Judaism: Pareshat Shekalim: All for One
HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zts"lFirst Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, revered and famed Torah sage, philosopher, writer, poet, iconic and beloved leader of religious Zionism and the return to Zion (1865-1935).
All nations require a measure of unity and goodwill. Unity is critical to attain national goals of prosperity and success. For the Jewish people, however, unity is not just a means to achieve worldly objectives. Inner peace is a far greater value, a goal unto itself. Our innermost aspiration is to merit closeness to God, and His presence dwells in Israel only when there is peace and harmony. As the sages taught: "When is My name called upon them? When they are united." (Sifri VeZot HaBrachah 346)
There is a second difference between the unity sought by the Jewish people and that of the other nations. Peace has two components: unity in deed and unity in thought. Unity in deed is when one acts to help one's neighbor or the nation as a whole. Unity in thought is love and concern for one's fellow citizens and one's nation.
When other nations unite for some goal, they organize a census in order to determine what each individual will gain from the collective effort. This counting does not defeat the purpose of their unified efforts, since the ultimate goal is to benefit each individual. For the Jewish people, however, the purpose of joining together is to benefit and elevate the nation as a whole. Counting individuals contradicts the ultimate objective, as it emphasizes the portion of the individual. For this reason, the Torah requires that the census be accomplished through half-shekel coins - thereby indicating that the counting is for the benefit of the nation.
Yet, God thwarted his plot, as the unity of the Jewish people continues even when they are in exile. Therefore, He preceded the shekel donation of the Jewish people to Haman's shekels, to demonstrate the strength of their unity and collective holiness in all generations.
The sages wrote that Moses had difficulty understanding what coin to collect.
shekel were it not for the command that "the wealthy shall not add more." The two halves of the shekel correspond to the two components of peace. The half-shekel that was actually given reflects their unity in deed, their practical cooperation; and the second half that they desired to give reflects their unity in thought.
The sages wrote that Moses had difficulty understanding what coin to collect, so God showed him a half-shekel coin made out of fire from beneath the Throne of Glory (Bemidbar Rabbah 12:3). What did Moses have difficulty understanding? And why does the Midrash state that the fire-coin came from beneath God's throne?
Moses didn't understand why the Jews needed to donate half a shekel. Therefore God showed him a fire-coin from a very elevated place, from under His throne - where the souls of the Jewish people are secreted. In other words, God showed Moses the second half of the shekel: namely, their unity in thought, which comes from the very roots of their souls.