Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Sh'kalim
To dedicate this lesson

“Keep Your Eye on the Coin!” “Why?”


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Adar 1 5768
parshiyot were, believe it or not, selected well before the regular parshiyot hashavua were set. Ask any day school 4th grader (who has been listening in class), and he or she will tell you that the first one is Parashat Shekalim, which comes from the beginning of Parashat Ki Tisa. While true, it’s not a simple matter but the subject of a machloket in the gemara (Megilla 29b). Shmuel says as we do, but Rav says that it is the portion from Parashat Pinchas that we read on Rosh Chodesh.
After determining the logic of each opinion, let us try to see the basis and lesson of the machloket. All agree that we read Parashat Shekalim because during the upcoming month, the population would give the half-shekel for public sacrifices that would be given during the new year starting with Nisan. Nowadays we continue the practice of reminding ourselves about the half-shekel and then, before Purim, give it as a reminder of the mitzva to be renewed when the Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt. Rav says that since the need for the korbanot (and the fact that they must be bought from new donations) is stated in Pinchas, that is what should be read. Shmuel says that since the commandment to give the donation is found in Ki Tisa, that is what we read.
What is the logic behind the machloket? Rav puts the stress on the need for the donation, i.e., what it would be used for and why it had to be donated now. This could encourage compliance and help focus people on noble intentions. Shmuel, whose opinion we follow, put the stress on the importance of the donation in and of itself. Certainly, out of all of Bnei Yisrael, it should not have been a problem to find enough donations to provide the resources for the communal sacrifices. The matter was to make the most of the communal element of the practice. Firstly, the efficacy of the korbanot as engendering the sentiments of service of Hashem needed to be addressed. Secondly, as the Sefer Hachinuch (#105) points out, Hashem did a chesed with every individual Jew by allowing him to take a full part in the great service in the Beit Hamikdash. Even the richest person would not have an upper hand over the poorest in this element.
Regarding korbanot, it is important to internalize the lesson on a deep psychological level. Idol worshippers think of their gods as powerful beings that needed to be appeased with offerings they "enjoy." Believers in an all powerful and moral G-d understand that the service is an opportunity for us to connect ourselves to Him. Here we are reminded that within our nation, the responsibility to take part in seeing to it that the service can be completed is more than a responsibility but a valuable opportunity. The concept of empowerment through giving is true regarding all forms of donations, from religious ones to charity for the destitute.
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