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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shoftim

Two Faces Have One

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The central theme of our Sedra is Justice & just behavior. The majority of the 41 Mitzvot included in Parshat Shoftim deal with the way various members of the community must act if we are to create a viable, functioning, holy society. Kings, judges, Kohanim, rabbis & the average citizen are all instructed in G-dly behavior.

One of the first lessons we learn is the prohibition of taking a bribe. For no matter how schooled we may be in proper conduct, a bribe preys upon our basest instincts & has the ability to skew our moral compass. Pointedly, the pasuk warns us that a bribe "blinds the eyes of the wise & perverts the words of the righteous. The clear implication is that no matter how wise or righteous one may be, he is never immune to the awesome, seductive power of money.

This idea is hinted at in the very Hebrew word for money, "kesef." It is quite similar to the word, "kishuf," which means "magic" or "sorcery." There is a mysterious, mystical, almost magical power that money has, often turning the most law-abiding, straight-shooting, rational person into a scoundrel who will sell out his community, his principles, even his own family for illicit gain.

The unit of money most often referred to in Jewish life is the shekel. That word is connected to "mishkal," weight, because at one time the weight of the coin – be it silver, gold or copper – determined its value.

But shekel is also connected to the word, "shikul," which means to evaluate or consider. Not so much to value something, but to evaluate it. That is, we should always weigh the pros & cons of money-related issues, & consider what we gain or lose from the actions we are about to take, or the money we are about to make.

When Hashem gave Moshe the law of machazit ha-shekel, the obligatory half-shekel donation that was given by everyone in the nation, Moshe was baffled. "How can something which is meant to ‘save our souls’ be effected via that which is so often the root of all evil - money?" he asked. So G-d showed Moshe a fiery coin & taught him, "Like fire, money can be used to create or destroy. It can be a source of greed, or help others in their need. It can make things burn, or assist others to learn. The choice is in the hands of the owner, & so this is one of the great tests of Man."

Life, you might say, is like a coin. It has two sides to it, two faces. The side that we choose is ultimately the face that we wear.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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