With Rabbi Ariel Abel.
THIS WEEK’S reading is an inventory and account of the Tabernacle. Moses thus accounted for every part of the Tabernacle.
This represents the concern that a religious leader should take care to declare all monies that pass through the institution so that he or she not stand accused of theft of public funds. The second reading this week is Shekalim, about the half-shekel donation given to the Sanctuary and, later in history, to the Temple.
This reading is one of four prescribed by the Mishna, Megilla. A common theme to these readings is money, and how we use it. The usual haftara of Pekudei is a detail of the lavish furnishings and ornate work which adorned the Solomonic Temple. The haftara of Shabbat Shekalim tells how King Josiah, the 16th Judean king after the reign of King Solomon, instituted “bedek habayit”, a maintenance fund for the Sanctuary. This was implemented by installing a charity box, the first of its kind mentioned in Jewish writings. Donations were thereby made discreetly for the upkeep of the Temple. Thus, the Sanctuary was both built and maintained by popular support.
The half-shekel donations were collected in the month of Adar. This year, 2014, is a Jewish leap year, which means that there are two months called Adar, instead of one. The first month is actually the additional one, and celebration of Purim is deferred to the second month of Adar. Purim celebrates the foiling of plans devised by Haman, Vizier of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I of Persia) to destroy the Jewish people in the Persian realm.
The Scroll of Esther relates that Haman was at first delighted to find that Adar, the month he divined to destroy our ancestors, was also the month Moses had died, hence considered “unlucky” for the Jews. What he failed to discern was that Moses was also born in that month. Hence, Adar is a month full of spiritual merit on the basis that, as tradition teaches us, whenever tsedaka (charity) is given, death and misfortune is averted. For this reason, a minhag arose to give three coins, one half of the value of the national currency, on the eve of Purim, each worth half of the country’s currency.
In the UK, this translates as three 50p pieces The purpose of that: to encourage us all to give a little more to charity than usual at this time of year.