Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Half-Shekel, a Complete Message


When Moshe instructs each Jewish male of military age to donate a half-shekel to the mishkan, he identifies the coin as, "a half-shekel from the holy shekel, a shekel equalling twenty gera, half a shekel". (Shemot 30:13) What is the point of this elaborate description?

A midrash (Tanchuma Ki Tisa 10, Warsaw edition) offers explanations for each of the three phrases in the verse:
  • The Jews created the Golden Calf after six of the day's twelve hours had passed (a play on the word boshesh in Shemot 32:1), and so they were told to bring a half-shekel, which is equal to six garmisin. (Garmisin seem to be coins of ancient times; the term may be associated with gram.)
  • The Jews violated the covenant of the Ten Commandments in creating the Golden Calf, and so they were told to donate ten gera. [For more on this item, see Rama's Torat haOlah 3:81.]
  • Ten of Yosef's brothers sold him for twenty silver coins, and from the proceeds each brother received the equivalent of half a shekel.

Each of these explanations takes into consideration the Torah's explanation (Shemot 30:15) that the half-shekel is intended to provide atonement, and together they identify three different sins. More, though, these three sins represent three deficiencies the nation displayed:
  • In giving up hope of Moshe's return at the sixth hour of the day, the nation displayed a lack of faith;
  • In violating their covenant with G-d, the nation denied their relationship with the Divine;
  • In selling Yosef, the patriarchs of the Jewish nation denied their bond with each other.

The half-shekel donation - used for the foundation of the walls within which the Jews would bring their offerings to G-d (Megilah 29b) - counteracts each of these flaws:
  • In building a mishkan, the Jews express their faith that G-d will dwell among them;
  • In building a mishkan, the Jews express the desire to restore their relationship with G-d;
  • In building a mishkan, the Jews express their recognition that they are a family, one unit, relating to G-d together.
Have a great day,

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