Shabbat Shekalim/Mahar Hodesh
(2 Kings 12:1-17)
February 17, 2007
This Shabbat marks the first of four special Shabbatot preceding Pesah. Shabbat Shekalim recounts the special tax offered for the maintenance of the sanctuary and afterwards, the first and second Temples. (See Exodus 30:11-16 and Mishnah Shekalim 1:1.) This tax, traditionally collected during the month of Adar, was originally intended to allow the special artisans designated by Moses, Bezalel ben Uri ben Hor and Oholiab ben Ahisamach, to fashion the sanctuary for the desert sojourn. The special haftarah for this Shabbat picks up the story some 600 years later. The Temple in Jerusalem had fallen into disrepair and was desperately in need of restoration after having been neglected by the wicked queen mother, Athaliah. Not only did she murder her own children so that she could retain the monarchy but she also had shed her loyalty to God in favor of idol worship. This led her to disregard the Temple and allow it to fall into disrepair.. When the kingdom was finally wrested from her evil hands and placed in the hands of her youngest son, Jehoash, who through the tutelage of Jehoiada, the High Priest, was loyal to God, there was a tremendous need to restore the Temple.
The project was initially put in the hands of the priests, but these religious leaders of the people seem to have succumbed to the malaise and corruption inspired by the previous leadership of the nation, leaving the Temple in disrepair and the funds raised for the purpose of restoration unaccounted for. (12:5-9) This situation, contrasted dramatically, with the behavior of the generation of Moses, where all of the funding for the building of the sanctuary were meticulously accounted for by the artisans who carried out the work. Perhaps it was this precedent that inspired Jehoiada, the priest, to turn the project over to the workers themselves. They carried the work out with skill, precision, and, above all, with honesty: \”Then they (the royal scribe and the High Priest) would deliver the money that was weighed out to the overseers of the work who were in charge of the House of the Lord… No check was kept on the men to whom the money was delivered to pay the workers; for they dealt honestly. (Verses 12; 16) (See Y. Leibovitz in the name of B.Z. Frankel, Seven Years of Discourses on Parshat Hashavua, p. 434)
The fact that this passage singles out the workers for praise over their \”so called\” leaders speaks also to our generation where we, too, often bear witness to leaders unwilling to bear responsibility for their actions, leaving the \”workers\” the responsibility for maintaining the welfare of the world.
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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