Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Month of Adar
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Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka

Adar and the Half-Shekel

The half-shekel hints at the fact that every human being is half empty, and is able to attain completeness only after joining forces with another. Furthermore, it is impossible for the Jewish people to attain unity without being connected to God.


Rabbi David Dov Levanon

1. The Month of Adar
2. The Half-Shekel

The Month of Adar
The Sages of the Midrash relate the following parable:
There once was a king who had an only daughter. Another king came along, married her, and made plans to return with her to his kingdom. The girl's father said to him, "The daughter that I have given to you is my only child: On the one hand, I cannot bear to part with her; on the other hand, I cannot tell you not to take her with you, after all, she is your wife. Do me, then, this favor: Everywhere you go, arrange a dwelling place for me as well..." In a similar manner, God said to Israel: "I have given you the Torah: On the one hand, I cannot bear to part with it; on the other, I cannot tell you not to renounce it; rather, every place you go, make a house for me to dwell in, as it is written: "They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them" (Exodus 25:9).

This parable appears, at first glance, to be somewhat problematic. Do not our Sages teach that the Torah and the Almighty are an indivisible one? If so, what is meant by God's complaining that He "cannot bear to part with" the Torah?

One possible explanation is that, indeed, this is the very lesson that God wants to teach us here - that He and the Torah are one. This fundamental point needs to be continuously reemphasized for the following reason: The Torah was given to the Jews to study and express according to their own human understanding, as the Torah itself testifies: "It is not in heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:12). Given this, one is liable to receive the mistaken impression that the Torah exists independently, Heaven forbid, of its source. Therefore, God says, "make a house for Me to dwell in," i.e., we are commanded to create a dwelling place in our hearts that will allow us to remember that the Torah is in fact God's.

Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger, the "Sefat Emet," explains that the name of the month "Adar" is related to the Hebrew word for dwelling, "Dira." This may be accounted for in the following manner: The miracles of Purim that transpired in the month of Adar played themselves out within the laws of nature. In order for us to perceive God's miraculous providence and to believe that He rests His Presence amongst mankind, we must be willing to make room for Him in our hearts - to "make a house" for Him to dwell in. "Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them" - each and every one of them. From here it becomes apparent that the month of Adar is the most fitting time for having God's Divine presence dwell among us.

The Half-Shekel
The Sages tell us that Moses was initially perplexed by the Torah commandment calling for each Jewish male to give a half-shekel offering to be used in the making of the Communion Tent. Finally, the Almighty himself showed Moses a coin of fire and said: "This is what must be given."

Yet, what was it about the half-shekel that was so difficult for Moses to comprehend? That Moses was stumped by the golden seven-branched menorah candelabra is understandable, for its base, stem, and branches all had to be hammered out of a single piece of gold. But what possible difficulty could a mere coin have presented Moses? We must assume that what the Sages intend to relate is that Moses was perplexed by the conceptual significance of the half-shekel.

In a celebrated explanation, the outstanding Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, suggests that the half-shekel hints at the fact that every human being is half empty, and is able to attain completeness only after joining forces with another. According to this explanation, Moses' difficulty with the half-shekel becomes understandable - it represents unity, an ideal which is not easily achieved. We ourselves are witness to this unfortunate truth. The fact of the matter is that the Temple, which was destroyed due to unfounded hatred, has yet to be rebuilt, and this only goes to show that we have not yet rectified that sin.

Another explanation says that the half-shekel aims at teaching us that no man is complete without God in his life. When we combine these two explanations we reach the conclusion that it is impossible for the Jewish people to attain unity without first being connected to God, the one Father of us all, for faith in Him is what unites us.

In light of our conclusion, the following Midrash becomes explainable:
Moses taught the Jewish people Torah, guided them in the commandments, and gave them the chapters of the Torah and their portions to be read every Sabbath, each month, and on the holidays; and each one of these portions served to remind the people of Moses. When the portion dealing with the half-shekel arrived, Moses said to God, "When I pass away I will no longer be remembered." God said, "Heaven forbid! Just as you stand here today and give them the portion of the half-shekel, and cause them to raise their heads, so, in years to come, every time they read this portion before me, it will be as if you are present at that very moment causing them to raise their heads." From where do we know this? From that which is written, "And God spoke to Moses, saying, 'You will lift the head of the Children of Israel...'" It does not say, "Lift the head of the Children of Israel..." but rather, "You will lift..." (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Thisa 3).

Why was Moses so especially concerned that he would be forgotten on the portion dealing with the half-shekel - so much so that God Himself had to reassure him that he would be remembered every year? Answer: Moses, "the faithful shepherd," constitutes the source of all Jewish souls and hence unites all of Israel as one. During his lifetime his mere existence served to unify the nation. Yet, Moses was understandably concerned that with his death he would be forgotten and his "thread unwound." God therefore assured Moses that this very commandment would remind the Jewish people of Moses and help them in achieving the rectification hinted at in the half-shekel. They would revive his image in their hearts and see him as if he stands over them at that moment and lifts up their heads.

The Talmud teaches in the name of Reish Lakish: "It is obvious and known before the Almighty that in the future Haman will pay shekels for [the extermination of] the People of Israel. Therefore, God arranged for their shekels precede his" (Megillah 13b).
At first glance, the words of Reish Lakish make little sense. Yet, upon closer inspection, and in light of all that we have said thus far, it becomes understandable. Haman is the preeminent agitator. It was he who said concerning Israel: "There is a certain people scattered and spread out among all the nationalities" (Ester 3:8). The precedence of Israel's half-shekels therefore serves to rectify this allegation, for they unify the nation.

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