The First of the Arba Parshiot
During the month or so before Passover, four Shabbatot are characterized by special maftir readings, called the Arba Parshiot [four Torah portions], which relate thematically to Purim or Passover: Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat Hachodesh.
Shabbat Shekalim–which takes place the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh for the month of Adar or on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar itself–is named for the maftir reading, Exodus 30:11. The maftir describes a census requiring every Israelite man to contribute a half shekel to support communal sacrifices in the portable tent of meeting and later at the Temple. The egalitarian nature of this contribution is emphasized–“the rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel.” The requirement that all individuals contribute equally to the community helped develop a sense of unity crucial to the new nation created by the Exodus.
In the special haftarah, 2 Kings 11:17-12:17, King Yehoash commanded that all money brought to the Temple be used for its repairs and renovations–both the required contributions and the free-will offerings. Shabbat Shekalim occurs about a month before Passover as a reminder that the due date for the half-shekel contributions was approaching, on 1 Nisan, a month later. Some people contribute to an institution of Jewish learning in remembrance of the half shekel.
(11) Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: (12) When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment, each shall pay Adonai a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled. (13) This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to Adonai. (14) Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give Adonai’s offering: (15) the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel when giving Adonai’s offering as expiation for your persons. (16) You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before Adonai, as expiation for your persons.
(ד) רֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר שֶׁחָל לִהְיוֹת בְּשַׁבָּת, קוֹרִין בְּפָרָשַׁת שְׁקָלִים (שמות ל). חָל לִהְיוֹת בְּתוֹךְ הַשַּׁבָּת, מַקְדִּימִין לְשֶׁעָבַר וּמַפְסִיקִין לְשַׁבָּת אַחֶרֶת. בַּשְּׁנִיָּה, זָכוֹר (דברים כה). בַּשְּׁלִישִׁית, פָּרָה אֲדֻמָּה (במדבר יט). בָּרְבִיעִית, הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם (שמות יב). בָּחֲמִישִׁית, חוֹזְרִין לִכְסִדְרָן. לַכֹּל מַפְסִיקִין, בְּרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים, בַּחֲנֻכָּה וּבְפוּרִים, בַּתַּעֲנִיּוֹת וּבַמַּעֲמָדוֹת וּבְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים:
(4) When the new moon of Adar happens on a Sabbath, the section Shekalim (Exod. 30:11), is to be read; if it happen on any other day, that section must he read on the preceding Sabbath, and nothing additional is read on the following Sabbath. On the second, the section of Zachor (Deut. 15:14), is to be read; on the third, that of the red heifer, Parah (Num. 19); on the fourth, that of Hachodesh (Exod. 17); on the fifth, they return again to the regular order. The regular order [of parashot] is also interrupted on Rosh Chodesh, on Chanukah, on Purim, on fasts, and on Yom Kippur.