Daily Israel Report

Judaism: Pikudei: To Serve Him

This essay is about silver coins because we will reference it twice in this week’s Torah reading.
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 5:03 PM


Silver Coins

This essay is about silver coins because we will reference it twice in this week’s Torah reading.

The first reference is in the ordinary Torah reading where an accounting is given for the contributions made to the tabernacle. The Torah informs us precisely how much silver was raised and what it was used for.

The second is in honor of, Adar II, the month that is fast approaching. The annual campaign to collect a half Shekel from every Jew for the Temple began each year on the first of Adar. To commemorate this we reference this collection in a special reading from the Torah.

The Talmudic sages taught, “It was revealed and known to G-d that Haman would offer ten-thousand shekel for the royal license to annihilate the Jews, G-d therefore instructed us to donate shekels to the Temple so that our Shekels would precede Haman’s Shekels.”[1]

To explore the benefit of preceding Haman’s Shekels we turn to the story of Passover.

Moses asked G-d at the burning bush on what merit the Jews would be redeemed from Egypt and G-d replied that upon redemption He would bring them to Sinai and give them the Torah.[2] In other words, G-d’s sole reason for redeeming us was to enable us to serve Him. What is the message in this for us?

To Serve Him

When we pray for health, sustenance or the like, we tend to ask on our own merit. We plead with G-d for these things because we want them or need them. At the burning bush G-d proposed an alternative approach. Don’t ask G-d for what you need, ask Him for His needs. Since we intend to use the resources we are granted to serve Him, we should formulate our requests on His behalf rather than our own.

What would happen if an employee, on his first day, presented his CEO with a list of all the perks, privileges, raises and promotions that he desires? The audacity and impropriety would leave the CEO wondering if he is right for the job and whether he will fit in. On the other hand, if the new recruit presented a list of items that the office requires to become more efficient, the CEO would listen with interest because the proposals purport to improve the company.

When we ask for what we require or desire, G-d weighs our merits against our faults to decide whether to grant it. When we pose our requests as a list of items that we require to serve Him, we are asking on His behalf. Our paucity of merit becomes irrelevant and thus can’t interfere with our requests.

G-d’s response to Moses was that even if the Jews didn’t deserve the gift of emancipation, G-d would grant it anyway. Because they would use it to serve Him at Sinai, their merit was irrelevant.[3]

Begin Your Day

Posing the request this way is insufficient unless we follow it through in deed. This means that the moment we receive our gift and often even before we receive it, we must use it to serve G-d.

For example, the very first thing that Jews did on the eve of their exodus was to circumcise themselves and partake of the Pascal Lamb.[4] Their first order of business was to serve G-d. Only after utilizing their freedom to serve Him did they pack provisions for their journey.

In fact preparations for the Pascal lamb began four days before the Exodus to demonstrate that utilizing their freedom to serve G-d was their true and only intent.

Throughout history Jews continued on a similar track. A full month before Passover, Jews began to contribute Shekels to the Temple. As Passover drew near they would busy themselves with selecting and purchasing a perfect lamb for the Pascal offering. On the second day of Passover, they would dedicate the first harvest of the new season’s crop as an offering to G-d.

This was all done in accordance with G-d’s Instructions through the Torah and the prophets. G-d wanted to provide for His children in abundance whether they deserved or not, He therefore established a schedule of good deeds that would demonstrate our willingness to direct our blessings to His service.

We do the same. When arising in the morning, we celebrate the miracle of life by dedicating our first thought, word and action to G-d. Our first thought is that G-d granted us life for which we are thankful and which we will utilize to serve Him. Our first words reflect this thought, “I thank thee G-d, living and eternal king for restoring my soul to me, great is thine faithfulness.”[5] Our first action is the ritual washing of hands, cleansing them from ritual impurity, so we may serve G-d. Only after completing this trifecta do we begin our own preparations for the day.

This demonstrates our clear intention to utilize the gift of a new day for G-d’s purpose. The next night when we go to bed and pray that G-d wake us in the morning, He won’t weigh our merits to determine whether to grant us another day. If we dedicate our yesterday to serve Him, He will grant us our tomorrow for the same purpose. Not to serve us, but to serve Him. Waking in the morning is the first tool needed to serve Him. Since He wants our service, He will grant us the requisite tools.

The Silver Shekels

We now return to the silver Shekels that our ancestors donated to the Temple before Haman offered Shekels for the royal license to annihilate us.

Haman thought that when Jews became Persian citizens they came under Persian rule and if he would personally purchase the rights to the Jews they would come under his jurisdiction. But G-d arranged for Jews to contribute of their own money to the temple each year to demonstrate that no matter where or how we earn our living, our fidelity is first and foremost to G-d. We view our gifts as tools with which to serve Him and are thus always under Divine jurisdiction and protection.

The message to us is plain. Charity helps the people we support and it helps us too. When we look after G-d’s children, G-d looks after us. He looks upon us as His custodians - as the nation devoted to look after His interests - and protects us from evil and harm.

As He redeemed and protected our ancestors, so may He protect and redeem us too.[6]

 

[1]Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 13a.

[2] See Exodus 3: 11 & 120 and Rashi’s commentary ad loc.

[3] This is perhaps why Rashi begins his explanation of G-d’s response to Moses with the words, “I have great purpose in this.” I free them for my own purpose – so they would serve me.

[4] See Mechilta and Rashi on Exodus 12: 6.

[5] Opening prayer or the Siddur.

[6] This essay is based on commentary from Shem Mishmuel, 5670, on this Parshah.