Friday, February 12, 2010

Parshas Shekalim: Torah and economics

The braysa (Megillah 29a) tells us that on Rosh Chodesh Adar "mashmi'im al hashekalim," the alert goes out to contribute shekalim by Nissan, the start of a new fiscal year for the purchase of korbanos in the Mikdash. Rashi explains that this mashmi’im was done by Beis Din making public announcements. In this case what Rashi doesn’t say should grab our attention. This Shabbos we will fulfill the takanah of reading Parshas Shekalim on the Shabbos before Adar. Rashi makes no mention this reading in his explanation of “mashmi’im,” implying that the announcement to bring shekalim and the reading of Parshas Shekalim are two separate halachos. Similarly, the Rambam cites the takanah to read Parshas Sheklalim in Hil. Tefilah (13:20), yet places the takanah of mashmi’im al hashekalim in Hil. Shekalim (1:9). What purpose does the kri’as haTorah fulfill if it is not part and parcel of the takanah of mashmi’im?

Rav Tzadok haKohen has an in-depth discussion of this issue, but I want to make some simple points. Firstly, the donation of shekalim was instituted in part as a kaparah for the cheit ha’eigel. How does that work? How would people who just gathered gold for an idol, who are now charged with the task of gathering gold for a Mishkan and its korbanos, distinguish between the two? How do we balance the ideal of eschewing materialism and the god of mammon while collecting for the business needs of our institutions and organizations? The answer is that the takanah of collecting funds must be placed in the context of Torah. The reading of Parshas Shekalim was not just a means to remind people to get their donations in, but it set the framework necessary to give that act of donating proper meaning.

I read on some other blogs all kinds of ideas about what to do about the financial crisis in our community. Among the suggestions were ideas like closing yeshivos in favor of charter schools, not having as many kids, waiting a few years into marriage before having kids, etc. Suffice it to say that at least some of these ideas (and I don’t want to debate them here) involve questions of halacha, questions of chinuch, etc. I understand the well meaning intention to manage money better, but the mashmi’im, our takanah of when to collect and how to collect and what to use communal funds for, needs to be preceded by a kri’as haTorah, a consideration of what halacha and Torah require.

Would the administrator who presses the kollel guy to pay his “fair” share similarly press the businessman to spend an extra hour or two in the beis medrash to put in his “fair” share of talmud Torah? We all understand that bills need to be paid and not everyone who is sitting and learning all day should be, but an approach to solving the problem needs to be done with seichel and understanding, not by throwing everyone in the same bucket with the same expectations and responsibilities. Again, a sense of Torah value needs to guide solutions.

We also need a kri’as haTorah to remind us what we are collecting for. The Beis haMikdash was a beautiful building, korbanos were the select most choice animals, but beautiful buildings are a means, not an end. My chavrusa calls this the “edifice” complex. The greater purpose cannot be lost or trampled in the shuffle.

Lastly, we need a kri’as haTorah to provide the sense of unity to help forge one machatzis hashekel with another machatzis and create wholeness. I live near a multi million dollar shul building that sits empty all day while a yeshiva in the next town tries to raise its own capital for a new building. The idea that this is “my” building and not “theirs”, that it’s “my” cause in competition with “theirs,” has no place in a Torah community. We are all (supposedly? ideally?) on the same team, working for the same goals. If all kinds of other factors creep into the agenda, the result is divisiveness and disunity, competition in place of cooperation. If harbatzas haTorah is the only item on the agenda, then k’ish echad b’lev echad, we can all work together to do what’s best for our communities.


  1. Did the instituting of the kirah for Shabbos Shekalim occur before or after the destruction of the Temple? IOW, was this a pre-existing obligation like Zachor or was it instituted to remind us of when there actually was an official announcement in the Temple?

    > Would the administrator who presses the kollel guy to pay his “fair” share similarly press the businessman to spend an extra hour or two in the beis medrash to put in his “fair” share of talmud Torah?

    Not a fear question. The administrator's job is to make sure the bills are paid. If the business gives him that money, his responsiblity as an administrator ends there. (Perhaps not as another Jew but that's another halacha)

    And you're right about the edifice complex. Those communities that put their money into shuls instead of schools don't last very long.

  2. >>>was it instituted to remind us of when there actually was an official announcement in the Temple?

    IIRC R' Tzadok rejects the possibility of it being just a zecher, so have a look at his proof.

    >>>Not a fear question

    I know :( I was thinking that as I wrote it. My point is to raise questions that we, the community who empowers the administrator, need to ask ourselves.

  3. Anonymous1:45 PM

    The building issue is shocking - in my hometown there have been similar issues. Why can't we all just recognize the end goal of learning and ignore the kippah sruga, velvet kippah or black hat. Instead, one group gets offended by the use of a building by another group and in the end the biggest loser is the ba'al habayit who just wants a place close to home where he can sit & learn.