|February 13, 2010
Haftorah Shabbat Shekalim
This week we will discuss two Haftarot. The first one is the one that will be read on Shabbat because it is the Haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim. The second is for the parasha that we read Parashat Mishpatim.
Haftarah Shabbat Shekalim
2 Kings 12 1-17
Shabbat Shekalim always falls on the Shabbat prior to the new Moon of Adar (or Adar 2 in a leap year). It is the first of the four Sabbaths preceding Passover. During second Temple times it was the basis for an annual tax for Temple maintenance which was supposed to be paid in the month of Adar. Following the Temple's destruction the rabbis created Shabbat Shekalim as an opportunity to remember that we were taxed to maintain our religious institutions. The traditional explanation for reading this haftarah is the way it complements the special Torah reading (Exodus 30:11-16) with its parallelism of payments of silver and concern with communal upkeep of the shrine.
I have always considered the first “joint campaign” to be a result of the Second Book of Maccabees where the author broadcasts to the entire Jewish world that the Temple has been rededicated and that we, the Jewish people, have a responsibility, wherever we live, to support it. The haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim could have been the second joint campaign.
Let's look at the context of this haftarah. It is set between the death of King David who died around the year 900 B.C.E. and the destruction of the first Temple in 587. The prophet Amos has not yet been born and King Josiah has not yet begun what we call today the Deuteronomic Reforms. It predates the time of the great prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. It reflects the times of Elijah and Elisha.
This was a world of Kings, Prophets, and an established Priesthood. During the period of the first Temple the Priests controlled the calendar and were not permitted to own land. Their incomes were derived from the sacrifices.
This morning's haftarah begins following the purging of the cult of Baal and the ascendancy of King Jehoash who “did what was pleasing to the Lord and reigned in Jerusalem for forty years; but did not remove Baal's shrines and the people continued to sacrifice and offer at the shrines 12:2-4.” Jehoash instituted a new system of processing donations in order to maintain the Temple. Twenty-three years later the repairs had yet to be completed. He summoned the priesthood and basically took control of the system. The haftarah hints at a compromise that was reached between the King and the Priests and reveals the delicate balance between civil authorities (charged with repairing the Temple) and religious institutions (overseeing the welfare of the priests). Does this sound familiar?
This haftarah replaced any special haftarah reading that occurred during the time when the triennial cycle was in operation. It is possible that this haftarah was selected, as were many others, at a time when our rabbis were struggling with the larger more successful Roman world. This struggle is reflected in Mishneh Avot's caution that one should avoid ruling powers, and in the words of R. Yochanan son of Berokah “whoever profanes the Name of Heaven in secret, will suffer the penalty for it in public; and this , whether the heavenly name be profaned in ignorance or in willfulness” (Mishneh Avot 4:5)
The haftarah called on us then, as it does now, to be wary of rulers, to be sensitive to the political nuances that occur in our lives and to recognize that public figures like the priests are motivated by self-interest. This morning the text challenges us to learn how to navigate between these forces and our desires to live just and meaningful lives.
If you read Jeremiah 34:1-7, that is, the first seven verses that precede this haftarah you will learn that the word of God came to the prophet, “When King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth were waging war against Jerusalem and all its towns.” Within those seven lines we also learn that this was announced to Zedekiah King of Judah. Yes. Zedekiah was the King who ruled in Jerusalem when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar King of Babylon.
If we cross-reference this event with the life of Ezekiel we also learn that Zedekiah sought alliance with Egypt. Whereas Jeremiah counseled against it. The Babylonians fearing this alliance temporarily retreated. Egypt backed off and did not fulfill their commitments-as Jeremiah predicted. The Babylonians returned to the walls of Jerusalem. In response to this Jeremiah proclaims our people's destruction for lack of faith and as a result of their failing to fulfill a basic Jewish value.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.