Parashat Mishpatim – Rosh Chodesh Adar – Shabbat Shekalim

This is only the eleventh time the three have coincided in the last 100 years.

Daniel Pinner ,

Dancing in "capsules" for Adar
Dancing in "capsules" for Adar
Karnei Shomron Yeshiva

This past Shabbat had a triple identity: the Parashah (weekly Torah-reading) is Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18); it is also Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Adar; and it is also Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat which recalls the annual half-shekel donation which every Jew was obligated to contribute to the Holy Temple.

This confluence is unusual: the only circumstances under which it happens is when the year begins on Shabbat and in which Marcheshvan and Kislev both have 29 days. This is only the eleventh time it has happened in the last 100 years.

The last time it happened was 20 years ago, in 5761 (2001), and the time before that was 5757 (1997). And the next time this will happen will be in 5784 (2024).

1. Parashat Mishpatim continues directly from the giving of the Ten Commandments: it contains 53 mitzvot, continuing from the 17 mitzvot in Parashat Yitro.

The legal section of Parashat Mishpatim culminates with G-d’s commanding us to celebrate the Festivals three times a year (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot), which involves making the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), in later generations to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Exodus 23:14-19).

And then as a direct riposte, in a new paragraph, G-d both admonishes and reassures His people:

“Behold! – I send an angel ahead of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared… My angel will go ahead of you, and he will bring you to the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Canaanite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite, and I will destroy them” (vs. 20-23).

The Ohr ha-Chayim (Rabbi Chayim ben Atar, Morocco and Israel, 1696-1743) says simply, “because these nations will be destroyed by means of Israel entering”.

And then follow ten verses of G-d’s “user’s instruction manual” for correct use of the Land of Israel:

“Do not bow down to their gods or worship them…rather destroy them completely…worship Hashem your G-d, and He will bless your bread and your water…no woman will miscarry or be infertile in your Land… I will send My terror ahead of you, and I will dishearten every nation whom you encounter…

“And I will determine your border from the Red Sea until the Sea of the Philistines [the Mediterranean Sea], and from the desert to the river, when I deliver the inhabitants of the Land into your hand and you expel them ahead of you. You will forge no covenant with them or their gods, they will not dwell in your Land, lest they cause you to sin against Me by worshipping their gods, because they will entrap you” (vs. 24-33).

This is the direct continuation of the day-to-day mitzvot which G-d had given. Living as a sovereign independent nation in our own Land, the Land of Israel, is as fundamental a requirement as are the basic laws – the prohibitions against perjury, theft, and murder, the obligation to establish courts of justice, the correct way to treat servants, the obligation to return lost property to its owner, restitution for damage cause by one’s animal, and so forth – to building Jewish society.

If Parashat Mishpatim introduces us to how our national life in Israel should be, Parashat Shekalim is the annual reminder of how our national life in Israel once was.

2. In another three weeks, at the start of Parashat Ki Tissa, the Torah will command each of us to donate the half-shekel to the Mishkan (the Sanctuary) in the desert.

In later generations, this became the annual tax which every adult Jew was obligated to donate to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

So why read the beginning of Ki Tissa, known as Parashat Shekalim, now?

The Rambam writes:

“On the first of Adar the announcements concerning the shekalim were made, so that everyone would prepare his half-shekel and be ready to give it. On the fifteenth, the treasurers would sit in each city, and demand [the half-shekel due] gently; whoever would give it to them, they would accept it from them, and those who did not give, they did not force them to give. On the twenty-fifth they would sit in the Temple to collect it; and from then on, they would force those who had not yet given to pay up” (Laws of Shekalim 1:9, following Mishnah Shekalim 1:1).

These half-shekel taxes were then used, from the first of Nisan a few days later until the first of Nisan the following year, for the Tamid (twice-daily sacrifice) and the Musaf offerings (the additional sacrifices on Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot) of that year (Tiferet Yisrael to Mishnah Shekalim 1:1).

So in memory of the half-shekel donation that once was, and looking forward to the half-shekel donation that will again be, we read this portion on the Shabbat which either coincides with Rosh Chodesh Adar (as this year) or which immediately precedes it, in the same week that the Sanhedrin would once begin to impose (and will again begin to impose) this tax.

The Holy Temple was of course the locus of Jewish national sovereignty in Israel, the sacrifices therein were the physical expression of our intimate relationship the G-d Who decreed that the Land of Israel belong to the Children of Israel, and the annual half-shekel tax was the practical connexion that every individual Jew had with the Holy Temple, and by extension with the Land of Israel, with the Torah, and with G-d.

Shabbat Shekalim recalls that lost connexion.

3. Every Rosh Chodesh is a declaration of our partnership with G-d: the first national mitzvah that He ever gave us was the commandment to calibrate our calendar (Exodus 12:1-2).

The Jewish month begins with the new moon, and by appointing the Sanhedrin to determine the exact time of the new moon, G-d gives us the authority to determine when His months begin: the month begins when at least two Jews witness the new moon. He leaves it to us to determine when we celebrate His holy Festivals.

Rosh Chodesh Adar is more powerful yet: it hails the month in which Purim falls, the month which recalls G-d’s salvation from extermination in exile, in Shushan, the capital of Persia, and by extension the salvation of all the Jews throughout the Persian Empire (which at the time meant almost all the Jews in the world).

It is the month which the Talmud heralds by saying, “when Adar comes in, we increase our joy” (Ta’anit 29a), which has been adopted in practical halachah (see for example the Mishnah Berurah 686:8 and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:1).

The Haftarah (the Prophetic reading which follows the Torah-reading) usually echoes or complements the theme of the Torah-reading. But certain Shabbatot have special Hafatarot, and Shabbat Shekalim is one of them.

Shekalim overrides both the Haftarah for Parashat Mishpatim and the Haftarah for Rosh Chodesh. Hence the Haftarah we will read this Shabbat is the Haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim, abstracted from 2 Kings 11:17-12:17 (though many Ashkenazi communities begin with 12:1).

This section opens with the aftermath of the popular insurrection against Queen Ataliah. As Rabbi Joseph Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire 1913-1946) notes, this was the sole revolution in the entire 347-year history of the Kingdom of Judah.

Rabbi Hertz explains the historical background:

“Ataliah, daughter of Ahab, king of Israel, had married Yehoram [Jehoram], king of Judah, and had used her influence to foster the worship of the Baal in Judah. On the death of her husband, she was the queen mother – a position which carried great power with it. But when her son died at the hand of Yehu [Jehu], she would have had to yield her position to her son’s widow; and therefore, this true daughter of Jezebel proceeded to murder all her grandchildren, and to ascend to the throne of Judah herself.

“Only one little grandson was saved, the infant Yeho’ash [Jehoash] who was concealed by an aunt who was married to Yehoyada [Jehoiada] the Kohen Gadol [High Priest].

“For six years, Ataliah, that inhuman woman, usurped the throne in Jerusalem. In the seventh year, the Kohen Gadol Yehoyada brought forward young Yeho’ash …and the royal bodyguard and the representatives of the nation greeted the legitimate ruler with wild enthusiasm. He was crowned in the Temple, and Ataliah met the retribution she deserved.”

We note, then, that the sole revolution in Judean history was against a foreign and illegitimate queen, a murderous despot; this revolution restored the legitimate king to his throne.

The Haftarah opens with the words, “Yehoyada forged the Covenant between Hashem and the King and the nation, that the nation be Hashem’s, and between the king and the nation. And the entire nation of the Land came to the temple of the Baal and destroyed it; they thoroughly smashed its altars and its idols, and they killed Matan, the priest of the Baal, before the altars” (2 Kings 11:17-18).

This is indeed an appropriate introduction to the month of Adar, the month which recalls the mass acceptance of the Torah in the days of Mordechai and Esther.

It is also a perfect riposte to the warning and admonition in Parashat Mishpatim, “Do not bow down to their gods or worship them…rather destroy them completely…worship Hashem your G-d… You will forge no covenant with them or their gods, they will not dwell in your Land, lest they cause you to sin against Me by worshipping their gods, because they will entrap you”.

The month of Adar is about to start. And this confluence of Parashat Mishpatim, Rosh Chodesh, and Shabbat Shekalim is a wonderful opening to this month of joy.

Let the celebrations begin!

Daniel Pinner is a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.