This Shabbat is Shabbat Mishpatim as well as Shabbat Shekalim. Purim and Pessach are right ahead of us and this Shabbat, we are entering a period of four different Shabbatot. Starting with Shabbat Shekalim this week and followed by Shabbat Zahor, Shabbat Parah and Parashat HaChodesh. From week to week, I am going to give a brief explanation on all those additional Parashot being read.
Shabbat Shekalim is always taking place right before Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new month) of ADAR. As Adar starts with the beginning of next week, Parashat Shekalim is being read this Shabbat.
Shabbat Shekalim is based on the following Torah Pasuk:
Sefer Shemot (Exodus) 30:12, Parashat KI TISA
When thou takest the sum of the Children of Israel according to their numbered ones, then shall they give a ransom each one for his person to G – d when thou numberest them, thus there will be no death amongst them when though numberst them.
Translation by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
G – d asked Moshe to carry out a census among the Jews. The Torah forbids us to count Jews on a regular basis and thus, Moshe had to count them by a special amount of silver each and every Jew gave. Today’s Israeli currency is the Shekel (Plural: Shekalim) but the silver coins the Jews gave in the desert have nothing do to with our present currency. In those days, Shekalim meant a special amount (weight) of silver. As this Mitzvah is eternal (although we are not being counted today), it is customary to give a certain amount of money to one’s community. This is taking place during the month of Adar. Many times when I came to the Megillah reading, a woman was going around with a basket and people could donate their amount. It doesn’t matter how much you give. A Shekel, a few Shekels, a Dollar, a few Dollars. Whatever you can afford.
What we actually read a Parashat Shekalim this Shabbat is Sefer Shemot (Exodus) 30:11 – 16 (Parashat Ki Tisa): Every adult male must pay a half – shekel tax, to be used for the purchase of the communal offerings. During the Temple era, this reading served to announce that the tax was due in Adar, so that the offerings of Nissan could be purchased. Although the half – shekel tax is not obligatory in absence of the Temple, the reading is nonetheless required by the Mishna (Talmud Tractate Megillah 29a + Talmud Shekalim 2a) in commemoration of the Temple.
Commentary from the Schottenstein Edition Talmud
Mishna Torah – Hilchot Shekalim
1:1 It is a positive commandment from the Torah that every adult Jewish male give a half – shekel each and every year. Even a poor man who derives his livelihood from charity is obligated to make his donation. He should borrow from others or sell the clothes he is wearing so that he can give a half – shekel of silver, (as (Shemot 30:15) states: “The rich shall not give more, nor should the poor give less”.
The half – shekel should not be given in several partial payments but at once.
Why were the Jews not commanded to give a full Shekel ?
Because a person is only a half and can never reach fulfillment until he joins together with another individual. Thus, it is G – d who contributes the second half, which enables an individual to reach fulfillment (Likutei Sichot, Vol. III, Parashat Ki Tisa).
When G – d commanded Moshe to carry out a census and all Jews had to give the half – shekel, it was done in a way that all Jews gave the same amount. The rich weren’t allowed to give more and the poor weren’t allowed to give less. The reason is that every single Jew is equal in the eyes of G – d. No rich Jew can bribe G – d.
By carrying out the same Mitzvah, the feeling of “Togetherness” will help the Jews to strengthen their identity as a nation.
Contributing the half – shekel also served as an atonement for the soul of the Jew.