Friday, February 20, 2009

Why Name a Shabbat After Israeli Currency?

What is Shabbat Shekalim?

Why name a Shabbat, of all days, after Israeli currency?

As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg writes in, "The Jewish Way," "More than any other holiday, Shabbat reflects the changing moods and concerns of Clal Yisrael (the collectivity of Israel).... In the weeks before Passover, four special Shabbat days prepare the community agenda: Shabbat Shekalim, the occasion to to give the annual gift to the national treasury for Temple sacrifices; Shababt Zachor (Remember), a reminder of the Amalekite genocidal assault on Israel and the ongoing dangers of anti-Semitism; Shabbat Parah (Red Heifer), the declaration of the need to purify in preparation for the Paschal lamb sacrifice and the central national feast; and Shabbat Hachodesh (the Month), an announcement of the arrival of the month of Passover, the new year of liberation."

Just a couple of months ago some of these rare ancient half shekel coins were uncovered in a Jerusalem dig (see photo above). (Incidentally, another major archeological find from the era of the Maccabees was discovered at the Bet Guvrin dig of Archaeological Seminars, a where the archaeologists are primarily tourists. We've taken groups there several times, and just this week our Bi-Cultural 8th graders were there too! The discovery was announced this week.)

The fact that Shabbat Shekalim always comes at the time when I need to be reminded to get my own taxes in order is one way that I have tried to imbue even the secular calendar with the rhythms of Jewish sacred time. It also reminds me that the giving of taxes is in itself a sacred activity. Corny as it seems, I actually improvise a bracha when I put my completed tax forms in the mail, realizing that this money is going to help people who are in need, and help this nation maintain its position moral leadership, not to mention the fact that some of this money also helps to preserve Israel's security.

This year of all years, when billions (and now trillions) are being invested to save our economy and rescue those in greatest need (as well as a few with greatest greed), we need to look at our tax return as a sacred document.

If you're looking for a blessing to recite, take a peek at the "Birchot Ha-Shachar" the Morning Blessings; almost all of them work. Speaking of the mitzvah of paying taxes, we've been treated to a parade of cabinet nominees who have fallen short in that department.

This week's portion, Mishpatim, often referred to as the "Book of the Covenant," is a treasure trove of laws, many bearing a resemblance to the famous Code of Hamurabi as well as other ancient Near Eastern law codes. In it, the festival cycle is introduced, as well as the Sabbatatical cycle for the land. What better week, then, to reflect on the cycles of our own days, months and years, and how we might come to elevate our lives by reclaiming these sacred moments, including the moment we put our tax returns in the mail. This is truly a week for us to reflect on the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, that "the way to nobility of the soul is the art of sanctifying time."

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