Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Torah Readings for Saturday, 25, 2017 Shabbat Shekalim

Torah Readings for Saturday, 25, 2017
Shabbat Shekalim
Today is Shabbat Shekalim which means we read from two scrolls.  The first scroll is for the regular Shabbat portion.  The second scroll is the special reading for Shabbat Shekalim (see notes below for further explanation).
First Scroll
Mishpatim (Variously:  Judgments, Ordinances or Rules)
21:1-24:18 Shemot (Exodus)
Mishpatim is the sixth sedrah in Shemot (Exodus).  It takes its name from the second Hebrew word in the opening verse “These are the ordinances (Mishpatim) that you shall set before them.”  Mishpatim marks a shift in the style of the Torah.  Up until now, the Torah has primarily been a narrative with a smattering of laws mixed in with the text.  Starting with Mishpatim, the Torah shifts to a compilation of laws with a smattering of narrative mixed in with the text.  Mishpatim lives up to its name since it contains fifty-three separate rules.  Different commentators use different methods for dividing this sedrah, none of which are totally satisfactory.  The Plaut Chumash uses the following:  Laws about Slavery and Injuries (21:1-21:37); Laws on Property and Moral Behavior (22:1-23:9); Laws on Cultic Ordinances and the Affirmation of the Covenant.  On the other hand, the commentators in Etz Hayim take a more traditional approach.  They point out that the chapters that make up Mishpatim are called Sefer Ha-Brit or the Book of the Covenant.  The name comes from two verses in Chapter 24.  Verse 4 reads:  “Moshe then wrote down all the commands of the Lord.”  Verse 7 reads, “Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people.  And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do.’”  These commentators divide the sedrah as follows:  Civil and Criminal Matters; A Variety of Topics with Special Emphasis on Humanitarian Consideration; Affirmation of the Divine Promises to Israel and Warnings Against the Dangers of Assimilation to Paganism; Conclusion of the Sefer Ha-Brit (including the ratification of the document and Moshe’s ascent to receive the tablets containing the Decalogue).  A third, and simpler, way of dividing the sedrah is:  Laws, Ordinances and Commands (21:2-23:30); Ratification (24:1-12); Moshe’s Ascent of the Mountain and the Stone Tablets (24:13-24:17).
Laws, Ordinances and Commands (21:2-23:30)
There is far too much material for inclusion in this guide.  In keeping with our custom, the commandments contained in this sedrah are listed below.  All Chumashim including Etz Hayim, the Stone and those edited by Rabbi Hertz or Rabbi Plaut have copious notes on the commandments and how they should be categorized.  You may want to make special note of the comments concerning the famous section calling for “an eye for an eye,” etc.  In reading the commandments, we should try and understand what they meant to the ancient Israelites.  At the same time, we should consider how we can carry out the commandments in our own lives, even when it means we are only able to obey the spirit of the law because the actual words do not apply to our times.  Here are a few items of interest.  The first series of commands has to do with the treatment of slaves.  Slavery was a fact of life in the days of the ancient Israelites.  However, the condition and treatment of slavery described here stands in stark contrast to the condition of servitude that the Israelites had just experienced in Egypt.
The theme of personal responsibility and the obligation to make financial restitution when one fails to act in a responsible manner runs throughout the list.  Whether tending your livestock, digging a pit or burning off vegetation, avoiding harm to others is a critical consideration.  The commandments concerning widows, orphans, strangers and the impoverished show God’s special concern for the weak and powerless.  They have given rise to what some call the “Social Action” aspect of Judaism.  Failure to follow these commandments is the source of much of the material contained in the message of the Prophets.  The detailed list of commands concerning judges, judicial proceedings and capital cases provides the cornerstone for much of the Oral Law to follow.  In Judaism, justice is even-handed.  We do not kow-tow to the rich.  Nor do we assume that the poor are naturally virtuous.
Ratification (24:1-12)
Some commentators think that all of Chapter 24 is out of sync from a narrative point of view.  Regardless, this chapter begins with a unique acceptance process.  The Torah is not accepted by just Moshe, or just by the leaders of the Israelites.  It is accepted by all the people in “one voice.”  In describing the acceptances the Torah speaks of “devarim” (Commands) and “mishpatim” (Judgments or Ordinances).  God enforces commands.  Law courts enforce ordinances.  This explains the heavy emphasis on the role of judges and the judicial process in Mishpatim.
Moshe’s Ascent of the Mountain and the Stone Tablets (24:13-17)
The sedrah ends with Moshe going up to the top of Mount Sinai alone to receive the stone tablets on which God will engrave the “teachings and commandments.”  Moshe tells the elders that he is leaving Aaron and Hur behind to serve in his place while he is gone.  Remember this when we read the story of the Golden Calf.  In a subsequent sedrah, Moshe will show the Stone Tablets to all of the people.  According to some commentators, the people could see the same thing no matter where they were standing.  What kind of stone might have made this possible?  The answer is found in Mishpatim.  “And under His feet the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of the heaven in its purity” (24:10).  In his history of the Jews called Wanderings, Chaim Potok raises the question of who saw what at Sinai.  He contends that what we may be reading is an amalgamation of many versions of the same event.  But whoever compiled Shemot did not try and edit the various versions.  Instead he or they presented them all to us and left it to the commentators to sift through to the ultimate reality.  This in no way denigrates the reality of Sinai.  On the other hand, it does provide at least one explanation for the apparent chronological inconsistency that we find in the sidrot, which tell the tale of the Sinaitic Revelation.
Themes for Mishpatim:
42.   The obligation of an owner of a Hebrew slave to free the slave after a maximum of six years (21:2).
43.   A master’s obligation to provisionally designate a female Hebrew slave as his bride (21:8).
44.   A master’s obligation to let a female Hebrew slave be redeemed if she is not pleasing to him (21:8).
45.    The prohibition against a master selling a female Hebrew slave whom he decides not to marry (21:8).
46.    The specified rights of a wife (21:9).
47.    The obligation to execute a murderer (21:12).
48.    The prohibition against hitting one’s parents (21:15).
49.    The specification of fines for those who physically harm others (21:18).
50.    The mandating of capital punishment for those who murder slaves (21:20).
51.    The action to be taken when one’s animal kills a person (21:18).
52.    The prohibition against eating the meat of an ox executed for killing a person (21:18).
53.    The obligation of one who dug or uncovered a pit and left it uncovered to pay damages for any ensuring injuries (21:33-34).
54.    The mandating of a special onerous fine on thieves who steal oxen or sheep (21:37).
55.    The commandment to hold a person financially responsible for the damage caused by his or her livestock (22:4).
56.    The commandment to hold a person financially responsible for the damage caused by a fire he or she has started (22:5).
57.    The specifying of responsibilities for one who is the guardian of another’s property (22:6).
58.    The obligation of judges to adjudicate cases between plaintiffs and defendants (22:8).
59.    The specification of damages against one who is entrusted with guarding an animal and is unable, or fails, to do so (22:9-12).
60.    The obligations devolving on one who borrows an animal from another (22:13).
61.    The punishment imposed on one who seduces a virgin (22:15-16).
62.    The prohibition of witchcraft (22:17).
63.    The prohibition against wronging a stranger (22:20).
64.    The prohibition against oppressing a stranger (22:20).
65.    The prohibition against oppressing a widow or orphan (22:21).
66.    The obligation to lend money interest-free to those in need (22:24).
67.    The prohibition against dunning a poor person unable to repay his or her debt (22:24-26).
68.    The prohibition against helping a borrower or a lender transact an interest-bearing loan (22:24).
69.    The prohibition against cursing God (22:27).
70.    The prohibition against cursing a judge. (22:27).
71.    The prohibition against cursing the leader of one’s nation (22:27).
72.    The obligation to make proper payment of tithes and other dues (22:28).
73.    The prohibition against eating the meat of an animal killed by other animals (22:30).
74.    The commandment not to spread false rumors (23:1).
75.    The prohibition against helping a guilty man gain acquittal (23:1).
76.    The stricture against joining with a majority to do wrong (23:2).
77.    The prohibition against perverting testimony (23:2).
78.    The commandment to follow the majority decision in legal cases (23:2).
79.    The requirement that a judge not permit pity for a poor man to affect his rulings (23:3).
80.    The obligation to help another person, including one’s enemy, to unload a burden from her or her animal (23:5).
81.    A prohibition forbidding judges to discriminate again a poor person in judicial proceeding (23:6).
82.    The obligation to take particular care in capital cases not to execute an innocent person (23:7).
83.    The prohibition against judges taking bribes (23:8).
84.    The commandment to let the land lie fallow every seventh year (23:10-11).
85.    The mandate to rest on the Sabbath and to allow both people and animals who work for you to do so as well (23:12).
86.    The prohibition against mentioning or invoking false gods (23:13).
87.    The prohibition against leading Israelites into idolatry (23:13).
88.    The commandment to celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth (23:14).
89.    The prohibition against slaughtering the Paschal lamb Erev Pesach while one still has chametz in one’s possession (23:18).
90.    The prohibition against waiting until morning to offer parts of the Paschal lamb that are to be sacrificed on the altar (23:18).
91.    The commandment to bring the harvest’s first fruits to the sanctuary (23:19).
92.    The prohibition against cooking meat with milk (23:19).
93.    The stricture against making a treaty with the seven idolatrous nations resident in Canaan (23:32).
94.    The commandment against allowing idolaters to settle in Israel (23:33).
Biblical Literacy  by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
There are three types of commandments:  Judgments or (Mishpatim), Testimonies (Edut) and Statutes (Chukim).  “Judgments (Mishpatim) is a technical term in the Torah, referring in general to social legislation of the kind which, had it not been given by God, man could have devised for himself on rational grounds.  It is to be contrasted with Testimonies (Edut) such as the Shabbat and festivals, which though they are rationally comprehensible, could not have been invented by man; and Statutes (Chukim) which are laws whose purpose lies altogether beyond our understanding….  We obey them simply because they are the word of G-d.”  Chukim include things like the Red Heifer and Kashrut.  However, we must observe Mishpatim and Edut in the same way we that observe Chukim, because they are commanded by God.  If we observe Mishpatim because they make sense to us instead of because God commanded us to do these things, then we might decide that since some Judgments do not make sense to our intellect, we can ignore them.  This will lead us to replace the Will of God with our intellect, which will eventually lead us to disregard the Chukim because to rational man they appear irrational.  This does not mean we should blindly follow the commandments.  We need to know them.  We need to understand them.  And even when we miss the mark and violate them, we should not decide that we can dismiss them as irrelevant or meaningless.
Commentary and the Oral Law
The laws of Mishpatim drive home the point of how important the Oral Law and other commentaries are in understanding and giving meaning to the words of the Torah.  For example the laws pertaining to cursing one's parents and hitting one’s parents need a great deal of explication.  Another example would be the directive about not cooking a kid in its mother’s milk.  The trick is to constantly re-evaluate the commentary to make sure it is still valid and meaningful.  At the same time, new commentary must be thoroughly grounded on a full understanding of what has gone before.  This is the delicate balancing act of real Torah Study.
The Message of Mishpatim
This is a sedrah thick with laws.  It is very easy to get caught up in the minutia of each command.  I would suggest that to truly understand the full import of the sedrah, we should step back and look at it in its totality.  As they would say in the world of art, do not get lost in the color and shape of each tile.  Step back and look at the mosaic the tiles create.  Mishpatim presents the picture of a Just Society.  It is a society based on law, justice and mercy.  Poverty is not a virtue (23:3).  But it is a society where amassing wealth for its own sake is also not a virtue.  Squeezing every penny out life is not acceptable (21:2 and 23:10-13).  We acquire material goods to take care of basic needs and so that we can better perform the mitzvoth (23:14-19).  We are to help the less fortunate and we are to do it in a way that does not demean them (22:24-26).  Based on what we read, at practical level, God is commanding us to develop a society without great income disparity, where we truly are our brother’s keeper and where doing the right thing and the legal thing are synonymous.
The Power of “Vav”
The Hebrew word for “these” is ay-leh.  If the sedrah had begun with the word ay-leh, it would read “These are the ordinances….”  Instead the letter Vav was put in front of the word ay-leh.  The letter Vav in this case means “and.”  So the verse begins, “V’ay-leh ha-Mishpatim…” or “And these are the ordinances.…”  By putting the letter Vav at the beginning, we are tying the laws of Mishpatim with the Ten Commandments given in the previous sedrah.  In other words the civil law which is embodied in Mishpatim is inseparable from the Decalogue.  All laws come from God and we must strive to obey all of them.  Ah what a difference one little letter can make.
The Mosaic Difference
Many commentators love to point out the similarities between the laws in the Torah and other Near Eastern law codes.  However, there are major differences.  The one that is most glaring is the relationship between human life and property rights.  Under Torah law the illegal taking of property is not to be punished by death.  At the same time, murder is not a crime for which one can escape punishment by making restitution to the victim’s family.  Under other law codes, thieves got the death penalty and the wealthy could buy their way out of a murder conviction.
The Fetus
Is the fetus a person?  Based on what we read in Shemot (21:22) the answer is no.  Under biblical law, “taking of life cannot be made up for by any amount of property.”  The family of a one who has been murdered is forbidden from accepting a monetary settlement from the murderer.  In the case of a miscarriage, the offender is allowed to make monetary restitution.  Allowing this form of compensation is proof that while protecting the pregnant woman is of paramount importance, the fetus, whatever else it may be, is not a person; it is not a life.
Thief and Robber
The sedrah talks about the punishment for a thief.  In Jewish law there is a difference between a thief and a robber.  They both steal.  The robber steals out in the open.  He shows equal contempt for man and God.  But a thief steals by stealth.  He steals in secret.  By stealing in this manner he is saying that he is afraid of people, but he is not afraid of God.  In fact he is denying the essence of God.  By his action, he is denying that God is everywhere, seeing all that we do.  Therefore the thief was always punished more harshly than the robber.  He was punished for the taking and he was punished for the blasphemy.
This sedrah includes laws concerning the timing and observance of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth.  The command here is for all “men” to appear while in Devarim, the same command is not sex specific.  The sedrah also includes rules for observing Shabbat.  Even before the development of the Oral Law, it was obvious that the “Fourth Commandment” alone would not suffice in telling the people how to observe the seventh day.  While the commands to observe Shabbat in Yitro and Mishpatim are universal (not just for the ruling class or a privileged few) the reasons given are different.  In Yitro Shabbat is tied to Creation.  In Mishpatim, Shabbat is to be observed so that we may be refreshed.  The curse of the twentieth-first century is the complaints about stress, being over-worked, not being able to sleep.  Yet, if we would just follow the commandments, all of our needs would be met including the one to relax, change pace and rest.
This sedrah marks the first of three times that we are enjoined from cooking meat with milk.  This particular reference may have to do with the fact that pagans did this when worshipping idols and God wants us to differentiate our customs from theirs.  Regardless, this repeated injunction has given rise to the body of law regarding the separation of meat and dairy when cooking and eating.
Quick Quiz
1. According to Chapters 21 and 22 which transgression could result in the death penalty?
  • Striking and killing another (21:12);
  • Cursing one’s father and mother (21:17);
  • Owning a bull that gores a human to death if the bull is known to be a killer and is not properly penned (21:29);
  • Being a sorceress (22:18).
2. Which four men went up the mountain along with the seventy elders? (24:9)
  • Moses;
  • Aaron;
  • Nabib;
  • Abihu.
3. How long did Moses stay on Mount Sinai? (24:18)
  • Forty Days and Forty Nights.
Based on Nelson’s Amazing Bible Trivia
Forty Days and Forty Nights
  • “And Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”  Thus ends the weekly portion.  According to at least one commentator, when the Bible talks about “forty days,” it is conveying the idea of a long time.  For people who live in a lunar cycle, a period beyond a month would be a long time indeed.  But even if one accepts this explanation, it still does not answer why the text says “Forty Days and Forty Nights” instead of just “forty days.”
Where does the Bible use the term “forty days?
  • It takes a full forty days to embalm the body of Jacob, according to Egyptian practice (Gen 50:3).
  • The Israelite spies scout out the Promised Land for forty days (Num 13:25, 34).
  • The Philistine Goliath taunts the Israelite army for forty days before David fights him (1 Sam 17:16).
  • The prophet Ezekiel lies on his right side for forty days to symbolize the sins of the people of Judah (Ezek 4:6).
  • The prophet Jonah preaches in the Assyrian capital, "Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4).
Where does the Bible use the term “forty days and forty nights?”
  • In the story of Noah and the Great Flood, it rains for "forty days and forty nights" (Gen 7:4, 12, 17; 8:6).
  • The prophet Elijah travels “forty days and forty nights” to Mount Horeb to encounter God (1 Kings 19:8).
  • Moses spends "forty days and forty nights" on Mount Sinai when receiving the Law from God (Exodus 24:18; cf. Deut 9:9-25).
  • Moses spends another "forty days and forty nights" on the mountain, encountering God a second time (Exodus 34:28; cf. Deut 10:10).
The term “forty days” is used when the matter is temporal or a man - man relationship.  The term forty days and nights is used when the matter is spiritual or involves a God-man relationship.  In other words, in matters concerning the Divine, the matter calls for total involvement; for total commitment.  Is this the last answer on the topic?  No.  Is it the best answer?  Certainly it is not.  But at least it provides a point of departure for better minds than the author of this guide.
Questions about Slavery (in case you run out of topics at your next Seder)
  • Since slavery has been outlawed in the United States, why should we read the laws about slavery?
  • Why were Southern slave owners and their Northern apologists wrong to cite the rules about slavery in Exodus as proof that “their peculiar institution” was Biblically and therefore divinely acceptable?
  • What does the text mean when it says “If you buy a Hebrew servant” (Shemot 21:2)?
  • When the Torah says “And then the servant shall serve his master forever” (Shemot 21:6), what length of time is “forever?”
  • According to Shemot, when can a servant be set free?
  • What does The Talmud (as cited by Rabbi Weisblum) mean when it says, “Whoever buys a Hebrew servant, buys himself a master?”
How do Jews Exercise Power?
In reading Nachum Rabinovitch’s commentary on Mishpatim one is reminded that for centuries Jews read Mishpatim in a vacuum.  In most places, in most times, we were a downtrodden, marginalized people.  Even in places where some Jews attained a measure of prominence, the fall from grace could come quickly, without warning.  This is not the case in Israel or, it would appear, in the United States.  In both places Jews have enough power and authority to affect the nature of the government and the society.  It is easy to demand a just society when you cannot make it happen because of a lack of power.  The question is how Jews behave when they have the power.  Are they constructing a society where caring for the widow, orphan and the stranger in your midst are driving forces and where justice is dispensed in an even handed manner?  Or are they constructing a society where they build mikvahs that look like ritzy health spas while others go hungry, where corner-cutting business men are lionized as pillars of the community and where the strong prey on the weak?  In which case this reading should be called Hitpatlut which is the Hebrew word for Meanderings for as we Meander from Mishpatim so do we Meander from God which means we continue to Meander in the Wilderness of Spiritual Exile.
After providing commentary about the rules pertaining to lending and interest (22:24) Rashi provides an interesting warning about the dangers of interest.  The Hebrew word for interest “is from the same word that means ‘bite.’  For interest is like the bite of a snake which makes a little wound on someone’s foot, which he does not even feel, and suddenly the swelling goes up to the top of his head.  Interest is the same - he does not feel it or even notice it until it mounts up and costs him a huge amount of money.”  (The Commentators’ Bible edited by Michael Carasik)
This is another example of how the Torah speaks to modern man.  If people had read this and taken it to heart, how many would have avoided the trap of credit card abuse?  How many of them would have supported government policies of fiscal responsibility that would have kept the United States from drowning in the interest on the National Debt?  Rashi’s comments show a very practical bent.  Could this insight about the dangers of interest come from his experience as a wine merchant?  Is this another example of why we are told that a man should combine the study of Torah with an occupation?  To paraphrase Hillel, the more answers, the more questions.
We have just finished observing the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  In the course of these observances, we were reminded of the pro-Slavery argument that this “peculiar institution” was acceptable because it was sanctioned in the Bible.  As we can see in Mishpatim, this argument is bogus on many counts.  Among them is the basic fact that in the Bible the slave was first and foremost a human being, one of God’s creations.  In the 19th century, the slave was chattel i.e., property.  Obviously the two institutions shared nothing in common except the same name.
Shabbos Goy
There is a practice among some Jews of hiring gentiles to perform work on Shabbat that is forbidden under halachah.  Regardless of whatever “fictions” have been created to allow this practice, it is a clear violation of the spirit of the command “Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; that thine ox and thine ass may have rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.” (23:16).  Shabbat is a day of rest so that all workers “may be refreshed” including the stranger, not just Jewish workers.  Instead of finding ways around the fulfillment of the commandment, it would seem that we should be finding ways to see to it that all enjoy real rest, especially in the hustle and bustle of the nightmarish 24/7 world that we have created.
Enemies and Anger
“When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him.  When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” (23: 4&5).  In the first instance, the Jewish command about returning property to its rightful owner is not abrogated by human enmity.  We do it because it is the right thing to do.  In the second instance, human enmity does not abrogate our responsible to care for the weak; in this, case animals.  The Torah commands us to love our neighbor.  It does not command us to love our enemy.  But it does teach us not to be consumed with anger even when that anger comes from dealing with an enemy.  These two commands are a reminder that there should be a limit to our anger and that we cannot blame our anger on our enemy.  After all, if your enemy is really your enemy, do you want to give him or her control over your behavior?
Goals and Objectives
Whether it is in the world of business, the military, or improving  human behavior, the planning process always begin with setting Goals following by the setting of Objectives.  Goals are those broad pronouncements that state what it is we are trying to accomplish.  Objectives are the steps we perform to reach those goals.  This is one way of looking at the connection between the Ten spare statements found in Yitro with the welter of detailed ordinances found in Mishpatim.  Yitro tells us what we want to accomplish while Mishaptim tells us how to accomplish them.  Broad statements are all well and good but in the case of Judaism where we say that it is more than just a religion, it is a way of life, these detailed commands are the way the Jews know are to lead their daily lives so that in the end they will be reaching the heights of Mt. Sinai.
God is in the Details
In one of his commentaries on Mishpatim Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells the story of the “Danish architect Arne Jacobson who in the 1960’s designed a new college campus in Oxford.  Not content with designing the building, he went on to design the cutlery and crockery to be used in the dining hall, and supervised the planting of every shrub in the college garden.  When asked why, he replied in the words of another architect, Mies van der Rohe:  ‘God is in the details.’”  This is one way of looking at the relationship between Yitro and Mishpatim.  The “words” spoken in Yitro (the Ten Commandments) are like the edifice of the empty building - a beautiful edifice that cannot fulfill its mission without all of the proper accoutrements.  And so it is with the Torah.  Just as it would be impossible to dine in the new campus building with tables, chairs, dishes, etc. so it is only possible to live the fullest of Jewish lives if we follow the Ten Commandments and all of the “supporting” commands that follow which reinforce these basic statements.
Eugene Borowitz, Z"L
Rabbi Eugene Borowitz Z"L passed away just before we began reading Yitro and Mishpatim.  I do not pretend to understand most of what this marvelous mind tried to teach us.  But I could not help but notice that the obituaries described a man who saw the connection between religion, religious observance and ethics.  While he believed in the “internal conversation of with God” he also “encouraged the discipline of regular religious practice, like daily prayer and study, as well as taking action to better the lives of other human beings.  I would submit that there would be no better of honoring the memory of this modern day sage than by following the commands of these two weekly portions.
Second Scroll - Shabbat Shekalim
Shemot (Exodus) 30:11-16
Shabbat Shekalim or the Sabbath of the Shekel is the first of four Shabbatot that comes before the holiday of Pesach.  The other three are Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat Ha-Chodesh.  The actual timing of Shabbat Shekalim may vary from year to year.  You can find all of the variations for the timing of these special Shabbatot in the Mishnah.  Usually Shabbat Shekalim comes on the last Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh for the month of Adar or Adar II in the case of leap year.  Shabbat Shekalim may also be observed when Rosh Chodesh Adar actually falls on Rosh Chodesh Adar.  On Shabbat Shekalim we read from two scrolls because there is a special portion read on that day in addition to the regular weekly portion.  This Maftir portion comes from Shemot 30:11-16.  In this reading God commands Moshe to take a census of all males twenty above by having them each pay a half-shekel.  By counting the money, Moshe will know how many men are available for military service.  The half-shekel was to be used for building the Tabernacle.  Later, the half-shekel will become a tax used to maintain the Temple.
Why did God command that each man should give a half-shekel instead of a whole shekel?  According to some, it is to remind us that a Jew by himself is only half a person.  We only become complete when we unite with other Jews to serve God’s will.  (For more on this subject, read the weekly portion Ki Tissa where this material is found during the annual cycle of the weekly Torah portions.)  Sometimes, in the days of the Temple, the half-shekel was used to pay for the animals brought for sacrifices.  Therefore, this reading came approximately a month before the month of Nissan to ensure that the populace knew it was time to provide the half-shekel thus ensuring that they would have new animals to sacrifice for Pesach.
Themes II
“Seven weights related to metal (thus creating "coins") are mentioned in the Bible:  talent, mina, shekel, beka, gerah, pim, and kesitah.  A scale of the relationships between the first five weights mentioned can be established on the basis of the Bible and other sources; the absolute and relative value of the pim can be determined from archaeological finds.  The seventh weight, the kesitah seems to be an archaic weight and the origin of its name and its metrological value are not known.  The major weight of metal mentioned in the Bible is the shekel, as its name, which means simply "weight," testifies.  Since the shekel was the definite weight, an expression such as "1,000 silver" (Genesis 20:16) can be explained as 1,000 shekels of silver, and the name of the weight is omitted since it is self-explanatory.  Abbreviations like these are also found in other Semitic languages.  The fundamental nature of the shekel can also be seen in the fact that all weights which the Bible explains are explained only in terms of the shekel.
The shekel was used as a bartering material, not a minted coin.  Jeremiah bought a plot of land and weighed his payment (silver) on scales (Jeremiah 32:9).  Subdivisions of the shekel were the beka or half-shekel (Genesis 24:22; Exodus 38:26) and the gerah, a 20th of the shekel (Exodus 30:13).  The gerah is known in Akkadian as gir–.  The basic meaning of the Akkadian word is a grain of carob seed.  The shekel, in turn, was a 50th part of the maneh, and the maneh was a 60th part of the talent.  The talent was, of course, equal to 3,000 shekels.  The maneh and the talent, however, were only units of account and remained so during the Second Temple period when the shekel became a coin denomination.  Scales and weights of the shekel unit have been found in excavations as have gold, silver, and bronze ingots.
A Simple Table:
1 talent = 60 maneh = 3,000 shekels
1 maneh = 50 shekels = 100 beka =1,000 gerahs
1 Shekel = 9, 11, 14 or 17 grams*
1 Ounce = 30 grams*
* The value of the shekel vairies depending on the time place and region in which it was used.  Varous weights of the shekel include 9, 11, 14 and 17 grams.  It also refers to a gold or silver coin of equivalent weight.  Since the term gram can refer to different units of measure, use a conversion factor of 30 grams = one ounce when trying to comprehend the Biblical based measurement tables.
This is the name of a Tractate of the Order “Moed” in the Mishnah.  The tractate is eight chapters long and all eight chapters deal with ”the subject of the half-shekel that every male over 20 years of age was obligated to give yearly for the maintenance of the Temple.”  The fact that such a large portion of the Talmud is devoted to this topic should give us an idea of how important this topic was to forefathers.
Shekel in Modern Times
In the early days of the modern Zionist movement, those who paid their dues to join the Zionist Congress received a membership document referred to as a Zionist Shekel. The Shekel is a basic unit of Israeli currency.  The term shekel or shekels is also an English slang term for money in all forms.
Counting Every Jew/Every Jew Counts
The reading describes the method of taking a census; of counting Jews.  It should serve as a reminder that every Jew counts.  It should remind us that each of our co-religionists is an important member of the community no matter what their socio-economic standing, “yichus,” etc.  We cannot afford to “lose” any Jew.  We can all work at making sure that the House of Israel is a Home for all Jews.
II Kings 12:1-17 (Ashkenazim)
II Kings 11:17-12:17 (Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim)
The Book:  (Briefly) I Kings and II Kings or the Book of Kings covers the period from the Death of David through the Destruction of the First Temple.  The emphasis is on the behavior of the monarchs in terms of their relationship to obeying Jewish law and observing the commandments of the Lord.
The Message:  The events described in the Haftarah take place in the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  The opening verses deal with the final days of Queen Athaliah (842-836 B.C.E.) and events that occurred during the reign of her successor, her grandson Jehoash (836-798 B.C.E.).  Athaliah is the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel.  She married Jeroham, King of Judah.  He died and was followed to throne by his son Ahaziah.  But when Ahaziah was murdered, Athaliah assumed the throne and killed off the royal family except for her grandson Jehoash.   Like her mother Jezebel, Athaliah was a follower of Ba’al and had instituted her pagan religious practices in Jerusalem.  The haftarah begins by describing the revolt against the followers of Ba’al, the killing of Athaliah and Jehoash’s ascension to the throne.  During his reign, Jehoash finds out that the Priests have not been using the money given them to maintain the Temple.  He institutes a system to see to it that the money is collected in a proper manner and is used to maintain the Sanctuary.  Both the Torah and Haftarah remind us of the need for all of us to support the House of the Lord.  By the same token, we are reminded by the misuse of the funds by the Priests that leaders have a responsibility to make sure that the House is in fact a House worthy of the Lord and the support of the Jewish people.
Theme-Link:  The special Torah reading for Shabbat Shekalim deals with a tax imposed while in the Wilderness that would eventually be used to support the Temple.  The haftarah describes how that tax was actually used during the days of the First Temple.  On this particular Shabbat there were two potential choices for a reading from the Prophets.  First was the one for the portion of the week.  Second was the special reading for Shabbat Shekalim.  In such cases, the Prophetic portion chosen is based on uniqueness.  Since Shabbat Shekalim only comes once a year, it is the reading that is chanted.
Copyright February 2017 Mitchell A. Levin