This Weeks Haftorah
Rabbi Levi Langer

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Every year on Parshas Shekalim we commemorate the annual collection of the half-shekel coin, which every Jew would donate to the Temple coffers during the month of Adar. The revenues which accumulated from the half-shekels of all the people were used to purchase the Temple sacrifices throughout the coming year. In this way, each and every Jew was able to participate in bringing the Divine Presence to dwell within Israel.

The haftorah reading of the day discusses a similar theme. We read of King Yehoash's attempts to strengthen the Temple structure, which had fallen into disrepair during the reign of the wicked Queen Athalia. The account is given briefly in our reading (from II Kings) and more extensively in the book of Chronicles (II Chronicles, Chapter 24). Yehoash first appointed the kohanim-priests to be tax collectors; to go out amongst the people and collect the levy for the Temple. This method did not work, for the kohanim were reluctant to enforce the collection, and the monies trickled in slowly.

Yehoash then gave up on this system, and instead he installed a great chest in the Temple courtyard into which everyone could give whatever donation he chose. Immediately the chest began to fill until it had to be emptied, and it continued to fill again and again.

Dr. Mendel Hirsch elaborates on the distinction between the first method, which failed, and the second one, which achieved success. At first the people were forced to pay a predetermined levy. Only afterward, when Yehoash rescinded the tax, did he succeed in tapping into the natural enthusiasm of the people, and then their generosity knew no bounds.

The people wanted to give; Yehoash had merely to proved the wherewithal.

For it is one of the curiosities of life that in the act of giving one actually receives more than he gives. For example, people derive a deep satisfaction from raising children. Why? The baalei mussar (teachers of ethical doctrine) explain: because it provides them with the opportunity to give of themselves unto others.

Parshas Shekalim is about the joy and the satisfaction of being a giver. And the half-shekel itself holds an important lesson too. Each of us has something to give. It may be that in itself it is only a "half-shekel"--but of the collected half-shekels from all of Israel is the Temple edifice built.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

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