1 Adar II 5765
It’s a longstanding tradition to have a synagogue officer give the derash on Shabbat Sheqelim, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment, if they aren’t already.
The haftara, from the Second Book of Kings (2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17), discusses things that come up at modern-day synagogue Board meetings — proper use of donations, the importance of keep up with repairs on a facility used for communal worship.
At the time of King Yehoash, who came to power in 836 BCE, the priests had been instructed to collect and spend certain annual donations to maintain the holy Temple and courtyards. But it seems they were using the money to improve their lakeside cottages or whatever. After 23 years of this abuse of the public trust, the king put his foot down. To give Yehoash his due, he was annointed when he was seven years old, so he was still only 30 when he decided to get tough on the priests. In any case, he saw that the priests had been collecting money, but deferring maintenance on the Temple. Yehoash intervened to take the whole process out of their hands.
The priests agreed that they would neither accept money from the people nor make repairs on the House. And the priest Yehoiada took a chest and bored a hole in its lid [— the original lock box — GR]. He placed it at the side of the altar and the priestly guards deposited there all the money that was brought into the House of the Lord. Whenever they saw that there was a lot of money in the chest, the scribe and the high priest would come up and put the money accumulated into bags and count it [two people — so there was always a witness when the money was taken — GR]. Then they would deliver the money that was weighed out to the overseers of the work, who were in charge of the house of the Lord. These, in turn, paid the carpenters and the laborers, the masons and the stonecutters. They also paid for wood and quarried stone and for every other expenditure that had to be made in repairing the House. But no silver bowls and no snuffers, basins or trumpets — no vessel of gold or silver was made from the money brought into the Temple.
The haftara specifies that the money was to be used exclusively for basic repairs, not for decorative objects or frills.
This is pretty much what our BEKI renovations are about, as well — infrastructure maintenance and necessary upgrades to an aging facility. The project does not involve a lot of decorative extras. Since we had to relocate walls, the new walls might as well be attractive. The maple wainscoting in the new foyer and the brushed metal and glass on the East entrance are simple, practical materials that will be carried into the main lobby and new chapel and library in the coming year, and one day farther down the road, into the sanctuary. You can feel good about your donation to the renovationsÿugwe making the shul safer, more accessible, more energy efficient, and more logically arranged for everyday use. Not fancier or prettier. OK, maybe a little prettier.
Turning from the haftara to the Torah portion, Parashat Pequdei concludes the book of Exodus with the final details of building the Mishkan. Here, too, there’s an emphasis on responsible use account of donations. “These are the records of the Tabernacle,” it begins. “All the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary, came to 29 talents and 730 sheqels by weight. The silver of those who were recorded came to 100 talents and 1775 sheqels by the sanctuary weight….”
And it goes on to record how the gold, silver and copper were used. From this, we can assume that in ancient days, people were just as interested in transparency and accountability as we are today. Who gave what, and how was it used. And that’s how it should be. Donations should be used as promised, records should be kept, and there should be public accounting. Some members of the BEKI Board may feel burdened by the monthly financial reports that we review at every meeting, but it’s our obligation. All of the information is open to every member, should you be interested. You don’t have to be on the Board to see where our money comes from and goes to.
So we raise money. We spend money. We repair the facilities. We hire carpenters, and masons, and also plumbers and electricians. Sometimes it seems like the “getting and spending” is the focus of the secular leadership of the synagogue. Quoting Wordsworth,
The world is too much with us, late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers
We have given our hearts away
But if that’s all that it’s about, why do we bother?
Because this isn’t just a building. At the end of the parasha, we have a powerful reminder of what the whole endeavor of constructing the Mishkan or maintaining a synagogue is really about.
“When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” God takes up occupancy inside the Mishkan. The children of Israel knew his spirit was in there, because they could see the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night.
We don’t have any such assurance that God is dwelling in our midst today, but we build and maintain synagogues anyway. Is God here in BEKI right now?
What is the point of this whole exercise if God isn’t here?
I don’t know how you see God — as a watchful Father, the Rock and Redeemer of Israel, the intelligent designer of creation, the force that inspires goodness within us, or some other construct — but however you see God, we build and maintain this synagogue to house God’s spirit, or at least to welcome it, in the hope that it will enter and touch our hearts.
This synagogue — its building, its people and its programs — motivates us to be good Jews and good people. Surely God is in this place when we reach out to one another in kindness. When we study Torah together, when we sing and pray and do tiqun olam. Even when we decorate the social hall for a gala auction, and in the process draw closer to each other as friends who share a heritage, a set of values, a sense of community, and a desire to throw a really good party.
And that brings me to my final thought: We took out a third scroll this morning because today is the first day of Adar Bet, the month that gives us Purim (quoting Ina: “Purim Baskets!”). Mi-she-nicknas Adar, marbin be-simha once Adar starts, celebration increases (Eruvin 29a). Tonight’s auction will be a great kick-off to the month ahead. I hope to see every one of you here, with friends, beginning at 7:30. Bring your credit cards and some cash, too, for the raffles. Bring your sense of fun and dedication to BEKI and this community. Together, we’ll usher in Adar Bet with joy, and raise money necessary to maintain this synagogue, where the spirit of holiness dwells.
See also Parashat Huqat-Balaq by Gila Reinstein
See also Parashat VaEthanan — Installation of Officers by Gila Reinstein
See also Parashat Ki Tetse by Gila Reinstein
Email Gila Reinstein at firstname.lastname@example.org