Parshas Shekalim: Two Halves, One Whole

This Shabbos, Parshas Vayakhel, Mevorchim Chodesh Adar, we will lein from a second sefer Torah in honor of Parshas Shekalim.  This special Torah reading (Shemos 30:11-16) is the first of four special Shabbasos that lead up to Chag Ha’Pesach.  Before Purim, we read Shekalim and Zachor (Devarim 25:17-19), and before Pesach, Parah (Bamidbar 19:1-22), and Ha’Chodesh (Shemos 12:1-20).

Why do we read Parshas Shekalim to coincide with Rosh Chodesh Adar?  When the BHM”K stood in Jerusalem, each Jew contributed an annual half-shekel to the Temple.  The funds raised were primarily used to purchase cattle for the communal sacrifices, korbanot tzibbur. The leftover monies were used for a variety of communal purposes, including providing salaries for the judges and maintenance of the Temple, its vessels, and the city walls.  This annual tax, known as the machatzit hashekel, was due on the first of Nissan. One month earlier, on the 1st of Adar, the courts began posting reminders about this Biblical obligation. In commemoration, the Torah reading of the Shabbat that falls on or before Adar is supplemented with the verses that relate G‑d’s commandment to Moshe regarding the first giving of the half-shekel ( 

The first half-shekel donation was given by the nation (all males ages 20-60 years old) in the desert, at the time that the Mishkan was built.  While the contributions of materials for the building of the Mishkan itself were voluntary (Shemos 25:2), the half-shekel donation was a mandatory contribution.  Through these half-shekels the nation was counted, and the silver was used for the purchase of the annual communal korbant (see Rashi to Shemos 30:15).  What if a wealthy person wanted to give more, and a poor person wanted to give less?  The Torah is very exacting: הֶֽעָשִׁ֣יר לֹֽא־יַרְבֶּ֗ה וְהַדַּל֙ לֹ֣א יַמְעִ֔יט מִֽמַּחֲצִ֖ית הַשָּׁ֑קֶל לָתֵת֙ אֶת־תְּרוּמַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶֽםThe rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel, with which to give the offering to the Lord, to atone for your souls (30:15).

Each Jew had to give the exact same amount: only a half-shekel, no more and no less.  The question remains: why only a half-shekel?  Why not a whole shekel donation per person?  The well-known answer is a reminder for all times in our national destiny, but especially now, in a world after October 7.  A Jew is incomplete when he is alone as a ‘yachid’, a lone individual, the Jew remains only “half.”  But just like two halves make one whole, when two Jews come together, we have a complete, whole, united unit.

Hence, each Jew was commanded to give ONLY a half-shekel, and no more, to remind him – and all of us – that only when we come together, and bind our destiny up with that of our brother, are we whole and complete.

Perhaps this is another, and deeper, reason as to why this special parsha is read on, or right before, Rosh Chodesh Adar, the month in which we celebrate Purim.  Haman, ironically, understood that we are all one nation.  Our enemies – in every generation – understand that we are one nation.  To the enemy, there is no difference between head coverings, levels of religiosity, hashkafot, and dress.  I recently read something powerful: “On Oct. 7, the terrorists did not say, ‘Kill the Israelis’, they said, ‘Kill the Jews.’  A Jew is a Jew – united, bound up and connected (one whole shekel) to his brother.  It is, sadly, only us, who oftentimes cannot see that we are one.  Where we see division, they see cohesion; where we see disparate ways, they see one religion; where we see halves, they see a whole.

Haman’s original charge to Achashvairosh was: יֶשְׁנוֹ עַםאֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּלעָםthere is one nation scattered and dispersed throughout the nations, in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their religion is different from all other nations (Esther 3:8).

When Queen Esther was afraid to go to the King on behalf of her nation, afraid for her life as she had not been summoned by the king, Mordechai sends her a powerful and timeless message: אַלתְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּיתהַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּלהַיְּהוּדִיםDo not imagine that you can escape to the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews (Esther 4:13).  Mordechai was reminding Esther that we are one nation, one people, and the fate of one is the fate of the other.  Do not think, Queen Esther, that your life will be spared in the palace, when the life of the Jew is taken in the ghetto.  What happens to one will happen to all, for like the two half-shekels that make a whole, Am Yisrael – each person on his own incomplete – is ultimately bound together as one.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches: “Our fate does not distinguish between aristocrats and common folk, between rich and poor, between a prince garbed in royal purple and a pauper begging from door to door, between a pietist and an assimilationist.  Even though we speak a plethora of languages, even though we are inhabitants of different lands, even though we look different – one may be short and dark, the other tall and blond – even though we live in varying and unequal social and economic conditions – one may dwell in a magnificent palace and the other in a miserable hovel – we still share the same fate. If the Jew in the hovel is beaten, then the security of the Jew in the palace is endangered.  Do not imagine that you can escape to the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews.’  Both Queen Esther, garbed in royal apparel, and Mordechai the Jew, clad in sackcloth, were caught in the same web of historical circumstances.  Chaverim kol Yisrael, All Israel are knit together’ – we will all be pursued unto death or we will all be redeemed with an eternal salvation” (Megillat Esther Masoret HaRav, p.87).

As G-d had mercy on the Jews in 127 provinces, and overturned the edict of annihilation, may He have mercy on His children, scattered and dispersed to the four corners of the earth. May we merit, together as one who klal, to witness the ultimate redemption, immediately and in our days.

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,


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