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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Sh'kalim

Parashat Shekalim

A Community Coin

The Sin of the Golden Calf is rectified by the communal service in the Holy Temple. This is achieved via the precept of the half-shekel offering, which ascends in the form of a united Jewish people and is transformed into a “coin of fire under God’s Throne of Glory.”
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"On the first of the month of Adar notice was served regarding the Shekalim."
The Sages teach that Moses our Teacher was confounded by the commandment of the half-shekel, so much so that the Almighty had to show him a blazing coin which was taken from underneath His own Throne of Glory. Our rabbis derived this from the words, "It is half of such a shekel that must be given...." (Exodus 30:13). In other words, the Almighty showed Moses the coin and said, "It is half of such a shekel."

On the face of things, this is puzzling. What was so difficult for Moses to understand, to the point where God had to show him the shape of a half-shekel coin? Was the problem that Moses was a very spiritual individual and hence was not familiar with money and did not know what such a coin looked like?
It is true that there have been prominent Torah leaders who were unfamiliar with the value of currency and took no notice of coins and their shapes. This, in fact, was true of our beloved mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook zt"l. He did not even know the prices of common products. He was detached from such things.
Yet, it would seem that this was not Moses’ problem. For, if this had been the difficulty, it would make no sense for God to show him a "flaming coin." Such a coin cannot help one to recognize the form of an actual coin. Why, then, did the sages explain that the Almighty took a kind of "coin of fire" from under the throne of the Almighty and show it to Moses?

It would seem, rather, that God in fact taught Moses the more profound significance of the precept of giving the half-shekel. It is a Divine commandment, the purpose of which is to atone for the Sin of the Golden Calf.
How, though, is it possible for this simple commandment which calls upon every Jew to donate a small coin, a half-shekel, to atone for such a severe sin? The answer is that the value of this commandment is not measured according to the personal act of each individual Jew. Rather, it is understood in light of the more collective significance of its fulfillment, which ascends until it reaches the God’s Throne of Glory. The coin given by each individual Jew separately is transformed, on high, into a "flaming coin."

This is what is meant by the words, "It is half of such a shekel that must be given...." which the Almighty pronounced as he showed Moses a fiery coin. That is, they will give an ordinary half-shekel, but, in essence, the merit of this precept ascends upward and is transformed into a coin of fire under God’s Throne of Glory. This, in the end, is what they really give.
When all of Israel performs a Divine commandment together, and each gives an equal share - "the rich do not give more and the poor do not give less" - and this money is used for the sacrifices offered up in the Holy Temple, the perfect solidarity of the entire People of Israel in the Temple service causes the dwelling of the Divine presence in Israel. God’s honor is revealed, and this is the Throne of Glory.

The service of the Holy Temple, daily and additional public sacrifices, must be bought from the silver of the half shekels. They cannot be purchased from additional donations presented by individuals. The communal sacrifices must come from the entire community. The collective Jewish people remain forever pure and just. The whole, as such, is always righteous. Sin resides in isolated individuals, but not in the community as a whole. Hence, communal commandments possess unique value and perfection. And even though each individual contributes only a small portion, his dedication to the nation as a whole elevates him to a level of perfection.
Therefore, this precept rectifies the sin of the Golden Calf. Individuals embrace the community and are thus purified.

Via this Divine commandment, which constitutes a communal act of worship in the Holy Temple, the sin of idolatry is rectified. In light of this we may interpret the words, "the rich do not give more and the poor do not give less" as relating to more than the mere quantity of the money. The intention is also to the quality. That is, if a Jew is "poor" with regard to his intention of fulfilling this commandment and does not carry it out full-heartedly, this does not detract from the fulfillment of the commandment, for his poor intention does not mean that he "gives less" as far as the value of his act is concerned. Every individual is neutralized by the community as a whole. The "rich" in his adamancy of fulfilling this commandment should not overestimate the value of his personal involvement, for the uniqueness of the power of this commandment lies in its being a communal obligation for all of Israel as one.
The Sin of the Golden Calf, which is an act of idolatry, is rectified by the communal service of God in the Holy Temple. This is achieved via the precept of the half-shekel offering, which ascends in the form of a united Jewish people, and is transformed into a "coin of fire under God’s Throne of Glory."
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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