Why a half shekel?

Inspiring answers to an obvious question.

Danny Ginsbourg

Judaism Israeli coins money shekels charity tzedaka
Israeli coins money shekels charity tzedaka

We read in our parsha (30:13-15) of the commandment that every man in Israel give מחצית שקל: half a shekel towards the Mishkan.

Rashi comments that this contribution was used to make the אדנים: the sockets, on which the boards of the floor of the Mishkan, were laid.

The Abarbanel notes that, as the people only had whole shekalim, they had to לבקע: to split into two their coins, so as to give the half shekel, as commanded.

Why, then, ask the parshanim, were they commanded to give a half shekel, and not a whole shekel?

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch answers, by first extolling those who made this contribution, noting that they thereby merited to be ‘reckoned’ as ‘Bnei Israel’ by Hashem, a title denoting אצילות ואושר: nobility and bliss.
However, he adds, the contribution of an individual can never be ‘complete’; this requires equal contributions by all others.

He is required to do his share, as our sages teach:(Avot 2:21)’It is not for you to complete the work’, but, at the same time, ‘neither are you free to stand aside from it’.

This, concludes Rav Hirsch, is the message of the ‘half’ shekel: although your contribution is only part of the whole, symbolically ‘a half’, you are obliged to do your share, knowing that your fellow Bnei Israel will complete the task, by contributing ‘their half’.

Rav Eliyahu Shlezinger answers our question, by bringing the  commentary of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh on the pasuk (Pikudei 39:32):’All the work of the Mishkan..Bnei Israel had done everything  that Hashem commanded Moshe, so they did’.

Expounds the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh:’Here the Torah made a מחברת כללית: a ‘general bound exercise book’ in the observance of the Torah, and showed that Bnei Israel יזכו זה לזה: enable each other, to observe the whole Torah.

‘And in this we found נחת רוח: satisfaction, that by giving us 613 Mitzvot, no one Jew can observe them all; and this is the proof: we have Cohanim, Leviim, Israelim and women.

‘Each has Mitzvot which the others do not. Therefore, Hashem has made his Torah like ‘a bound exercise book’ for the whole Nation, so that each one, by performing his ‘special’ Mitzvot, מזכה: merits that all the others are also ‘credited’ as if they all performed those Mitzvot.

‘This is the deeper meaning of the pasuk:’Bnei Israel had done everything that Hashem had commanded Moshe, so had they done’’.

Rav Shlezinger concludes:’Every Jewish נפש: soul, is only half, since it cannot of itself be sanctified by performing all the Mitzvot; it can only reach ‘completeness’ by joining with the נפשות of other Jews.

‘This is why the Torah commanded that each Jew contribute a ‘half shekel’, to teach that he can only be ‘whole’ when combined with others’.

Rav Yosef Salant offers a beautiful drasha to answer our query.

He first asks:’Why was there a commandment that every man had to contribute towards the אדנים: the  sockets, for which, as we noted, the half shekalim were used, and not for any other item in the Mishkan-not even for the Aron in which the Torah was placed?.

‘For all the other items, each person gave ‘as his heart moved him’- and surely this needs to be explained.

‘To answer this question, we need to note that all that we learn about the Mishkan and its כלים, are to teach us how to sanctify ourselves, so that we are worthy for the Shechina to dwell in us- that we should, each, be ‘a Mishkan’ in which the Shechina can dwell.

‘This is the clear purport of Hashem’s words:’And you shall make for Me a Mishkan, and I will dwell בתוכם: IN YOU’!”

The Alshich Hakadosh brings the words of the Prophet(Yirmiyahu 7:4):היכל ה׳ היכל ה׳ המה:’The sanctuary of Hashem, the Sanctuary of Hashem are they’ to teach that:’When the people are worthy of the Shechina ‘dwelling’ in them, it then ‘spreads’ from them, to the physical Mishkan”.

Rav Salant continues:’We therefore have to ask:What is, כביכול,  the foundation of the ‘human’ Mishkan?
‘The answer is given by our Sages (Makot 23:):’Moshe received 613 Mitzvot in Sinai.. came Habakuk, and based them all on one ‘foundation’:(Habakkuk 2:4)’

The righteous person shall live באמונתו: through his faith’.

‘Since the Mishkan is a lesson as to how we should ‘make ourselves’, to merit that we are a Mishkan for Hashem, clearly the foundation has to be אמונה.

‘And in this, every Jew is equal: all must believe in every letter of the Torah.

׳The אדנים are of the foundations of the ‘physical’ Mishkan ; and therefore every man had to also be equal in regard to them- as in their faith, אמונה- by contributing equally to them’.

Rav Salant sweetens the allusion, commenting that:’The Ramban notes that the first two of the 10 Commandments, עשרת דברות - the only ones Bnei Israel heard directly from Hashem- are to know that: ‘I am Hashem, your G-d’, and that ‘You shall have no other G-ds’- in other words, faith אמונה.

‘Each plank of the floor of the Mishkan was laid on two sockets, אדנים, alluding to these two commandments, דברות, to teach that the foundation of the physical Mishkan, is, also faith, אמונה.

‘But, why was each person to contribute only a ‘half shekel’, and not a whole shekel, for such a lofty purpose?
‘The answer is that faith אמונה requires us to accept that, as mortal beings, whose days, and intellects, are numbered, we can only see part of the overall picture.

‘The great questions, which lead people to have crises of faith, such as ‘why do the righteous suffer, and the wicked seemingly prosper’, and the like, are due to us only seeing ‘half’ the picture.

These questions can only be answered by faith, אמונה: by knowing that all that Hashem does is Just and Perfect.

‘This’, concludes Rav Salant, ‘is the eternal message of the wondrous Mitzvah of the ‘half’ shekel’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.