Parashat Ki Tisa

Parashat Ki Tisa

Every One of Us Makes a Difference

Every one that passes among them that are counted (Exodus 30:13)
כל העובר על הפקודים (שמות ל:יג)

The message conveyed in the first section of Parashat Ki Tisa, which describes a mitzvah called Machatzit Hashekel (“The Half Shekel”). Moses is instructed that when he wishes to count the men above the age of twenty (eligible for military service), he must do so not by counting each person, but rather by requiring the contribution of a half-shekel coin from each person and then counting the coins. This money was designated for the expenses incurred in public sacrifices offered both in the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. This commandment represents perhaps the most universal mitzvah in the Torah, as it points to the critical importance of each and every individual, irrespective of personal wealth, to donate the same half-shekel.  In his commentary on Talmud Yerushalmi Shekalim (46), Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher writes that one reason each person was required to give a half-shekel (and not a whole amount) was to teach us, “that only through the connection of each and every individual in Israel can the nation become whole.” The powerful and meaningful lessons of Machatzit Hashekel are clear: Every person must do his or her part. No one may shirk his or her responsibility. And finally, only when we garner our collective energy, with a communal unity of purpose, do we marshal the full force of our power for good.

While the practice of giving the half-shekel fell dormant with the destruction of the Temple, it resurfaced several hundred years ago as Jewish communities instituted a custom of giving a symbolic half-shekel to commemorate the ancient practice. Many communities specifically designated the funds raised from the half-shekel towards the needs of the impoverished residents of the Holy Land. For example, in 1601 the Jewish communities in both Venice, Italy and Worms, Germany issued proclamations instituting the collection of the half-shekel from every member of their community. Those funds were then committed to the needy and destitute who lived in Hebron and Jerusalem. Today, in many communities around the world on the eve of Purim, Jews donate a symbolic “half-shekel” (or half-dollar) to remember this mitzvah. Yet, the spirit of the practice must live on not only in our donations, but in our actions as well. We must utilize the power garnered in our collective energy for the betterment of the Jewish people and specifically, the people living in the state of Israel. Shabbat Shalom