Unity and Separation
הרב זכריה טובי
Parshat Ki-Tisa begins: "When you take a census of Bnei Yisrael ... This they shall give ... a half-shekel of the sacred shekel." (Shemot 30:12-13) The Midrash comments: "G-d took out a kind of coin of fire and showed it to Moshe, and said to him: 'This they shall give' – Like this they shall give.'"
What did Moshe find difficult that G-d had to show him a "coin of fire?" Tosfot in Chulin (42a) writes that Moshe did not have trouble understanding the shape of the half-shekel, but rather wondered how it is possible that a person can atone for himself through money? After all, Iyov says: "Whatever a man has he would give up for his life" (Iyov 2:4) – whatever a person gives is not enough to atone for his life, so how does the half-shekel atone for the soul of the sinner?
We do find, though, the concept of atonement through sacrifice, so that it is possible for a person who sins can atone for himself? It must be that Moshe's astonishment was specifically about the half-shekel, how it atones for the sin of the golden calf, as it says in Midrash Tanchuma: "'The nation saw that Moshe had delayed (boshesh)' – Because they sinned with shesh (six, i.e. midday), they should give a half-shekel." Therefore Moshe questioned how a half-shekel can effect atonement for such a serious sin?
G-d answered by showing him a coin of fire and saying, "Like this they shall give." Fire indicates spreading out, like a fire that spreads out in all directions. This teaches that the sin of the golden calf is rooted in the division of the nation, and the rectification of the sin is trough unity – "a coin of fire." This is the whole idea of the half: Each and every one of the nation is a half, and only becomes whole through his friend's half. Thus, the half-shekel comes to form unity in Am Yisrael.
This explains Moshe's defense of Am Yisrael at the sin of the golden calf: "You did not command them; You commanded me. Did You say to them, "There shall not be for you [lachem – pl.] other gods? You commanded me [lecha – sing.]." (Shemot Rabbah 47:9) This seems astounding: Was the command against idol worship only to Moshe Rabbeinu?
Rather, the Sfat Emet explains that sin does not apply to Am Yisrael as a group: "You are entirely fair, My beloved, and there is no blemish in you." (Shir Hashirim 4:7) Sin flows from separation: "One who seeks lust will separate." (Mishlei 18:1) Since it says about matan Torah, "Israel encamped (vayichan – sing.) there opposite the mountain" – as one person with one heart – therefore, G-d commanded, "You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence" (Shemot 20:3) – all of Am Yisrael is like one complete unit. However, when they sinned with the golden calf and were no longer a whole, then "You did not say to them" – so long as they are separate they can come to idolatry, Heaven forbid.
Based on this we can understand the Mishna Shekalim (1:1): "On the first of Adar [the courts] announce about the shekels and kilayim." At first glance, the Mishna is not understood; what is the connection between shekels and kilyaim? Based on the above, we can explain that the idea of shekels, that each on brings a half-shekel – is the idea of connection and unity, whereas kilayim requires separation between the species, not to crossbreed one species with another. [There is a deep idea here. Not all unity is positive; sometimes unity leads to sin. When dealing with different species, there are places that it is forbidden to unify, and the ideal is to separate.]
The Misha says: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am [only] for myself, what am I?" (Avot 1:14) With all the importance of the group, there is also value to the individual. Every individual has individual importance, but the goal has to be for the importance of the group. Yisrael, on the one hand, are compared to stars – every star has individual importance. On the other hand, they are compared to the dust of the earth – which are all like one complete unit, and it is impossible to separate between the grains.
Chazal say that the half-shekel comes to negate the decree of Haman, who measured ten thousand kikars of silver to destroy the Jews. Chazal say about this: "On the first of Adar [the courts] announce about the shekels. – Bring your shekalim before his." What is the meaning of this precedence? Haman's decree flowed from, "There is one nation scattered and dispersed between the nations." (Esther 3:8) Under such circumstances it is possible to destroy Am Yisrael. However, the rectification for this is the half-shekel – a coin of fire, the symbol of unity. Each member of Am Yisrael is a half, and through this they become unified. This is what Esther said, "Go, assemble all the Jews." (Esther 4:15) – for our redemption is through our unity.
קוד השיעור: 3709
(Translated by Rav Meir Orlian)