(II Kings 12:1-17)
March 1, 2003
This Shabbat begins the first of the four special Shabbatot before Passover. Parshat Shekalim always falls on the Shabbat before or on Rosh Hodesh Adar closest to the month of Nisan, since it served as a reminder that it was time to contribute the annual half shekel tax used to provide for the daily sacrifices and maintenance to the Temple. The haftarah for this special Shabbat recounts how King Jehoash commanded that the money collected for use in the Temple be used to make repairs to the Temple building: “All the money, current money brought into the House of the Lord as sacred donations… let the priests receive it, each from his benefactor; they, in turn, shall make repairs to the cracks in the House (bedek habayit), wherever cracks (bedek) may be found.” (2 Kings 12:5-6)
The term “bedek habayit” has an interesting history. In the period of the monarchy, this term referred to “cracks” in the walls. Later on this term came to refer to the fund used to maintain the physical plant of an institution. Rabbi David Kimche, the 13th century Provencal commentator, provides the historical background into King Jehoash’s involvement in how the priests in the Temple used the funds in the Temple. He explains, based on the parallel passage in book of 2nd Chronicles (chapter 24): “Jehoash decided to renovate the House of God because it needed repair because of the damage done to it by Athaliah the idolatrous daughter of King Omri and her sons. Otherwise the Temple would have stood without repair since it was built well only about 155 year beforehand. This is why Jehoash set about to repair it and collect money for this purpose.” (adapted translation)
The sums of money used here for repairs , according to Kimche, were not an exceptional expense. Where did the funds come from for these added expenses? Kimche explains that the people came with funds that they had previously owed but had been negligent in paying. When they heard of the special needs of the Temple they “paid their past dues”. Isn’t it often the case that people ignore ongoing responsibility and only come through in the crunch. Response in times of emergency is obviously important, but we should not rule out the importance and virtue of continuity. This is one of the lessons of the mitzvah of “machtzit hashekel” – the half shekel tax” which each of us was commanded to give each year.