There are a number of Shabbatot throughout the Jewish calendar that have special names. The most familiar of these is probably Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Return, which takes place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These special Shabbatot each serve a purpose, some historical, some still relevant today. On Friday evening begins Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat of Shekels. It takes place every year on the Shabbat before the month of Adar. It is named for a special verse of Torah read on this date which commands every Israelite to contribute half a shekel to support the sacrifices in the ancient Temple.
Now, the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE and, with its destruction, came the end of Jewish sacrificial worship. So, the notion of a half shekel contribution to The Temple is an interesting historical idea, but, beyond that, seemingly irrelevant to our 21st Century lives. And yet, there were several things about this contribution which still resonate today.
First, this was a shared responsibility. The obligation to give a half shekel fell to each and every Israelite, regardless of income. This shared tax must have led to a unique sense of unity and belonging among the Israelites.
Second, this money went to support what was considered the main institution which guaranteed the welfare of the Israelite nation. From the perspective of the Israelites, that half shekel tax was the first step to providing prosperity, safety and happiness to the entire nation … to providing hope for the future.
To have the official opening of our new Bet David campus this Shabbat, Shabbat Shekalim, was a deliberate choice, because the two above mentioned values, which seem to be from another time, but will be hopefully continue to be the supporting pillars of our congregation. A unique sense of unity and belonging in which all who are part of Bet David enjoy the same rights and responsibilities. And Bet David as a place that provides hope for the future, a place where we grow together and strengthen our community and our Progressive Judaism.
On this Shabbat Shekalim, I pray our congregation will prosper in its new home and that everyone who seeks a place of peace, safety and hope will find it within its walls.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Howard J. Goldsmith )
Shabbat Shekalim – Parashat Mishpatim
Exodus 21:1-24:18 – Reading: Ex 22:27 – 23:22 (Plaut p. 519; Hertz p. 315)
Haftarah for Shekalim: II Kings 12:5-16 (Plaut p.1451; Hertz p.993)