Shekalim, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two



This mishnah begins to teach how the appropriation of the shekels was made.


Mishnah Two

1)      In three baskets each of [the capacity of] three seahs they make the appropriation [of shekels] from the chamber.  

2)      And on them was inscribed:  Aleph, Beth, Gimmel.

a)      Rabbi Ishmael says: Greek was inscribed on them, alpha, beta, gamla.  

3)      The one who made the appropriation did not enter the chamber wearing either a bordered cloak or shoes or sandals or tefillin or an amulet, lest if he became poor people might say that he became poor because of a sin committed in the chamber, or if he became rich people might say that he became rich from the appropriation in the chamber. For it is one’s duty to seem be free of blame before others as before God, as it is said: “And you shall be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel” (Numbers 32:22), and it says: “And you will find favor and good understanding in the eyes of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4).



Section one:  There were three baskets in the chamber, each containing enough space for three seahs worth of coins.  This means that altogether in the year they expected 27 seahs worth of coins.  If you’re wondering, a seah is about 8 liters, so we’re talking about 216 liters of volume of coins.  I don’t know exactly how many coins this is.   

Section two: The baskets were numbered, so that whichever one filled up first would be used first to buy public sacrifices. The sages debate whether the writing was in Greek or in Hebrew.  It seems that one opinion demanded Hebrew because this is the Temple and Hebrew is the “lashon hakodesh”—the holy language. Rabbi Ishmael allowed Greek because Greek may have been the more official business language of the time. 

Section three: The person who went in to count the coins and make the appropriation could not wear any piece of clothing that would cause others to suspect that he might have stolen something.  This could only lead to bad results—if he grew poor they would suspect him of being punished for having stolen the shekels, if he grew rich they would suspect of being rich because of the stolen money. The mishnah finishes with an important moral note.  A person must carefully guard his public reputation, even if in his heart he knows that he is not sinning and even if he knows that in God’s all-seeing eyes he is not sinning.  This is especially true of a person with a position of public responsibility.  It is not enough to just be honest, one must also give the outward appearance of honesty as well.  I believe that this is an important life’s lesson.  A person’s reputation of honesty is important both for the moral character of that person himself and for the proper functioning of society.