Shekalim, Chapter Six, Mishnah Five
This mishnah describes the thirteen chests that were in the Temple, as we learned above in mishnah one. We should note that the mishnah first lists all of the chests, and then below it explains more fully four of them. I shall explain them all in my explanation of the first section.
There were thirteen chests in the Temple and on them was inscribed [respectively]:
1) new shekels;
2) old shekels;
4) young pigeons for burnt-offerings;
7) gold for the kapporet;
8) and on six, freewill offerings.
1) New shekels those for each year;
2) Old shekels whoever has not paid his shekel in the past year may pay it in the coming year;
3) Bird-offerings these are turtle-doves;
4) Young pigeons for burnt-offerings these are young pigeons.
a) Both [these two chests] are for burnt-offerings, the words of Rabbi Judah.
b) But the sages say: bird-offerings one [half] is for sin-offerings and the other [half] for burnt-offerings, but young pigeons for burnt-offerings all goes to burnt-offerings.
Section one: The new shekels chest was for shekels that were collected during each year. From this chest the shekels would later be brought into the chamber.
Section two: The old shekels chest was for people who failed to bring their shekels during the year.
Sections three and four: The bird-offerings are turtledoves (sorry, no partridge in a pear tree). The young pigeons for burnt offerings are, as might be obvious young pigeons. The sages dispute what these bird offerings are used for. According to Rabbi Judah both the bird-offerings and the young pigeons are used for burnt offerings. He holds that people who put money into both of these chests are bringing voluntary offerings, and voluntary bird offerings are only offered as burnt offerings. If someone needed to bring a mandated bird offering (such as a leper or a woman after childbirth) she didnt put the money in the box but rather gave the offering directly to a priest.
The other sages agree that the box marked young pigeons for burnt-offerings goes exclusively for burnt offerings. This box, and only this box, was where people who wanted to make voluntary bird offerings put their money. The box marked bird offerings is intended for those who are obligated to bring a pair of birds, one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering. There is actually an entire tractate (Tractate Kinim) about these bird offerings.
Section five: This was for people who wished to donate wood to fuel the altar.
Section six: For people who wished to donate the frankincense.
Section seven: One who said, Behold I am donating gold would bring golden dinarim (a type of coin) and put them in this box. The dinarim would then be used to buy gold to make various coverings for the Holy of Holies. The word kapporet in the Torah refers to the cover of the Ark, but here in this mishnah it refers to all golden coverings.
Section eight: There were six other chests upon which was inscribed freewill offerings. This was parallel to the six things listed above in 2:5 whose surplus goes to freewill offerings. See there for an explanation as to what these six things were.