Mishpatim 5756

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Cody Dydek

This Shabbat we read the special Maftir reading for Parshat Shekalim. The reading, taken from Sh’mot 30:11-16, details the method Moses is to use to take a census of the Israelites. The Torah teaches that, instead of simply being counted, those of eligible age must each give a half-shekel to the upkeep of the Temple. These contributions are then counted and the population is calculated. The fact that the census is supposed to take place in this manner highlights the peculiar destiny of the Children of Israel. The purpose of the census, we learn, is not simply to tabulate the population; it is also intended to raise the Israelites to a higher spiritual plane. By contributing to the construction of the temple, the nation is able to elevate itself. The Talmud, in Bava Batra, points out that the literal meaning of verse 12, “When you elevate the heads of the Children of Israel…” alludes to this idea. The half-shekel donations have another important purpose. Each person who contributes aligns himself with the entire nation striving towards a goal. The nation itself is able to ascend in holiness because of increased unity and resolve among the ranks. As we learn from Pirkei Avot 2:2, “All who serve the community serve in the name of Heaven.” The common goal of the construction of the temple helps Israel to realize its divine mission.

Finally, the fact that the required contribution is one-half a shekel and not a full shekel teaches us a valuable lesson. No one can be a complete person in isolation; we must join with others to become whole. This idea, like the other important ideas in the reading, is just as important for Jews today as it was for the Jews over 3000 years ago. Jews must achieve unity before we can realize the fullness of our lofty spiritual goals.