This Shabbat is the Shabbat preceding the first day of Adar II and is called “Shabbat Shekalim.” A section from Ki Tissa is added to the regular Torah reading. The reading describes how the Israelites were required to contribute. “….This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to ‘יה… You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before ‘ה as expiation for your persons…” (Exodus 30:11-16) We also read a special haftarah.
King Jehoash reigned in Jerusalem from 896-736 BCE. The haftarah describes how he directs the priests to collect donations for repairs to the Temple. The priest Jehoiada crafts a “tzedaka” box by boring a hole into a wooden chest. The Jews can put their “shekels” into the boxes when they go to pray. This event from almost 3,000 years ago is the template for charity boxes used throughout history.
The illustration shows a collection of tzedaka boxes from around the world. From left to right – a “pushke” (charity box) from the synagogue of Rogazen, Germany, rescued in 1938; a silver alms box from Austria, 1843; a Magen David Adom box; a Keren Kayemet box; a stone charity box with Ladino inscription from Valencia, Spain,1319; a Jewish National Fund box, circa 1950; a Rav Meir Ba’al haNes box from Israel in the 1960’s; a Hevra Kadisha ceramic jug, Moravia, 1776; a sterling silver charity box, Austria, 1900.
The parashah and the haftarah both deal with giving and creating. If we give with an open heart the gift and the result are beautiful. If we build with beautiful intentions the structure or craft will also be beautiful.
This week’s reading is Vayakhel and describes the workmanship for the Mishkan. The two quotations in the painting below are from the parashah: “Take from among you an offering of the Lord, whoever is of a willing heart let them bring it…” (35:5) “And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing of heart.” (35:22) The sparkling watercolour wash behind the quotations represents imagination and spirituality.
In the previous Torah reading, “Ki Tissa,” we read about the sin of “the golden calf”. Just to remind you, Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God and bring them down to the Israelites below. When Moses didn’t arrive at the expected time the nation grew worried and anxious, fearing that something bad had happened. They demanded a god, an idol, to pray to. Breaking off their jewellery they fashioned a golden calf. The nation was punished by God. The golden calf was destroyed, and three thousand men were killed.
In this week’s Torah reading, Moshe invited all the people, whoever was generous of heart, ” נדיב לבו,” to bring forward gold, silver, brass, dyed linen and goats’ hair, wood, oil, spices, and precious gems. All these materials would be used to craft holy objects for the Mishkan. The items to be crafted were listed and described, and the people came forward with all that was requested. The magnificence is described close on the heels of the sin of fashioning the golden calf.
Phrases like “wise-hearted” and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parashah. Only wise-hearted and generous individuals could see past the expense and glitter of the materials through to the purpose of prayer and service to God. Those who are wise and generous can understand and facilitate the elevation of spirit.
The painting is based on a beautiful and timeless illumination from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon.
The illustrations I made that you see here are part of the collection of Haftarah Scroll paintings in the Haftarah Scroll of Beth David, a synagogue in Toronto. We are currently working on a book that will include all the illustrations, and it will be coming soon!
Have Shabbat Shalom- one full of beauty and joy and giving.
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