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Mishpatim 5773

Haftarah Parshat Mishpatim
Shabbat Shekalim
(2 Kings 12:1-17)
February 9, 2013
29 Shevat 5773

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shekalim, marks the first of the first of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesach. On this Shabbat, we recount the special half shekel tax incumbent upon all Jews in Temple times to support the activities of the Temple in Jerusalem. This universal Jewish tax was used to maintain the sacrificial rites and for Temple upkeep. The special haftarah for this Shabbat recalls an episode in First Temple times when the use of this income to repair the Temple was impaired by a conflict between the king, Jehoash, who wanted the funds to be used to repair the Temple and some among the priests who had become corrupt and were using the funds for their own purposes. In order to rectify the situation, the high priest, Jehoiada, with the warrant of the king (See 2 Chronicles 24:8) had a special collection box placed on the right hand side of the entrance to the Temple to ensure that the funds were collected and used properly: “And the priest Jehoiada took a chest and bored a hole in its lid. He placed it at the right side of the altar as one entered the House of the Lord, and the priestly guards of the threshold deposited there all the money in the chest…” (12:10)

In the Talmud, one sage saw particular significance in the placement of this collection box on the right hand side of the entry to the Temple courtyard and used it as a justification for a much more common practice : “Rav Shmuel bar Aha in the presence of Rav Papa said in the name of Rava bar Ula: From here [we learn that the placement of a mezuzah should be on the right side of the doorpost as one enters]: ‘And the priest Jehoiada took a chest and bored a hole in its lid. He placed it at the right side of the altar as one entered the House of the Lord’” (Menahot 34a)

This verse, then, played a significant role in explaining why the mezuzah which we place on the doorposts of our house must be placed on the right side of the doorpost as we enter the house or room: “Where should one place it (the mezuzah)? [It should be attached] in the space of the opening, in the handbreadth closest to the outside, at the beginning of the upper third of the height of the gate (door). If it is attached higher that his, it is kosher, provided it is at least a handbreadth lower than the top of the door. It must be affixed on the right side as one enters. If it (the mezuzah) is affixed on the left, it is invalid (pasul).” (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 289:2)

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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