24 Feb 2017

Haftara for Shekalim (Mishpatim) 5777: The Pain of Surrender

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Haftara for Shekalim (Mishpatim) 5777: The Pain of Surrender

“The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”

— Mark Twain

 II Kings 11:17 – 12:17 (Sephardim)


 Yehoyada the Kohen established the reign of young King Yehoash at seven years of age. He was hidden by the Kohen in the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) when the rest of the royal family was murdered by Queen Atalaya. Yehoash thus was raised in the ‘House of God’ by Yehoyada. Queen Atalya was later assassinated by Yehoyada’s troops and Yehoash was crowned king. After the coronation Yehoyada solemnised the covenant between God, the king and the people. The people then destroyed the idolatrous temple of Baal.

Yehoash was a righteous king (12:3) and felt a deep connection and love for the Temple in which he was raised. During his reign, seeing that the Bet HaMikdash had fallen into disrepair, he commanded that all of the silver that was offered and brought to the Mikdash be used for the refurbishment and renovation of the building. ‘“Yehoash said to the priests: All the silver for holy-purposes that is brought to the House of God, silver of one’s counting [in the census], —silver of the valuation of persons, [or] any silver that goes up in a man’s heart to bring to the House of God—let the priests take it…and strengthen the breaches in the House, wherever a breach is found there.” However, the kohanim did not meet the command appropriately. A new system was thus instituted. Guards placed donations directly into special boxes. The accumulated funds were paid to contractors to carry out the work and they did so faithfully.


All of us are born with primitive, selfish instincts. It is the challenge of our lives to try and sublimate them if not master them. We often refer to these instincts as ‘drives’ because they are so powerful a force within us, they drive us towards fulfilling various desires that may or may not be counterproductive to our ultimate goals for ourselves in life.

Because of these conflicting issues, we are always in some level of internal turmoil. At times this turmoil can be so vexing that we are inclined to avoid it by giving in to one side or another. We might surrender to our drives and in doing so deny the self or we surrender to the self and deny our drives. Neither tactic works to create a whole, integrated individual. The reality is that our desires are part of us and the only way to address them properly, is to acknowledge them and the struggle associated with them.

This struggle has been an issue of religious and philosophical thought and debate for centuries and it is at the heart of difference between Judaism and Christianity. What are we? Fundamentally pure but with dark struggles? Or fundamentally dark with pure yearnings? Judaism takes the former approach while Christianity, the latter. The differences may seem subtle but they are in reality, worlds apart.

Our haftara, addresses this very question.

On the surface the haftara is all about silver and money. But on a deeper level it is about desire and drives and their place within what is holy. The word for ‘money’ or ‘silver’ in Hebrew is also the word for ‘desire’ : כסף – kessef. When we read of the silver offerings in the haftara we are also meant to read them as expressions of our desires. The silver represented the people:

All the silver for holy-purposes that is brought to the House of God,

—silver equivalent of persons, 

And their hearts: 

[or] any silver that goes up in a man’s heart to bring to the House of God. (12:5)

 The Bet HaMikdash was a physical structure. It was the seat of God’s presence in Israel and the place of communion between God and the people. It was our spiritual nexus with the Divine and the soul of the nation. Our drives and desires were channeled within it.  Our predatory drives found their place through the daily animal offerings and our sensual, aesthetic and even lustful drives were sublimated in the physical splendour of the structure, the sensual nature of the service and the conception and creative thought of the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) that sat in its ‘Hewn Chamber’. All of our drives were incorporated in the Temple itself rather than being avoided or kept out.

The idea that human desire could neither be deleted nor left primitive and undisciplined, is a fundamental concept of Torah and Judaism. Our humanity in all of its complexity and contradictions is to be recognised as God’s beautiful creation. It is in its essence, good.

And God saw all He had made and it was exceedingly good. (Gen., 1:31)

All that He had made was exceedingly good – R. Nahman said: ‘This refers to our primal drives’. But can one call such drives ‘exceedingly good’?! Yes. If it were not for these drives human beings would not build homes, mate, bear offspring and engage in commerce! Indeed it is as King Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes, 4:4): ‘I have seen all of the production and talent of the works of humanity and it is all the result of the jealousies between one human being and his fellow’.  (Bereshit Rabba, 9:7)

This is a stark contrast to Christian theology which has leaked not only into Western Jewish thinking, but also into Western religiously-influenced philosophy and self-help.

The concept of surrendering oneself to God, or giving God primary control over my issues, is a Christian one. It is based on an element of Christian theology that believes in the notion that I myself am fundamentally flawed and inept at living my life in a virtuous way. If I desire purity the only way is to give up and let God do it for me. I, myself, am a wretched, meagre being.

 If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke, 14:26)[1]

 ‘Don’t you realise that making the world your friend is making God your enemy…Give in to God… Look at your wretched condition, and weep for it in misery; be miserable instead of laughing, gloomy instead of happy’. (James, 4:4,7,9)

 There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person better than yourself. (Philippians, 2:3)

This approach, a central one of many approaches in Christianity, disregards our very humanity; indeed, it condemns it. It seeks to give up rather than drive our own lives with pride, freedom and responsibility. This approach focuses on slavery and the lack of personal strength and freedom.

 Anyone who resists authority is rebelling against God’s decision, and such an act is bound to be punished. (Romans, 13:2)

You were called as you know to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will prove an opening for self-indulgence. (Galatians, 5:13)

Judaism is built on choosing life and freedom and it is placed in trust before us — with all of its risks.

See I set before you today life and good and death and ill…I call as witness to you today the heavens and the earth: life and death I place before you, blessing and curse; now choose life! in order that you may live. (Deut., 30:15,19)

To be sure, freedom does not mean that one is autonomous and all-powerful. We know that we cannot succeed without God, but we do it together with Him.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: A person’s evil inclination overcomes him each day and seeks to kill him, as is stated: “The wicked watches the righteous and seeks to kill him” (Psalms 37:32). And if not for the Holy One, Blessed be He, Who assists him, he would not overcome it, as it is stated: “The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor suffer him to be condemned when he is judged” (Psalms 37:33). (Sucah, 52b)

It is in the honour, strength and dignity of one’s own self worth that we act and serve God. As Hillel the Elder regularly taught it is all based on our awareness of the value and reality of our ‘self’.

What is hateful to you do not do to another. (Shabbat, 31a)

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? (Pirke Abot, 1:14)

In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man. (ibid.; 2:5)

If I am here, everything is here; and if I am not here, who is here? (Sucah, 53a)

Torah does not command us to think others are better than we are, but rather to love others as we love ourselves[2]; an impossibility if we do not first love ourselves.

We do not surrender to God, but rather deliver (מוסר) our struggles and issues to Him and beg for His help and guidance. We do not relinquish, but ask for His help to hone and tame.

 One must deliver all of his desires to God…even when one is at the height of desire he is prepared to keep himself from it if it is not as God desires…meaning to use it only as God wishes.

Rav Tsadok HaCohen, Dibre Soferim, 17.

King Yehoash’s command that all the silver be used for the the upkeep and renovation of the Temple, is essentially a delivery of our drives into the divine space.

This delivery, as opposed to surrender, acknowledges the complexity of the human condition. It recognises that we do not cut away at fundamental aspects of ourselves when we do not feel that we are able to control them. We acknowledge the intricate and robust nature of the human condition and that successfully managing it is a life’s work. We focus on cultivating the soul.

The aspect of God that empowers us and is our personal strength is not the God ‘out there’ who must control my life externally, but the power of His presence within me that awaits my welcome and is the foundation of my life-force, beauty and grace.

And God formed the human, of dust from the soil, and he blew into his nostrils the breath of life. (Gen., 2:7)

The flame of God is the soul of man. (Proverbs, 20:27)

‘My God, the soul you placed within me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it while it is inside of me’. (Siddur, Daily Waking Prayer)

We are not, as Christianity teaches, ‘wretched until we accept God’, but rather we walk with God’s ‘breath’ inside us and access it when we acknowledge that it is the essence of what and who we are. If we define ourselves as being negative or shameful, it will inevitably lead to fear or frigidity, but not to real rejuvenation and mastery of our internal struggles. In Judaism, the ultimate goal is to walk proudly, hand in hand with God.

I will walk in your midst, I will be for you a God, and you yourselves will be for me as a people. (Lev., 25:12)

I will walk in your midst’ – I will stroll with you in the Garden of Eden as one of you and you will not shudder from Me….(Rashi, ibid.)

We believe that no one, not even God, pulls us out of our own psychological trap of self-condemnation. Our only way out is to accept the ‘silver’ drives within us along with their struggles and to know the breath of God that enlivens us. We ask Him to help us sort the complex aspects of our being to their proper place and function in our lives, to ensure that our divine, pure, holy human soul that each and every one of us bears may shine brightly and with strength.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] All New Testament quotations are from The Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition; Doubleday and Co. Inc. New York.1968

[2] Leviticus, 19:18.


Parasha Perspectives

VI         Mishpatim 

36a      Hebrew servants (21:1-6)

36b      Hebrew maidservants (21:7-11)

36c      Murder and accidental killing (21:12-13)

36d      Intentional murder (21:14)

36e      Injuring parents (21:15)

36f       Kidnapping (21:16)

36g      Cursing parents (21:17)

36h      Repayment for causing injury (21:18-19)

36i       Injuring servants (21:20-21)

36j       Cost of killing fetus: eye for an eye (21:22-25)

36k      Injuring servants leads to their release (21:26-27)

37a      A goring ox (21:28-32)

37b      Neglect leading to damaged animals (21:33-34)

37c      One ox goring another (21:35-36)

37d      Animal theft (21:37-22:3)

37e      Animals eating other people’s crops (22:4)

37f       Arson (22:5)

37g      Laws of safe-keeping money or objects (22:6-8)

37h      Laws of safe-keeping animals (22:9-12)

38a      Borrowing (22:13-14)

38b      Seduction (22:15-16)

38c      Witchcraft, bestiality (22:17-18)

38d      Not serving other gods or oppressing the

unfortunate (22:19-23)

39a      Lending and interest (22:24-26)

39b      Cursing God and leaders; firstborn for

God (22:27-30)

39c      Following the crowd (23:1-3)

39d      Returning lost property (23:4)

39e      Assisting your enemy (23:5)

39f       Lying; bribery; shmitta; Shabbat;

Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot; kashrut (23:6-19)

40a           Guardian angel; protection of God;

no alien worship (23:20-25)

40b           God will prepare the land for God’s people;

no foreign gods (23:26-33)

41a      The Covenant is established (24:1-11)

41b      Moshe ascends Sinai to receive Torah (24:12-18)


Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS