Friday, February 16, 2007

The Haftara of Parshat Shekalim: Politics, Integrity and Communal Finances

This week we read a Haftara that connects with Parashat Shekalim. However, beyond Parshat Shekalim, I believe that in our current (Israeli) environment filled with financial impropriety and personal scandal, our Haftara touches upon a timely point.


Yehoah was a child king, ascending the throne at age 7. The circumstances of his coronation were dramatic and tragic.

His grandmother, Athalia (the daughter of Izevel) was an evil lady who schemed to sieze the throne and rule the country. To achieve this objective she massacred all the male heirs of the Royal Judean family. She also did sever damage to the Beit Hamikdash and promoted Baal worship nationally. Despite the massacre, baby Yoash was saved and raised in secret. At yet, at the tender age of seven Yehoyada the High Priest staged a revolution within the precinct of Beit Mikdash. He presnted Yoash to the gathered throngs and publically crowned him as king of Judea and Athalia was killled. Yoash ascended the throne.

For the next period, as Yoash grew up, it would appea that the Kohanim were the strongest politacal group in the country, backing , protecting and guiding Yoash. Yoash clearly identified with their worldview and was greatly indebted to them. It is then, not a surprise when Yoash turns his attention as an adult to a serious rennovation and rebuilding of the Beit Mikdash.

What may seem suprising however, is the fact that Yoash summoned Yehoyada, the High Priest, and accused the Kohanim of negligence towards the Mikdash. By the account of Sefer Melachim, even some 23 years later the Temple is in a state of disrepair and dilapidation – the effects of Athalia's regime[2] – and apparently, the Kohanim had been remiss in allowing this embarrasing state of neglect to continue.

Part of the problem is that the Koahnim lack the funds. If we may quote a passuk from Divrei Hayamim:

"He assembled the priests and the Levites and charged them as follows; Go out to the towns of Judah and collect money from all Israel for the upkeep of the House of your God. Do it quickly! But the Levites did not act quickly."

Now the King takes the High Priest to task for the neglect:

"Why have you not demanded that the Levites collect the TAX OF MOSES the servant of God, from (the people of ) Yehudah and Yerushalayim…?" (Div Hayamim II 24:6)

In other words, the funds for the renovation of the Mikdash are to come from the ANNUAL HALF SHEKEL TAX that goes back to Moshe Rabbeinu! The King finds a solution that will bypass the Leviim and Kohanim.

The King instructed that they:

"took a box, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one came into the house of the LORD… and when they saw that there was much money in the box, the king’s scribe and the high priest came up, and they put up in bags…And they gave the money…into the hands of the workmen (of the Temple)" (Melachim II 12:10-12)

In other words, he instituted a Temple tax. This mode of procuring funds from the people for the Temple tax reflects the annual donation of the Half Shekel in the wilderness – the Half Shekels were used for the construction of the Mishkan. And in Divrei Hayamim, this is actually a HALF SHEKEL TAX

"A proclamation was issued in Yehudah and Jerusalem to BRING THE TAX IMPOSED ON ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS BY MOSES… All the officers and all the people brought it joyously and threw the money into the box until it was full." (D. Hayamim 24:9-10)

So here is the question: What went wrong? Why did the Koahanim and Leviim fail in their responsibility? What made Yoash accuse his mentor, the High Priest, Yehoyada?


Two pesukim in our Haftara hold the key to the answer. When Yoash realises the the Levites are failing in their efforts to raise funds for the Temple, he summons Yehoyada:
[7] Then king Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest, and the other priests , and said unto them, Why have you not repaired the breaches of the house? now therefore receive no more money of your acquaintance, but deliver it for the breaches of the house.[8] And the priests consented to receive no more money of the people, neither to repair the breaches of the house.

Money from acquantances? Why are the priests collecting money from friends and associates? What is this system? And why does Yoash ask that it cease? It would appear that there is a certain system of financing that is failing and it is that system that needs improvement. Let us attempt to explain a little.FINANCING: STAGE 1.

Yehoash sees the Temple in a run down state, especially after the priod of Athalia in which the Temple was dedicated to the Ba'al. Now is the time for renovations.

But where do the funds come from?

"All the money… brought to the House of the Lord as sacred donations … let the Kohanim receive it, each from his associate. They shall make the repairs to the House…" (12:6)

The Radak explains that initially, the Kohanim would collect contributions from their friends, or "acquaintances." This method reminds me of a shul commitee in which each commitee member has to fill a table with their friends and relatives for the shul fundraising dinner. This method may work well for small communal organisations, but it is a disaster for public institutions. Why?

First, there is apathy. What incentive do Kohanim have to ask and beg for funds for the Temple? As it is , priests have to request food of Teruma and Maaser in order to live, to eat. I imagine that priests were reluctant to ask for even more money. Possibly they feared that if a person gave too positively to the Temple, there would be no extra funds for themselves. Maybe they simply resented being THE fundraisers.

But secondly, this method is an opening for corruption. This system allows certain Kohanim to become "activists" lobbying for extra funds, and then having greater power to decide on the designation of those funds. (This similar to that which we saw in the past in Israel's central party committees where certain "machers" gained inordinate politacl clout.) Financing through personal favours and protektzia opens the door to paybacks, bribery and other abuses of the system.

One can imagine that in a situation where Kohanim had to personally solicit fund, certain monies "went missing" other people used it for political gain. In other words, this sytem of collection is an opening for problems. And when an oeganisation becomes corrupt, who wants to put money into it? One wants to give as little as possible!Were they corrupt or just inept? We don't know. On the one hand King Yehoash says: "Do not receive any more money from your acquaintances, but deliver it for the breaches of the house." (12:8) indicating that possibly, some money is not being delivered! But on the other hand, Divrei Hayamim (II 24:5) simply puts it down to laziness. So, whether it was their fraudulent handling of the money or their amateur approach, the money failed to reach the desired destination.

In short, the system did not work. In the final analysis, even if the system was not corrupt, it certainly was ineffective! The question of success in any fundraising operation comes doen to the famous "bottom line" Are the funds there? And the result? -The Beit Mikdash was dilapidated! The system was not working well.


So instead, Yehoash orders a change:

"now therefore receive no more money of your acquaintance"
He improves things in a number of ways:
1. The the money management is taken away from the control of the Kohanim.
2. Anonymous giving: People cannot build large factions on the basis of their fundraising potential.
3. Accountability: A representative of the governmment AND the Kohein Gadol each have to be presnt as the money is counted.

If we take Divrei Hayamim as our guide, a further detail is added. That they also reinstituted the annual half-shekel tax in order to facilitate the renovations. And yet, there it states that they gave "joyously." Who gives taxes with glee? Unless, they are happy that they now have a transparent accountable mechanism of giving to their beloved spiritual institution and they don't need to be concerned about financial missaproriation or simple amateur financing.

It would appear to be the case that these improvements did the trick. Now the Beit Mikdash is finaced and things can continue more steadily.


We have spoken about the problems with relying too heavily upon an informal fundraising mechanism, based upon "who knows who" and simple goodwill. On the other hand:
[15] Moreover they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully.
Despite the earlier misappropriation of Temple funds, the treasurers who paid all the builders and craftsmen in the Temple, were given a free hand to write the cheques and make the orders for the Mikdash renovations seemingly, without accountability.Indeed. The Gemara in Bava Batra (9a) bases a Halakha on our chapter:

"Our Rabbis taught: The collectors of charity are not required to give an account of the moneys entrusted to them for charity, nor the treasurers of the Temple of the moneys given for holy purposes. There is no actual proof of this (in Tanakh), but there is a hint of it in the words: 'They reckoned not with the men into whose hand they delivered the money to give to them that did the work, for they dealt faithfully.'"

Now, this after the Talmud has already established that there need to be no less than 2 and preferably 3 treasurers! This is given that one may not distribute or collect charity except in the presence of other treasures so there are some safeguards. And the Talmud mandates that the Tzedaka treasurer be a person of impeccable reputation. However, on the other hand, if every charity official is summoned for a cheque misplaced, then few people will be willing to take the task upon themselves. At some level, along with the checks, and the accountability, there must also be a certain element of trust and ingegrity.When is it appropriate to express trust, and when is it advisable to investigate and express criticism? When can one rely on the intehrity of public officials and when mus one be suspicious and wary?

These are difficult dilemmas facing any public sector. Because, obviously, if we are dealing with the renovation of the Temple, as reflected in passuk 16, there is always a certain degree of discretion in running a project. Do you take the cheaper or more expensive craftsman? Which fabric or material do you choose? Do you take standard goods or have them especially crafted by a designer? When it comes to these questions , it would appear that license was given to the trustworthy work-managers to appropriate the funds as needed be. And it would appear that part of their professional pride was precisely that trait of integrity and honesty – כי באמונה הם עושים.


We may ask ourselves, why does the King not pay for the repairs and renovations? Why demand that the nation pay? Why is the king reorganizing the Kohanim and Leviim? He should take the money from his own tax collectors!

But here is another connection point with Parashat Shekalim.
We read Parshat Shekalim this Shabbat; the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh Adar in order to remember the annual donation of a Half Shekel?

What was this donation used for? The Mishna (4:1) tells us that it was used for the Korbanot Tzibbur – the "public sacrifices" – for the Temple service. What are these "Public Korbanot"? It's very simple. There are sacrifices offered by individuals: for sins, for celebrations, for all manner of ritual purification purposes. However there are certain korbanot – the Tamid, daily sacrifice; the Mussaf etc. – that are not on behalf of any particular individual, but rather, on behalf of Klal Yisrael, the nation as a single entity.

Why was this method of taxation used? Very simply, the Korbanot Tzibbur have to be PUBLIC donations; given by the corpus of the entire nation of Israel! Only by EVERYONE contributing equally can we say that each Jew has an equal share in the sacrifices. Each year, the half shekel becomes the fund that pays for these public sacrifices. The collection is renewed each Nissan. Adar becomes the month of collection in advance of Nissan.

But the crucial point here is that the Temple belongs to the nation. It is not dominated by me or you; it is unaffiliated with any sector or group. It isn't even the property of the king. The king should not finance it, because as in our parshat shekalim, the Mikdash should be the project of the nation as a whole.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] The figure of Yoash burst in to the public limelight a year or two back when a tablet surfaced that was said to have been excavated on Har HABayit itself. It quoted almost verbatim, certain lines from Divrei Hayamim that relate to Yoash. Unfortunately, the widespread assessment was that it was a fraud.
[2] Div Hayamim II 24:7

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