Shabbos Shekalim

After finishing this week’s Sedra we read Parshas Shekalim. The Haftorah reflects this additional Parsha.  In Parshas Shekalim Hashem instructs that each Jewish adult male must give a half- Shekel (Machatzis Hashekel) to the Bais Hamikdash in order for Am-Yisroel to be counted.  It would seem natural for the Haftorah to reflect this idea of every individual giving the same amount to Hekdesh. Instead, the portion selected discusses something seemingly unconnected.

The Haftorah tells us that King Yehoash made a complete change in the method of collecting money for the Beis-Hamikdash.  Originally, the Haftorah tells us, every Kohen would fundraise from his acquaintances to give to the Bais-Hamikdash. Each Kohen would then use the money collected to fix or improve whatever he thought needed it. Yehoash saw that this as an ineffective system and decided that the Kohanim would stop collecting.  Instead Yehoyada Hakohen constructed a deposit box where all donations were supposed to be placed. Temple treasurers would then use the money to pay the maintenance workers.

While the Haftorah does talk about donations to the Bais Hamikdash, it does not discuss at all the Machatzis Hashekel.  Is this as far as the connection goes?

The main theme and lesson of this portion of Navi is clear: the Navi is telling us that there was something wrong with the original collection system and that a tikun – a repair – was made to this system. What was wrong and how did Yehoash Hamelech fix it?

Originally the Navi tells us that each Kohen was supposed to take donations from his acquaintances. This sounds like a good idea. Instead of having Kohanim trying to solicit from random strangers the Kohanim would each focus on those they knew and therefore have a better chance of obtaining funds. The next step also sounds like a good idea: look for what needs to be tended to and fix it with the money solicited.

Its superficial appeal notwithstanding, this method was in reality a poor one.   The system lacked even a semblance of structure and was doomed to failure.  The Haftorah tells us that at some point the Kohanim stopped collecting and stopped tending to the Mikdash.  What most likely happened is that they felt that they ended up going repeatedly to the same sources for money, and perhaps not surprisingly, that they ended up fixing the same things in the Mikdash. As a result, everyone was discouraged from doing their part. Instead of this dysfunctional method, Yehoash Hamelech introduced a new, standardized system. Perhaps at first glance less appealing, it actually proved itself far more practical and productive.

While there are many ideas and important aspects in the Mitzvah of Machatzis Hashekel, this standardization is undoubtedly one of them. While it would make sense to allow everyone to give however much they could, the Torah tells us only half a Shekel. The Torah sets forth a very standardized system that we must all conform to. We can all give whatever we can to the Beis Hamikdash and to Am-Yisroel in all sorts of ways, but nonetheless the Torah tells us that at least once a year we must all give in a standardized way.

In life it is good for each of us to do whatever good we can however we can. Nonetheless we must realize that order and standards are often the only way to do things properly.