In addition to the usual Torah reading, this week we read Parshas Shkalim, which discusses the Mitzvah (commandment) of Machtzis Hashekel. This Mitzvah was a unique, annual fundraising campaign, which took place around this time of year. Every single person was to give the same amount – a half a Shekel – no matter how poor or wealthy one was. The contributions were used to fund the communal sacrifices which were brought throughout the year when the Bais Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) was standing. In remembrance of this Mitzvah which we are missing nowadays, we read the section in the Torah which discusses it.
Although we unfortunately do not have the opportunity to bring sacrifices nowadays and therefore cannot perform this Mitzvah either, this unique annual fundraising campaign contains an important lesson for us as well. Why is it that everyone had to give exactly the same amount? Why couldn’t the rich elect to give a larger donation. Furthermore, why is it that the amount prescribed by the Torah to be given must be specifically half a denomination and not a whole one?
Says Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Chaver (Siyach Yitzchok, Drashah on Parshas Shkalim), the success of our nation is dependent upon our unity. When the Jews are at peace with each other and unified together with love and responsibility to each other, that is when we become a dwelling place for the presence of God. The fact that all Jews were to be equal in the amount they donate, signifies the dismissal of distinction based on financial stature. When someone has wealth,
this can lead him to haughtiness and looking down at others, which creates separation. Poverty can also lead a person to feel he is better than the rich by thinking that he is only suffering because he is much more righteous than the wealthy ones and he is earning atonement for the little sins he has. When it comes to the Machtzis Hashekel, everyone gives the exact same amount, no matter what. This Mitzvah is urging us to forget about the distinction of our
different financial levels and focus on our unity as one nation with one goal of bringing honor to the Name of Heaven.
Along this theme, the Alshich (in the beginning of Ki Sisa) explains in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Alkavetz the meaning behind the domination being specifically a half and not a whole. No one should think that he can be on his own and sperate from the rest of the Jews. Each one of us is just a fraction of the Jewish Nation as a whole. We are a group with one unified mission and are
responsible for each other. We are only complete when we view ourselves as pieces of one unified nation as whole and not lonesome individuals.
The Alter of Slabodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, asked Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz to send ten of the top students of the Mir Yeshivah (school for Talmud study) to a different town to help start a new Yeshivah. Rabbi Levovitz was reluctant to do so and protested, “These boys are the pride of the Yeshivah! I invested so much effort into developing them! How can I just send them elsewhere now?!” Rabbi Yerucham decided to consult with the Chofetz Chaim regarding the matter. After relaying his dilemma to the Chofetz Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim responded, “Of course you should send them! Our mission is to spread Torah and increase the Honor of Heaven. What difference does it make if it’s in one place or another? These boys are certainly needed to help in establishing a new place for Torah.”
While we are all focused on our own personal growth and spiritual achievements in life, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. We are not just a bunch of individuals, each one fending for himself, under the umbrella of sharing one national spirit. Every Jew is another limb of the body of the Jewish Nation. A Jew by definition is a team member in serving God and working together to sanctify His Name. This is where our success in life lies. We are not here to compete with each other, but to strive together with unity to bring glory to the Name of Heaven. A Jew must never lose focus on being unified with our people as a holy nation with a common goal of our sacred mission in this world.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber, firstname.lastname@example.org