When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, each Jew contributed an annual half-shekel to the Temple.
The funds raised were primarily used to purchase cattle for the communal sacrifices. The leftover monies were used for a variety of communal purposes, including providing salaries for the judges and maintenance of the Temple, its vessels, and the city walls.
This annual tax, known as the machatzit hashekel, was due on the 1st of Nissan. One month earlier, on the 1st of Adar, the courts began posting reminders about this Biblical obligation. In commemoration, the Shekalim is the first of four readings added during or immediately before the month of AdarTorah reading of the Shabbat that falls on or before Adar is supplemented with the verses (Exodus 30:11-16) that relate G‑d’s commandment to Moses regarding the first giving of the half-shekel.
The Shekalim haftarah (II Kings 11:17-12:17) continues on the same theme, discussing the efforts of King Jehoash (9th century BCE) to earmark communal funds for the upkeep of the first Holy Temple.
(We too give a commemorative half shekel to charity—on the Fast of Esther.)
The Shekalim reading is also related to the upcoming holiday of Purim. According to the Talmud, Haman’s decree was averted in merit of the mitzvah of machatzit hashekel.
II Kings 11:17-12:17.
The Parshat Shekalim Torah reading discusses the annual obligation for every Jew to give half a shekel to the Temple coffers. The haftorah discusses the efforts of King Jehoash (9th century BCE) to earmark these communal funds for the upkeep of the first Holy Temple.
Background for this haftorah: Because of an alliance with the Northern Kingdom of Israel, idol worship had become rampant in the erstwhile righteous Davidic dynasty-controlled Southern Kingdom. When the king of the Southern Kingdom, Ahaziah, was killed, his mother Athaliah murdered the remainder of the royal family and seized the throne. During her brief reign, she actively promoted idolatry. Unbeknownst to her, one of Ahaziah’s sons, a small baby, was hidden and survived. When he became seven years of age, Jehoiada the High Priest led a successful revolt against Athaliah, and installed the child king, Jehoash, as the new King of Judea.
The haftorah begins with the new king renewing the people’s covenant with G-d. They destroyed all the pagan altars and statues and appointed officers to oversee the Holy Temple. Jehoash then instructed the priests regarding all the funds that were donated to the Temple. According to his plan, all the funds would be appropriated by the priests. In return, the priests would pay for the regular maintenance of the Temple. In the 23rd year of Jehoash’s reign, the priests neglected to properly maintain the Temple. Jehoash then ordered that all monies should be placed in a special box that was placed near the Temple altar, and these funds were given directly to the workers and craftsmen who maintained the Temple
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Q & A on Parashat Mishpatim
All references are to the verses and Rashi’s commentary, unless otherwise stated.
- In what context is a mezuza mentioned in this week’s parsha?
21:6 – If a Hebrew slave desires to remain enslaved, his owner brings him "to the doorpost mezuza" to pierce his ear.
- What special mitzvah does the Torah give to the master of a Hebrew maidservant?
21:8,9 – To marry her.
- What is the penalty for wounding one’s father or mother?
21:15 – Death by strangulation.
- A intentionally hits B. As a result, B is close to death. Besides any monetary payments, what happens to A?
21:19 – He is put in jail until B recovers or dies.
- What is the penalty for someone who tries to murder a particular person, but accidentally kills another person instead? Give two opinions.
(a) The murderer deserves the death penalty.
(b) The murderer is exempt from death but must compensate the heirs of his victim.
- A slave goes free if his master knocks out one of the slave’s teeth. What teeth do not qualify for this rule and why?
21:26 – Baby teeth, which grow back.
- An ox gores another ox. What is the maximum the owner of the damaging ox must pay, provided his animal had gored no more than twice previously?
21:35 – The full value of his own animal.
- From where in this week’s parsha can the importance of work be demonstrated?
21:37 – From the "five-times" penalty for stealing an ox and slaughtering it. This fine is seen as punishment for preventing the owner from plowing with his ox.
- What is meant by the words "If the sun shone on him"?
22:2 – If it’s as clear as the sun that the thief has no intent to kill.
- A person is given an object for safe-keeping. Later, he swears it was stolen. Witnesses come and say that in fact he is the one who stole it. How much must he pay?
22:8 – Double value of the object.
- A person borrows his employee’s car. The car is struck by lightning. How much must he pay?
22:14 – Nothing
- Why is lending money at interest called "biting"?
22:24 – Interest is like a snake bite. Just as the poison is not noticed at first but soon overwhelms the person, so too interest is barely noticeable until it accumulates to an overwhelming sum.
- Non-kosher meat, "treifa," is preferentially fed to dogs. Why?
22:30 – As "reward" for their silence during the plague of the first-born.
- Which verse forbids listening to slander?
23:1 – Targum Onkelos translates "Don’t bear a false report" as "Don’t receive a false report".
- What constitutes a majority-ruling in a capital case?
23:2 – A simple majority is needed for an acquittal. A majority of two is needed for a ruling of guilty.
- How is Shavuot referred to in this week’s parsha?
23:16 – Chag Hakatzir