D’var Torah on Parshah Shekalim

Bethany Sacks 2011

The first thing I would like to say is that once I heard the background of these haftarah and torah readings, they were far from my first choice. I heard what it was about and I thought, “Great…politics.” This isn’t a well known story either. It’s not a story that people usually learn like the Creation or Noah’s Ark. No, this was politics. With a bit of help, I learned why this story is truly worth hearing about and made the decision that this wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.

My haftarah portion, Shabbat Shekalim, means Sabbath of shekels; a shekel is a form of money used in Israel. Each citizen, rich or poor, was to contribute a half shekel toward the maintenance of the temple. On the day of Shabbat Shekalim, we read of Jehoash being King of Israel. The Cohanim or the Priests were misusing the money that was meant for the reconstruction of the temple. Each citizen was taxed a ½ shekel for the rebuilding. The money didn’t make it to the temple; it made it to the Cohanims’ pockets and stayed there. The priests who were meant to collect the money for the reconstruction, instead used it for themselves. When Jehoash realized this he made it stop.

I hope when you hear the story of Jehoash in Shabbat Shekalim you learn a lesson from it. If not, I created my own midrash, a midrash being a story that may have a moral but it fills in gaps of biblical stories. They are NOT true or in the Torah but have meaning, to help you see what I saw and imagine what I imagined while reading the story. So here is my midrash to fill in the story of Shabbat Shekalim that does have a small taste of the true story and other sections of the story I haven’t come to yet.

In the time when Jehoash was a baby, people were killing the rightful heirs to the thrown such as himself. King Jehoash obviously didn’t get killed though for the story goes on. Jehoash was saved by his great uncle, the High Priest. When Jehoash was seven years old his great uncle brought him into the open and told all that Jehoash was the rightful king, and he took his place then. For all that Jehoash’s uncle did for him you’d imagine Jehoash would believe he owed his life to this man, which he did. It seemed as though he owed the Cohanim in general. So, when Jehoash’s great uncle died after a few years of Jehoash being king you can imagine the pain he felt. This man had saved his life and now he was gone. The new Cohanim became conceited. They knew Jehoash was mourning for his great uncle and owed him. They figured, “Well he owes us too!” They became full of themselves and took the money meant for the reconstruction of the temple that they were trusted with. When Jehoash confronted them, they said, “Who would believe you, a little juvenile child, over us, the Priests?” King Jehoash now had to be strong. He couldn’t just agree and say “You’re right oh well I’ll let you get away with all that you’re doing.” He had to stay strong and do what was right. He stuck with what he said and made sure people knew what he did. They believed the truth: Jehoash’s story.

People are persistent to find the truth. Some of this story comes from the bible, such as Jehoash’s great uncle’s part in my midrash…bringing him to the throne saving him and unfortunately passing. I hope you could pick out how it connects to Shabbat Shekalim.

After Jehoash realized what was going on, he made the priests repay the taken money. Jehoash could no longer trust the Cohanim. He set up a locked box for the Cohanim to watch as the people put their taxes in, instead of the old way where the priests had control. This wasn’t all he did though; he also had spies watch the Cohanim to make sure that no crime could be committed.

Although this crime was terrible, it’s not unlike crimes today. Right here in New York State, the old comptroller embezzled money too. Also, an investor was responsible for a pyramid scheme. Right here in Rochester, a payroll processing company’s boss then guess what…embezzled from his clients. He is now in jail. Then there was a crime in Illinois made by its governor who tried to auction off President Obama’s senate seat for money. When I think of these crimes, I realize that we as citizens need to make sure our leaders are honest.

Those who commit crimes are not the only ones who receive punishment; a mess for the innocent to live with. For example, in the case of crimes similar to the ones described in today’s Haftarah, people lose trust in those who should be helping them. People lose their money and become cynical or paranoid, leaving them to not trust anyone. People will leave their homes because they don’t feel like they are safe at their own house anymore. When people in government don’t live up to their responsibilities, people who depend on the government are hurt. For instance, this year classes at public colleges such as SUNY Geneseo were discontinued because there wasn’t enough money for them. Public attractions and parks were also closed. Many scholarships and research studies were shortened.

Two years ago hundreds of buildings collapsed in an earthquake in China. Buildings were not built according to the safety codes that would have prevented the destruction. Government inspectors had done the unthinkable and taken bribes from the builders to ignore the shortcuts and overlooked the intentional mistakes builders had used to lower their own expenses. Tens of thousands of innocent lives were lost.

All this means a lot to me. The loss of trust is similar to taking away the base of a brick wall. If you take away the bottom row, everything else will quickly come crashing down after it, leaving nothing but a mess that will not be easy to fix. It’s the same in our system of laws. If our leaders freely go against the laws which form the foundation of our society, everything will fall too. A person’s mind works the same way. It’s possible to restore trust but it’s likely that some people will give up along the way. I’ve also learned that life isn’t always fair and neither are people. People mask themselves well; they can seem perfectly innocent, yet they’re not. Therefore we have to be careful and put quite a bit of thought into someone before trusting them. Don’t just jump into something because it seems everyone trusts a person; that’s peer pressure and what people are going with could still be wrong. We each individually need to take on responsibility for our actions and also learn from our mistakes. We are only human and there is room in our lives to slip up and make a mistake because we all do and that’s the way the world works.

Jehoash had every citizen pay a half shekel no matter how much money they had, who they were, or how educated they were, everything. This shows that every person is equal no matter who they are. One of the main meanings of Shabbat Shekalim is tzedakah, and how we all contribute. We each have basic responsibilities we make sure we do. All people do. We all need to step in and pay the half shekel.

The whole meaning of Shabbat Shekalim connects to the present day. In some of the Middle East countries such as Egypt, all of the citizens stepped in and paid the half shekel by taking responsibility and making sure their leaders were trustworthy, and did so peacefully.

Crimes don’t go unpunished. I feel like a police officer saying, “They will find you!” But, it’s true. Do something nice and you’ll get rewarded in some way. It could be just that warm and fuzzy feeling. I love that feeling; it’s unstoppable and just right.

This Parsha has impacted me greatly. I will always remember it and it is here to stay with me as I push forward in life.