(2 Kings 12:1-17 )
February 9, 2002
“Shekalim”, “Zachor”, “Parah” and “HaHodesh” – the names of the special Shabbatot which precede Pesah are known collectively as the “Arbah Parshiot – Four Parshiot”. Although the weekly reading of the Torah is an early tradition, these special Torah readings represent the earliest recorded standardized Torah readings, as we find in the following mishnah: If Rosh Hodesh Adar falls on Shabbat one reads Parshat Shekalim. If it [Rosh Hodesh] occurs during the week, [Parshat Shekalim] is read on the preceding Shabbat and on the next Shabbat there is a break. On the second [Shabbat of Adar] Zachor is read; on the third, the portion of the red heifer and on the fourth, ‘This month shall be to you’”. (Megillah 3:4) Each of these Torah readings plays an important role in the preparations for the events which precede Pesach. Parshat Shekalim is read a little more than a month before Pesach in order to remind the Jewish people that it was time to pay the yearly “machatzit hashekel – half shekel” assessment which it was the responsibility of every Jew to pay in order to provide for the year’s communal sacrificial offerings. This Torah reading was recited before Pesah because the Temple’s “fiscal year” began in Nisan, the month in which Pesah occurs.
The haftarah for this Shabbat is also among the earliest recorded. The Tosefta, a work from the period of the Mishnah notes: “the haftarah for Parshat Shekalim is from Yehoiada Hacohen.” (Megillah 3:1). The connection between the haftarah and Parshat Shekalim is found in the following verse: “Jehoash [the king] said to the priests, ‘All the money, current money (kesef over), brought into the House of the Lord as sacred donations- any money a person may pay as the equivalent value of a person, or any money that a person may be minded to bring to the House of the Lord – let the priests receive it , each from his benefactor; they, in turn, shall make repairs on the House, wherever damage may have been done” (2 Kings 12:5).
Rashi points out that the term “kesef over” refers to the half shekel about which the Torah says: “kol haover al hapikudim – everyone who enters into the records should pay.” (Exodus 30:13) Similarly, in a retelling of the story in the haftarah found in the book of Chronicles the “kesef over” is referred to as “masaat moshe- the tax of Moses.” (2 Chronicles 24:6). This is clearly intended to refer to the “machatzit hashekel”. The haftarah verse, as interpreted by the Targum Yonathon, refers to two other kinds of monetary offerings in addition to the “machatzit hashekel”. These contributions, one where a person contributes a value equal to his or her individual worth (see Leviticus 27:2) and the other where a person gives what he or she feels compelled to give represent the other aspects of our financial responsibilities to the service of God. It is noteworthy that Yehoiada combined these two types of religious commitments, one obligatory and the other voluntary, in his call for the maintenance the Temple. Religious service without both these components would ultimately waste away. It is the “machazit hashekel” – the obligatory commitment which provides for the day to day, ongoing operations. It is the generosity of the heart which allows the spirit to soar heavenward.
After the destruction of the Temple, the contribution of a “half shekel” was continued as a remembrance of the commandment. It is a tradition in our day to make this contribution to a Torah learning institution.
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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