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King Jehoash summoned Jehoiada the priest, and the priests, and he said to them: "Why are you not carrying out the essential Temple repairs? From now on, do not take for yourselves money from the people who know you, but give it [to skilled workers] for Temple repairs." And the priests accepted (the proposal)… (Kings II:12 8-9)
The setting of the Haftara is in a bright interval of stability between two very dark periods of Israelite history. The Holy Land had already been split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judea since the death of King Solomon, about a century beforehand.
The events in the Haftara must be seen in the context of the preceding coups, intrigues, assassinations, and purges within both Israel and Judah. Jehu put an end to the House of Omri - the extremely powerful ruling dynasty of Israel whose members included King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. Jehu's first actions in ridding Israel of Baal worship included the spectacular murder of that royal family. Jehu did not only dispose of all Ahab's descendants, but his activities crossed the frontier into Judea, where he managed to liquidate Ahaziah - the King of Judah - who is recorded to have allied himself with Ahab's successors. Thus the purges of Jehu, King of Israel, extended to Judea as well.
The murder of Ahaziah left the throne of Judea open to rivals within the royal family. His mother, Athalia, had plans of her own, and she brought them to fruition. She killed off all possible rivals within her own family, succeeded to the throne in 842 BCE, and made herself the only queen the Holy Land ever had during the First Temple Period. One of the royal babies - Jehoash - was spirited away into safety, and hidden for six years from certain death at the hands of his grandmother, Queen Athalia. Her seven-year reign saw the worship of Baal flourish in Judea, with the queen leading the way.
The High Priest of the Temple, Jehoiada, waited six years to restore Jehoash, the son of the murdered King Ahaziah, to the throne. He then made a pact with the royal bodyguard, overthrowing and putting to death the now powerless Athalia. Then, to the great delight of the people of Judea, Jehoiada installed the seven-year-old Jehoash on the throne.
That is the point where the Haftara starts. Jehoiada, who led the popular uprising against Queen Athalia, brought into effect a new constitution: 'Jehoiada made a covenant between G-d and the king and the people, that they should be G-d's people, and also loyal to the king' (Kings II 11-17).
As long as Jehoiada was alive, the young king remained righteous and brought about profound improvements in the lives of the people. Among his great achievements was to restore the dignity and beauty of the Temple by instituting a system of collecting funds for its upkeep. After the long-term failure of an ill-conceived and improper plan that, in effect turned the priests into traveling schnorrers (appeal-makers) for the Temple, the king began a new system. Together with Johiada, he established the practice whereby the universally obligatory regularly paid contributions to Temple funds should not go into the hands of the priests. Instead, they should be directly placed into wooden chests with suitable slots cut into the lid. All the money was then paid to builders and craftsmen for essential maintenance. The text records that the system became a great success. The work was done so well and thoroughly that there was neither the need for an elaborate system of accounting, nor the necessity to check the workmen's records. Indeed this period has the unusual great virtue of the priesthood, monarchy, and people working in harmony within the stated framework of the Torah - G-d's revealed laws.
However that stable and spiritually period was short lived. In the Northern Kingdom, Jehu was soon following the idolatrous traditions of its earlier kings, which led to spiritual decline culminating in its exile from the Holy Land under Shalmenezzer V of Assyria in 722-1 BCE. And Jehoash became less concerned in following the Law after Jehoiada's death - eventually meeting his assassination at the hands of his own courtiers for failing to prevent Aram (Syria) plundering Jerusalem (Chronicles II 24:23-5).
The reform of Jehoiada and King Jehoash mentioned in detail by the text is in the method used to finance the running of the Temple. At the beginning of their administration, priests collected funds for the Temple. Yet even after many years, the Temple still appeared neglected. Whereby Jehoiada and Jehoash instituted an improved system. It required a new method of allocating funds raised for the Temple by the individual priests. Those priests would no longer decide how to spend their individually collected funds, but instead all the money would go into a centralized structure, which would direct the allocation of the total fund. The new arrangement, which was conducted with the utmost integrity, was a great success. The Temple was repaired, and kept in optimum condition.
The function of the priests was to perform and lead the spiritual life of the Torah Nation. Since Temple times, that duty is taken over to a great degree by those studying Torah full time, Heads of Yeshivot, Torah teachers, and others involved with the needs of the community. Their services, of course, must be financed. That includes the buildings in which they serve the community, and the necessary stipends and salaries to ensure for them an acceptable and appropriate standard of living.
The need for the principle of Johiada's and King Jehoash's reform might well apply today. Three days before drafting this, I received the following letter. It is from a learned and kindly Chavruta (learning partner), who is currently living with his wife and children in Canada. He planned to learn full-time in Kollel with view to becoming a Torah teacher. With an excellent presence, clear and succinct pedagogic skills, and the highest integrity, he undoubtedly has what it takes to serve our people as an ideal Torah promoter and role model. He wrote:
Despite my dream of being involved with Harbotzas Torah (teaching and promoting Torah), I am actually working full time in my father's company… For nearly two years after returning to (Canada) I tried to find a position in a Kollel or in Chinuch (Torah education), but it turns out that I did not have that merit. In each case something did not work out. After much frustration and heartache, I was forced by financial necessity to make the decision to work full time with my father… Sometimes I wonder if I would have left Eretz Yisrael if I had known I would have landed up working full time where I am. I felt I had what to offer the Jewish world in the Diaspora… At this point family and wage earning prospects make it difficult to make Aliyah.
I responded with:
… I think it is sad that funds are available for certain Avreichim, but not others - especially when the latter intend to go into full time teaching. Sadly, the teaching profession does not have a surplus of talent. On the contrary - there are many mediocre pedagogues around who teach indifferently or even badly for years, and generations of children suffer under them.
The above helps us to understand the reform of the King and Priest. At the beginning of their reign, the priests themselves decided where to apply the funds they collected. They undoubtedly spent it with integrity. They very likely brought vessels and other items to which they could personally relate. A priest might well point out a golden jug and think, or even say: "I provided the cash for that! That jug is there in the merit of my fund raising skills."
But the essential day-to-day running and basic repairs of the Temple did not come high on the list of priorities. The priest would not feel so happy when he sees the fruits of his hard Temple fund-raising disappearing into the pockets of maintenance men.
Yet in it was precisely the payment of such workers, not the extra golden jug, that made the difference between a Temple that was disheveled and run down, and one that was a Kiddush Hashem - a place that visitors would say is worthy of His most intense Divine Presence.
As in the Haftara, our people today need to accumulate large funds directed by individuals with deep integrity, and an intelligent and imaginative overview of the needs of the community. These resources may be effectively applied towards those who will contribute the greatest good in promoting Torah understanding, values, and observance. We can learn from the Haftara that Torah should not only be financed by wealthy fathers in laws, but that wealthy donors should join forces to a greater extent. They could finance open scholarships and training schemes making it possible for the truly worthy to spend the necessary years in productive and effective Torah study, so they may serve the Jewish people as Torah personalities, role models, and effective guides to communities and individuals.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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