Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shabbat Shekalim- Where's Your Shekel Going?


Zeh yitnu kol ha’oveir al ha’p’kudim machatzit ha’shekel b’shekel ha’kodesh esrim geirah ha’shekel machatzit ha’shekel t’rumah lA-donai.
This they will give, all that pass for the numbering, half a shekel of the holy shekel [that is the weight of a shekel used for holy things]- twenty geirah equals a shekel- half a shekel will be an offering to God.     (Shemot 30:13)
Shabbat Shekalim is the first of four special Shabbatot read in the weeks leading up to Nisan, two in the weeks before Purim and two following Purim. On each of these Shabbatot we read a special maftir [the additional reading added to the seven Shabbat aliyot, preceding the haftarah] and a special haftarah. 
On Shabbat Shekalim the special maftir aliyah tells of the extra shekalim that were collected for the building and upkeep of the Mishkan in the desert and later the Temple in Jerusalem. One half-shekel, all households equal, numbered by the heads available for military duty. This tax was used to ensure the building of the Mishkan and later for upkeep and to refill the herds and flocks of animals kept for sacrifices in the Temple.
The haftarah recounts a time in the reign of King Yehoash when the money coming into the Temple seemed not to be enough for general repairs. In a time before transparency in business and charitable organizations, he set up a new system to ensure proper use of the taxes, and care for the Temple and its grounds. Money beyond the money for sacrifices was collected. Additional funds were used for communal purposes: providing salaries for judges, additional Temple maintenance and hiddur [beautification], as well as repair and maintenance to the city walls and the roads leading to Jerusalem in preparation for the thousands of pilgrims who would come to the Temple for Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
Shabbat Shekalim is still a reminder of our communal obligations. Two of the mitzvot of Purim are to give gifts to each other and to the needy. Today there are many ways to give.  Support the synagogue. Dedicate a gift in honour of a friend to represent the half-shekel of our maftir. Look beyond our walls to the communal need. Support Israel. However, as King Yehoash did, do not give randomly. Know where your money is going and what you are supporting. Find an organization that supports the Israel you want to see?  Perhaps that is a green Israel. Look to JNF. Perhaps it is an Israel that provides dignity to its elders or its needy. Try Yad L’Kashish.  Perhaps it is an Israel where all Jews can equally practice Judaism as they see fit. Donate to Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel and join MERCAZ-Canada.
On this Shabbat we are reminded that our hearts, our thoughts, and our pocketbooks, whatever we can give, should be focused both at our local home and towards our greater one- Israel.