he does not possess at all… Human character, after all, is fickle, weak, and easily tempted, especially in respect to those things to which it is naturally drawn. When a man, therefore, listens to a glowing account of himself from one in whom he has confidence, it works like poison, and before long he is caught in the net of pride and is destroyed. This is what happened with Jehoash, who did well as long as his teacher Jehoiada, the high priest was alive. But when Jehoiada died, the courtiers began to flatter Jehoash and to exaggerate his merits, going so far as to compare him to a god. Finally, the king began to believe them. This is how leaders and men of power degenerate on account of flattery…” (Mesillat Yesharim ch. 23 Kaplan ed. pp. 419-20)

Luzzatto learns from the episode of Jehoash about the difficulties of being a leader. He asserts that in order to be a leader one must maintain a semblance of humility. The worst thing that can happen to a leader is to surround him or herself with flatterers and “yes men” who tell the leader exactly what he or she wants to hear, building up in the leader a false sense of inflated ego. This state is ultimately self-destructive for the leader and for the body-politic that he or she leads.

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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