Mishpatim - Weekly Torah Portion
Next week we begin the month of Adar and the Shabbat before that is known as Shabbat Shekalim, which coincidentally is when I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah. Five decades have passed and still the readings of this Shabbat echo in my ears. It is a Shabbat were we begin to remind the people of the importance of making contributions. In the case of the Maftir it is a required contribution at a given amount for the purposes of a census. The donation is “half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.” The money has a designation as it is used “for the service of the tent of meeting”.
In this week’s Haftarah we read about the King Jehoash who “did right in the sight of the Lord all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him. 3 Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. Then Jehoash said to the priests, “All the money of the sacred things which is brought into the house of the Lord, in current money, both the money of each man’s assessment and all the money which any man’s heart prompts him to bring into the house of the Lord, let the priests take it for themselves, each from his acquaintance; and they shall repair the damages of the house wherever any damage may be found.” Not to bad of a situation even though not really perfect. Only several years later, “in the twenty-third year of King Jehoash the priests had not repaired the damages of the house.” So money was collected but it certainly was not used for the purpose it was gathered for. This the king did not like at all and he “called for Jehoiada the priest, and for the other priests and said to them, ‘Why do you not repair the damages of the house?’”
At Moses times it seems that there was not anticipation that someone would dare use the donations for purposes other than the intended ones. It seems that Jehoash also thought that would be the case but he was in for a surprise. Therefore another arrangement had to be figured out. “But Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in its lid and put it beside the altar, on the right side as one comes into the house of the Lord; and the priests who guarded the threshold put in it all the money which was brought into the house of the Lord.” So now there is a safe and there are guards and so money begins to accumulate. So much so that “When they saw that there was much money in the chest, the king’s scribe and the high priest came up and tied it in bags and counted the money which was found in the house of the Lord.” Now there is order into the handling of the moneys and it does not disappear on its way through the corridors of government, or shared among those who have access to those in government. The money goes directly to those in charge of the works. Even though a crack was left for potential corruption, as “they did not require an accounting from the men into whose hand they gave the money to pay to those who did the work, for they dealt faithfully.” Seriously?! It is kind of cute but we already know that reality has shown its ugly face and that in the future someone will betray this confidence.
It seems that the proper use of public funds was not unintentionally delivered in connection of this week’s portion of the Torah that begins with the words, “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them”. Among others we find these: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.... You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.” There are many ways in which money can be used. It may be used to fund the duties in the tabernacle, to renovate the temple, or God forbid, to perform wicked deeds such as predatory interests or bribery.
It is frequently that we find people speaking how perfect were years past and how they yearn to return to such times. The bible does not really provide assurance of that. The very fact that such laws and ordinances were necessary, seem to show that things were not really better, certainly as far as human behavior was concerned. It does not mean that we should accept them as legitimate, on the contrary, we have to fight them in an effort to promote our ideal of an exemplary society where our values are cherished and become very day norm. We must fight for values that promote a just society, which is compassionate and truthful, starting at the very top of leadership and all the way down the social ladder.
There are only ten days left until elections day in Israel. We must go and take advantage of the privilege we have. By not doing so we give power to those who promote other sets of values that are foreign to our very being. They try to push aside values such as religious pluralism in Israel, that promote an orthodox monopoly of Judaism as if there is only one way to be a Jew, and distance many Jews from their heritage that rightfully belongs to them to. We shall continue to fight for what we believe is right. We shall do that while respecting the rights of others to think differently, even when they use spiteful language when they address us and our set of Jewish values. Our answer to them, here in Israel as well as in the USA in the elections for the World Zionist Congress – we are playing the democratic game, you are not going to succeed trying to instill despair in us, and you shall certainly not be successful in taking us out – we are here to win!
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.
Reuven Marko, 21 February 2020, 27 Shvat, 5780