Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tisa
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Simha bat Hana

Parashat Ki Tisa

The Coin


Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman

Usually, the name of the weekly parasha hints at the content of the opening verses. Parashat Ki Tisa is a notable exception, given the fact that the word "Tisa" can mean "forgive" (Bereshit 4:13), "carry" (Bereshit 37:25), "elevate" (Bereshit 40:30), "take an oath" (Shemot 20:7), "accept" (Shemot 23:1), or "take a census," as in our parasha.

Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Megilla 29b), points out that the half shekalim contributed by those eligible to be counted were used to fashion the foundation sockets which secured the planks surrounding the Mishkan. In explaining verse 3: "And this is what every one shall pay...a half shekel....," Rashi quotes Midrash Tanhuma, which says that God showed Moshe a coin of fire, directing him that "this" is what should be given in the forthcoming census. Throughout his commentary on the Torah, Rashi tries to distill the peshat - the plain meaning of the verse. It may be asked: How does Rashi's comment on this verse illuminate our understanding of the text?

An anonymous commentator in the 19th century raises a question about the aforementioned midrash: Why did the Almighty show Moshe a "coin of fire," rather than a fiery metal coin? This commentator explains that God was not instructing Moshe about the coin itself, but rather describing the state of mind that should accompany the giving. Being counted as part of Clal Yisrael involves a lot more than simply paying one's financial obligations to the community. When one is privileged to be counted, the giver of the coin has to ask "what does this payment really demand of me." The "coin of fire" represents the zeal that must accompany the performance of the tasks that devolve upon us as members of the community.

In today's world, Aliya to Israel is the paradigm of the fiery coin. Aliya requires a steadfastness of purpose, an unyieling zealous commitment and a clear sense of mission in order to join those who are valiently striving to realize in our time the fulfillment of Jewish destiny.

Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman, a resident of Jerusalem, previously served in the United States as a congregational rabbi, yeshivah principal and director of the Department of Yeshivot at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. He presently teaches a weekly Torah class at the Seymour J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center.
He and his wife made Aliya in 1997. Four of their five children and their families preceded them

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