Haftarah Shekalim: The People’s Home
Kings II 11:17 – 12:17
The once great and mighty house of King David had fallen. In a foolishly calculated political
maneuver, Jehoram, king of Judah, believing that he could unify the two kingdoms of Israel married Athaliah, the daughter of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel. Jehoram and Athaliah had a son Ahaziah who followed his father as king of Judah.
The curse of Ahab followed his progeny, even in Judah. Ahaziah was killed. “When Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, saw that her son had died, she arose and exterminated all the offspring of the royal family. But Jehosheba, King Jehoram’s daughter, Ahaziah’s sister, took Joash son of Ahaziah and smuggled him from the midst of the king’s sons who were being killed, and put him and his nursemaid in the bed chamber (located above the Holy of Holies), they hid him from Athaliah, so he was not put to death. He remained with her in the Temple of God, hidden for six years, while Athaliah reigned over the land.” (Kings II 11:1-3) The kingdom that had once reflected the unity of God and monarch was broken.
The shattered Temple maintained a semblance of security. The Kohanim – Temple Priests – led by Jehoiada, were able to protect their Sanctuary to a degree. The great kingdom of David and Solomon was in shambles. A murderous woman ruled the nation. The Temple and palace were at odds. There was no stability. People hesitated before traveling to Jerusalem, and eventually they simply stopped coming. The 150-year-old Temple stood empty, old, and damaged by Athaliah and her cohorts. Somewhere inside, the next king of Judah was hidden. He was a baby, a child, and Joash was scarred. Athaliah had murdered every member of the Davidic line, save for him. He had to hide for his life from his own grandmother. Jehoiada raised and educated the young king, waiting for the right moment to topple Athaliah and raise Joash to his proper position.
Our Haftarah begins with the renewal of the covenant between God and the people and the nation with its proper king. It was the equivalent of the inauguration for Israel. The Davidic line had been saved and restored. The very young king followed his savior and teacher Jehoiada as long as his master lived. (See Chronicles II, Chapter 24, to learn how Joash changed after Jehoiada’s death.)
Young Joash had a special connection with the Temple. Its walls had protected him. Joash could not understand how the Kohanim, his protectors and holy teachers, had allowed the building to fall into such disrepair, or how they did not repair the damage caused by the murderous Athaliah and her supporters.
The king ordered Jehoiada and the Kohanim to collect money from their friends and families when they returned home for the Temple’s repair. This was not only an expression of loyalty to the Temple that had served as his home, but was an astute political and inspiration as well. People still did not come to visit the House of God. It no longer served to inspire the few people who did come to worship God. Joash understood the power of Solomon’s Temple to serve as a focal point for the people.
He also realized that the kings of the Southern Kingdom, that of the Ten Tribes, no longer felt threatened by the Temple and had stopped blocking people from traveling to Jerusalem. This was an opportunity for Joash to reestablish the connection between the members of the Ten Tribes with the Temple, and perhaps even lead to a reunification of the two kingdoms. The Kohanim came from all over Israel and Joash understood that their fundraising efforts would seed the Temple in minds of people all over the two kingdoms.
The Kohanim accepted the assignment, but nothing happened. Joash couldn’t understand what was happening to all the money. It was clear that his sophisticated plan had hit a hitch. The Kohanim were raising money. They were waiting. Joash did not understand.
Once again he summoned his Rebbi and the Kohanim to question them, but they did not respond. The boy king confronted the man who saved his life, protected him, raised him and taught him. It was not an easy moment for the king or Jehoiada. The elderly leader of the Kohanim understood Joash’s confusion, but he refused to answer. He waited for the boy to find the kink in his great plan and to find a solution.
Joash found the answer in, what seems to be, the first Tzedaka Box. He ordered that a box be placed just outside the Temple so that people, even those who were impure and could not enter the Temple grounds, could place their contributions, large or small, into the box. The plan worked. People began to visit the Temple and the box quickly filled. It was emptied before an Integrity Committee so that everyone would know that each penny was properly used. And the money came pouring in.
The same people who grudgingly handed over their small contributions began to give generously. Something had changed for them. Jehoiada expected this response. He understood that as long as the people felt that they were giving through a third party, they would not form a connection with the House of God. King Solomon had used the world’s greatest craftsmen to build his magnificent Temple and it never really became a House for the People. Jehoiada waited until his young charge understood that the only way that his plan would work is if he succeeded in rebuilding the Temple as the People’s building, not as Solomon’s awesome structure.
The people responded. Joash only had the Integrity Committee monitor the Kohanim. He knew that it was not necessary to demand an exact accounting from the people who were working on the repairs. It had become their home, their place, their Temple to God.
We might expect the Haftarah of Shekalim to be about Shekalim, but it is not. This is a story of king understanding people’s need to be personally involved in the House of God, in tits service and functioning. The Half Shekel was not only to purchase the Communal Sacrifices. It was a statement that everyone had a personal stake in the Temple. Moses used the first collection of Half Shekel to melt down to use as the fittings for the Tabernacle panels. Moses wanted the people to understand that the Tabernacle literally stood on their shoulders. Joash learned from Moshe and accomplished the most important parts of his goal: The Temple was restored and the people reconnected.