Shabbat Vayakhel/Shekalim 5776
This is an exciting Shabbat at HHJC, with Shabbat Across America tonight and Sisterhood Shabbat tomorrow morning. I don’t want to steal the thunder of the sisterhood women teaching Torah, so in this column, I’ll share something I wrote for the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, who send out a weekly email teaching piece on the Haftarah. In case you don’t already get The Unraveller from FJMC, enjoy!
The haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim is the only time during the synagogue calendar year that we get to know Yehoash, king of Judah (II Kings 12:1-17). We learn that he was seven years old when acclaimed as king, and that his reign lasted 40 years. His mother’s name was Tzivya, from Beer Sheva. And the primary element of his monarchy seems to be a new fundraising policy for the Temple. His concern for ongoing sanctuary maintenance conflicted somewhat with the day-to-day operations concerns of the priesthood, and after some tension on the matter, they came to an agreement, balancing short-and long-term financial needs.
That’s what we know about Yehoash if we don’t go beyond the haftarah. But in the sections in II Kings before and after our 17 verses, and in the Book of Chronicles, there’s more to his story. It’s hinted at in one seemingly throw-away verse in the haftarah: “All his days Yehoash did what was pleasing to the LORD, as the priest Yehoyada instructed him” (17:3). The rabbis understand this to mean that as long as Yehoyada was around to instruct him, Yehoash “did the right thing,” what was pleasing to God. After all, Yehoyada had rescued him from the homicidal queen Atalyah, hiding him until conditions were ripe to declare him a boy king. No wonder he was a trusted mentor. But once Yehoyada was gone (he lived to be 130!), Yehoash went off the rails. He led the people astray religiously, bringing them to idolatry. And when Yehoyada’s son Zekhariah tried to rebuke the king for his religious infidelity, Yehoash had him executed. Small wonder, then, that Zekahriah’s camp was responsible for Yehoash’s assassination!
The soap opera that was Biblical Israel, especially during the centuries of monarchy in both northern and southern kingdoms, makes for fascinating reading. But embedded in this story is a sobering message for anyone who ever plays a mentoring role. Did Yehoyada the priest ever wonder how his royal protégé would turn out after he was gone? Could he have imagined Yehoash taking such a radical turn for the worse? Or did he think that he did the best he could to guide Yehoash, and fell asleep one final time secure in his belief that he had nothing to worry about?
We invest a great deal of time and emotional energy in a future that comes with no guarantees. I, for one, worry about what will become of my children, my community, Israel, and the planet after I’m gone. I can scarcely control these things while I am still here! But that surely doesn’t prevent me from teaching, mentoring, advocating, and behaving in principled ways. Was all that time Yehoyada spent on Yehoash worth it, given its success while the priest was still alive? Or was it wasted, given what happened after he died? I think the former. What do you think?
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise