Shekalim, Chapter Five, Mishnah Six

 

Introduction

This mishnah discusses how people could give charity in secret either to the Temple or to the poor.  We should note that in the Rambam’s discussion of charity he states that the second best form in which to give tzedakah is neither for the giver to know the receiver nor for the receiver to know the giver.  The only way which is preferred over secrecy is to help a person earn his own living.

 

Mishnah Six

1)      There were two chambers in the Temple, one the chamber of secret gifts and the other the chamber of the vessels.

2)      The chamber of secret gifts:  sin-fearing persons used to put their gifts there in secret, and the poor who were descended of the virtuous were secretly supported from them.

3)      The chamber of the vessels:  whoever offered a vessel as a gift would throw it in, and once in thirty days the treasurers opened it; and any vessel they found in it that was of use for the repair of the temple they left there, but the others were sold and their price went to the chamber of the repair of the temple.

 

Explanation

The mishnah is clear and doesn’t seem to need any explanation.  However, I will offer some historical commentary. 

The Temple in Jerusalem was clearly a repository of wealth, as were most Temples in the ancient world.  When Josephus describes how Antiochus came to pillage Jerusalem (the events that preceded the Hasmonean revolution) he writes (Antiquities of the Jews XII, chapter 5, section four:

 

“The king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery; at which time he spared not so much as those that admitted him into it, on account of the riches that lay in the temple; but, led by his covetous inclination, (for he saw there was in it a great deal of gold, and many ornaments that had been dedicated to it of very great value,) and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made. So he left the temple bare, and took away the golden candlesticks, and the golden altar [of incense], and table [of shew-bread], and the altar [of burnt-offering]; and did not abstain from even the veils, which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He also emptied it of its secret treasures, and left nothing at all remaining.”

 

The secret treasures referred to here may be similar to that which Josephus describes.  What interests me, beyond the sheer parallel between the Mishnah and Josephus, is that the rabbis assume that some of these treasures must have gone to tzedakah.  According to the rabbis, the Temple must have at least partially functioned as a repository where people could give money secretly.  In the rabbinic mind, the Temple’s treasures could not just have been designated to make its leaders wealthier or to pay for more ornament decorations. The money must have gone to the poor as well.  I do not know if this is historically accurate but to me it makes no difference.  What the Mishnah is telling us is that our religious centers, be it the Temple or the synagogue, must also be points of tzedakah, and not just tzedakah for the organization itself, but tzedakah for the poor.  The Temple/synagogue is the exchange center by which Jews can give charity secretly. 

 

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