As we read the Historical Background of this week’s Haftarah and the story in the Haftarah we cannot fail to notice how often people rise to extraordinary positions and accomplishments, successfully battle evil, only to have them fall and fail just like the wicked people they destroyed.
We read the story of Yehu (Yehu’s Failure) and how he was charged by Elisha through Jonah to correct a terrible tragedy in Israel. Yehu rises to the challenge and fulfills his mission, only to eventually fail. How does such a great person, who accomplishes so much, fail to maintain that greatness and those accomplishments?
We will read the story of Yoash, a boy so special, having been raised by Yehoiada inside the inner sanctum of the Temple of God, rising to the position of king and restoring God’s House, eventually betraying his adopted father and teacher by turning away from God and assassinating Zechariah, Yehoiada’s son, inside the Temple grounds. How does such a great person, who soared so high, fall so low?
In this week’s portion, Mishpatim, we read of the Children of Israel rising beyond what they experienced during Revelation in the previous portion, and declaring before God, “We will do and we will relate.” We read the story of awesome human beings who ascended so high on Sinai that they are able to see Heaven with clarity. Yet, the people who achieved this great level, just forty days later sin with the Golden Calf. The men who ascended so high to see Heaven, moments after this awesome spiritual achievement, provoke God by eating and drinking in His Presence. How is it that people who soar so high fall so low?
Perhaps this is the lesson of the Half Shekel: no matter how much we achieve, no matter how high we soar, we are only half way there. We cannot rely on what we have achieved. We cannot feel safe in our achievements. We are only part of the way there.
This may also explain why we repeat the process of 3 steps back and 3 steps forward that we took at the beginning of our Shmoneh Esrei at the end: We are reminding ourselves how quickly we can lose all we have achieved in our prayer. We do not stand in security. We stand only half way there.
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