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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tisa

Many Halves Make One Whole

We have seen over the last two weeks that it was important that the donations to the Beit Hamikdash be brought voluntarily, and not out of coercion. Yet, in the beginning of this week’s parasha, we find a donation that everyone is required to take part in.
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We have seen over the last two weeks that it was important that the donations to the Beit Hamikdash be brought voluntarily, and not out of coercion. Yet, in the beginning of this week’s parasha, we find a donation that everyone is required to take part in. Admittedly the terumat Hashem discussed here is a very reasonable sum of half of a Biblical shekel (Shemot 30:13), but why does the Torah seem to backtrack, away from the concept of voluntarism?

The answer is in the great message of the flip-side of the giving requirement, the mandate that no one should surpass the set amount (ibid.:15), and the desired result of lechaper al nafshoteichem (to obtain atonement for your souls) (ibid.). Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the atonement refers to the korb’not tzibbur (the sacrifices of the public), which were bought from these monies.

The Imrei Baruch (pg. 203), basing himself on the B’er Moshe and others, explains that a major component of kapara (atonement), including that of Yom Kippur, is the existence of unity. There are korbanot that can be brought by a single individual but not by partners. Yet, these same korbanot can be brought on behalf of the community. While it is possible to say that this is a second track, there is a more profound explanation. That is that when a korban is brought by and for the entire nation, the mass of individuals merge into a single unit, the community.

In this context, the half shekel has special significance. In order to have a full sense of community, everyone must take part. There is no one who is exempt from the concept of giving. The halacha is that even one who has no choice but to be supported from tzedakah must donate at least a third of a shekel yearly. Otherwise, he does not fulfill his mitzva of tzedakah (Rambam, Matnot Aniyim 7:5). One could have thought that such a person would not be obligated in tzedakah, as, in effect, extenuating circumstances prevent him from doing so. After all, if he can spare the money he is giving, he shouldn’t have taken it in the first place.

While one can give technical answers, the correct one is apparently the following. Just as the poor person cannot be deprived of performing various ritual mitzvot (see Pesachim 99b), so too he cannot be deprived from taking part in the mitzva to donate. The ability to give connects one to the community in the most basic way.

At the other end of the spectrum, when one gives large donations, he receives a special part in the merits of the project(s) to which he gives. Not only does need necessitate taking significant donations from those who can afford it, but it is the right and privilege of the wealthy to do so, as the blessing of wealth was bestowed upon these people from Above. However, in the most basic matters of community, such as the korb’not tzibbur, everyone must be equals, or the full element of community will be missing, with all of its crucial values.
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