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Shabbat Shekalim

02/16/2023 12:26:02 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

Each year prior to Pesach, we have four special Shabbats each named for their special maftir readings. The first of the four is this Shabbat and it’s called Shekalim. The reading recalls the practice of a mandatory yearly tax of half a shekel for each adult male. This served two purposes: to raise funds for the Temple and to attain a census of the people. As always, we are called upon to dig deeper and examine the text more closely. In this case we should ask why half a shekel and not a whole one?
Each half shekel is to help to ascertain how many people there are in the Nation of Israel. If 200,000 shekels are collected, then we could state there were 400,000 adult males, and then extrapolate from that the whole number of Israelites including the women and children. But why not have each male give one whole shekel? Why necessitate the doubling of the number? One very clear answer is it was designed so that all could contribute on an equal level. The amount was so miniscule that nobody would be unfairly affected by the tax. But at a deeper level, there’s a much nicer understanding and that’s no person stands alone. We all need to be with other people. Our nation isn’t made up of individuals but of a group. Think of the best friend trinkets we had when we were kids. Two friends would each have a half and would be able to visualize their connection to each other. It’s the same concept; without the other we are incomplete. Without our community and those around us we lack too much.
The Jewish people are a diverse people. For some time, we’ve made it a point to place ourselves and others into groups or camps. These groups have become more and more all-consuming, and rather than uniting us, they tend to divide us. We think of ourselves as Sephardic or Ashkenazic. Israeli or American or any other country. We think of ourselves as Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Hasidic, Reconstructionist or secular. This summer camp or that youth group. We belong to this synagogue but never that other one. We divide and divide and what do we have we to show for it?
The Talmudic dictum of “All of Israel is responsible for each other” seems to be empty and hollow in the divisive world we live in. All our destinies are linked together. All of us have a common origin and a shared history. We can either continue to place ourselves into more and more silos, or we can recognize the importance of the Jewish people and our role in that ancient identity. We are each a half of a shekel and we need the other half to continue our people and our identity. There’s so much we disagree on and yet there’s so much more that unites us on a daily basis. The non-Jewish world lumps us all together in one pile so why not allow ourselves to benefit from the collective the whole world sees us being?
As we continue to work our way towards Purim and then Pesach, may we each pause for a moment and recognize that our Jewish world is vast and large and is made up of many pieces that are needed. May we each find the ability to reach out to fellow Jews who might not be in our “group” but are nevertheless a piece of each of us. May we each recognize that the same Haman we’ll be booing will be booed by people who we don’t have much in common with, but nevertheless have everything that matters in common. May we see the Haggadah we’ll sit and learn and read from is the same book in its essence that all Jews use which demonstrates our shared common heritage.
The time has arrived for each of us to care more about unity than our own vision of the world. The time has come for us to see we are each are only half a shekel and we need to make ourselves and our community complete.

Mon, March 27 2023 5 Nisan 5783