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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)… (Haftara for Shabbat Shekalim - 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 at approximately 840 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 system 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 need neither for an elaborate system of accounting, nor 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 this 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 initially writing 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.
QUESTIONS ON PARASHAT VAYAKHEL
Please note: Several of the structures of the Mishkan in this Parasha have already been dealt with in Parashat Teruma.
QUESTIONS ON THE ABOVE DIAGRAMS
1. Name items A - G on the Shulchan (Table).
2. Name items A - L on the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE ABOVE DIAGRAMS
The Shulchan (Table)
A - Mold for the show bread
The Mishkan (Tabernacle)
A - Kodesh Hakadashim - the holiest part of the Mishkan, with the Aron Hakodesh - the Holy Ark.
QUESTIONS BASED ON THE COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT VAYAKHEL
(a) The forbidding of lighting a fire on Shabbat (35:3) is the only prohibition of Shabbat explicitly mentioned in the Torah - according to the source quoted by Rashi.
(b) The request for gifts of raw materials for the construction of the Mishkan is expressed: 'he shall bring it' (35:5) - according to the Ohr Hachayim.
(c) The Torah pays tribute to the women participating in earlier stages of the construction of the Mishkan (35:22ff) - according to the Ramban.
(d) The word 'ne-siim' (35:27) is spelt defectively, without the two 'yuds' - according to Rashi.
(e) Betzalel was worthy of being reckoned as being in 'the shade of G-d' (the literal translation of his name) - according to Rashi. (quoting Berachot 55a in his comment on Parashat Pekudei - 38:22)
(f) Moses called a halt to the contributions to the Mishkan (36:6) - and what may be learnt from that - according to the Ramban.
(g) The brightly polished sheets of copper that the women used as mirrors were used as raw materials for the copper laver (38:8).
ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS BASED ON THE COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT VAYAKHEL
(a) The Tslmud (Shabbat 70a) gives two opinions as to why the forbidding of lighting a fire on Shabbat is the only prohibition of Shabbat explicitly mentioned in the Torah. The first opinion is to give an example - the teaching being that just as the breaking of one law of Shabbat constitutes a full breach of Shabbat, similarly the breaking of any other of the individual laws of Shabbat constitutes a full breach of Shabbat. The second opinion holds that it is singled out as an exception to the general laws of Shabbat in that the penalty for breaking that law is less severe that for the breach of any other category of 'melacha'.
(b) The force of the words 'he shall bring it' (35:5), according to the Ohr Hachayim, puts the emphasis of the giving of gifts for the construction of the Mishkan on the goodwill of the donor. G-d Himself does not need contributions, but He does want the giver's sincere inner desire to elevate and unite himself with Him.
(c) According to the Ramban, the Torah actually pays tribute to the women participating in earlier stages of the construction of the Mishkan (35:22ff), as he understands the words 'vayavo-oo ha-anashim al ha hanashim' (35:22) as the men came 'with' the women. That implies that the men were secondary to the women in their enthusiasm to donate their valuables as raw materials for the Mishkan. Since the jewelry mentioned in the above verse was mainly worn by women, the Torah pays tribute to their immediate removal of their valuables as precious metals for the construction of the Mishkan.
(d) The word 'ne-siim' (35:27) is spelt defectively, without the two 'yuds' - according to Rashi, implying a criticism of their delay in contributing to the Tabernacle construction. They reasoned that they would let the public contribute first and then make up what was missing. But because they were 'lazy' in not racing to be at the front of the line, as it were, the Torah spells their name defectively. [They did not repeat their mistake the next time round - when the Tabernacle was dedicated, they brought generous donations immediately (Num. 7:2-3)] [Author's suggestion - there are some people do not give wedding presents immediately, but wait until after the wedding, telling the newly-wed to tell them what they would like, but did not receive. Fine in theory, but in practice, the couple may be too modest to state their real needs, they may have received more that they really believe they deserve, or, more mundanely, the good intentions may be forgotten and there will be no present at all.]
(e) Betzalel is described as having made the Mishkan 'all as G-d commanded Moses'. According to the sources quoted by Rashi, that includes something that Moses did not reveal to Betzalel - (but G-d told to Moses) - namely that the Mishkan should be constructed in the reverse order to the order of G-d's directions stated in Parashat Teruma. There, the vessels for the Mishkan were detailed before the construction of the Mishkan itself. However Betzalel's reasoning was in accordance to what Moses secretly knew to be correct - that the House (i.e. the Mishkan_) should be made first, so that when the vessels were completed they should have already have an appropriate home...
(f) The Ramban understands Moses' calling a halt to the contributions for the Mishkan to the credit of the Israelites. It testifies to their unbounded generosity, the scrupulous honesty of the artisans (refusing to accept more than they needed), and to Moses - who, unlike typical rulers, was not interested in accumulating huge treasuries that would be at his disposal.
(g) Rashi brings the explanation that when the women brought the copper mirrors, Moses was reluctant to accept then. The reason is because they incited vanity and lust. G-d, however, told Moses to accept those mirrors and that they were indeed very special - in the following way. Those very same mirrors had been instrumental in the creation of the Israelite nation. In Egypt, the men had come home exhausted from their back-breaking labor, and the women used mirrors to help them to present themselves to their husbands in an enticing manner... as a result of which the Israelites continued to increase in number under the slavery in Egypt.
ADDITIONAL QUESTION ON PARASHAT VAYAKHEL
Why (notwithstanding the discussion above) were further donations to the Tabernacle no longer welcome - or even acceptable? Running the Tabernacle, as well as building it, was undoubtedly an expensive business. The excess contributions could surely have been traded into the funds needed for the costly daily and special-occasion communal offerings.
*Please note - My own attempts to deal with the issues related to the above may be found in the archives for 5762 in Shema Yisrael - on Parashiot Vayakhel-Pekudei.
Please note that the two diagrams are adapted from 'Melechet Machashevet' - issued by the Vaad L'Ezras Chinuch of Gateshead, UK (1974).
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.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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