Parshas Shekalim – Honest Tzedaka Collectors

This week is the first of the special Shabboses that leads up to Pesach, called Shabbos Shekalim. On this Shabbos we read the maftir from parshas Ki Sisa which talks about the donation of the half-shekel to the Mishkan. In the Haftorah we read from Melachim Beis, perek 12, which discusses the revamping of the donation process to the Beis HaMikdash in the days of King Yehoash. The Navi relates that the money collected was firstly used to pay the workers and for material needed for the upkeep of the foundation, and structural repairs for the Beis HaMikdash.

The Ralbag observes that we can learn a lesson, which is actually mentioned in the Mishna in Shekalim; namely, that we should not enforce or put authority over money handling for tzedakah with less than two people. We see this in the Haftorah, for when they had kohanim watching over the money chest there were two, and when they took the money out of the chest once it was filled the Kohen gadol and scribe of the king was in charge of that. They also appointed more than one person to hand out the money to workers as payments for doing their job in the upkeep of the Holy Temple. The Kehati, commentary on the Mishna, says the reason why at least two people should be appointed for authority over money is because of the honor of the congregation. It would be a lack of respect to the public if only one person would be in charge of tzedaka (See Ralbag toeles 35 in our haftorah and Kehati on Mishnayos Shekalim 5:2).

We don’t find anywhere in the Talmud and its commentaries that these treasurers and money collectors need to be set up in pairs of two or more in order to avoid dishonesty and pocketing money. It is also not indicated that only very righteous people, who are known to be absolutely honest with no lust for money, are allowed to take the job. So why are they trusted?

In fact our Haftorah says: “They did not make an accounting with the men into whose charge they gave the money to expend for the workmen, for they acted with integrity” (Melachim Beis 12:16). The Ralbag comments on this pasuk: “That the people giving out the money to the workers, should not be questioned whether they gave all the money to the workers or not, for they definitely did their job faithfully because holy matters separated them from it (pocketing the money.)” The Ralbag later state as his 36th lesson (which he learns from this portion) is to inform us that we shouldn’t make an accounting on those who are appointed over hekdesh (holy contributions) and the like, for they do their job honestly, since dealing with hekdesh is very serious to them. This is what the above pasuk is referring to, and the Ralbag concludes that he thinks this rule even applies to any gabbai tzedaka [tzedaka collector for a worthy cause]. (click here, here, and here for the Hebrew text.)

Nowadays, we hear a lot about the need for transparency. Records should be scrupulously taken and open to the public to make sure people are not pocketing money, whether in business, charities, government, etc. However we see from here that when it comes to tzedaka collections and other holy matters that we aren’t allowed to suspect the collectors of embezzlement. The reason being is not because they got the job for being super honest and righteous; they could have been normal people who enjoy living, who have to take care of a family, who need to make a living themselves. But, being cognizant of what they are dealing with and appreciating the severity and unique holiness of a mitzvah, will presumably keep them away from trouble to the point that one cannot suspect him or her of any dishonesty. If anything is found out to be misappropriated it must be that the person was not focusing on or cognizant of the severity of what he or she was dealing with.

This is the magnitude of a mitzvah and holiness. It has the power to distance a person from any lust towards the natural pull of money and wealth.

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