April 7, 2021

Shekalim 3

The Mishna (Shekalim 1:1) quoted in today’s daf (Shekalim 3a) informs us that the Beit Din in each city were responsible to repair the physical dangers in a city (eg. roads and streets that require repair); to provide religious services to a city (eg. maintain mikvaot and other צרכי הרבים), and to ensure that the inhabitants of a city are cognizant of spiritual ‘dangers’ in their vicinity (eg. they mark the graves of the dead).

In terms of the latter, today’s daf informs us that a biblical source for the duty to inform the inhabitants of a city about spiritual dangers in their vicinity is the laws of the metzorah (i.e. someone with tzora’at) who was to call out טמא! טמא! (see Vaybikra 13:45). From here we learn that just as the metzorah must proclaim their spiritual status for people to keep their distance, so too, graves must be clearly marked so that they too call out פרוש (‘keep away’) to passers by and thereby let them know of their presence in their vicinity.

Interestingly, the word משמיעין (call out) is also used in the Mishna with reference to the Beit Din’s reminders to the people about their half-shekel donations – which means that by being a resident of a city, we need to hear the call both of the animate and the inanimate; the call of the Beit Din to make our donations, as well as the call of the needs and dangers in the city as addressed by the Beit Din and as further proclaimed through their interventions.

It should be evident that the list in the Mishna is not exhaustive, and that other examples of physical dangers, religious services, and spiritual dangers that are not listed in the Mishna still fall under the responsibility of a Beit Din. And this means that just as the residents of a city must hear the call of the animate and the inanimate, so too, a Beit Din must notice, hear, and address the needs of those in danger in their midst.

Early in the Torah we read how Kayin was told by God that ‘the voice of your brother’s bloods are crying out to Me from the ground’ (Bereishit 4:10) – which evokes a similar image of a grave ‘calling out’ to let passers by know of its presence. However, while it is important to hear the cry of the dead, it is even more important to hear the cry of the living.

Today, there are many people who are are calling and crying out to be safe, and there are still public institutions that need to be repaired to ensure that all people – and especially the vulnerable – are not ignored or taken advantage of.

The task of leaders, and – in truth – of us all, is to hear that call and that cry, and to expect – and where necessary, to demand – that our leaders do their job – as paid for by us – of protecting all people from all forms of danger, harm and abuse.

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