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Parshat Ki Sisa Machatzit HaShekel

By: Guests
Miriam Trent (SFW '08)

In perek 30: 13-15 the Torah describes a census to be taken of Bnei Yisroel. Each man had to pay specifically a half-shekel: the rich were not allowed to pay more nor the poor to pay less. The details are puzzling: why specifically a half-shekel and not a whole one? Additionally, why isn't a rich man allowed to volunteer more out of the goodness of his heart, or cover the costs of his poor neighbor allowing the poor man to pay less?

The Meam Loez answers: The machatsis hashekel was meant as an atonement for the souls of the people. Therefore, if a rich man paid more it would imply that his soul would receive a greater atonement. The Torah thus teaches us that all souls in Klal Yisroel are equal in the eyes of Hashem regardless of wealth; they all received the same kapara. The poor and rich man were therefore made equal by having to pay the same amount of money.

The Machatsis Hashekel itself symbolizes "Kol Yisroel Arevim Ze l'Ze." Each person is thought of as a half, it is only when each man joins with his friends as part of Klal Yisroel that he becomes a whole. Someone who sets himself apart from the Klal remains only a half.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz in Sichos Mussar also gives an answer stressing the importance of the Klal. The Machasis Hashekel was given as an offering towards the mishkan. By making everybody equal through the universal shiur of a half-shekel, the Torah teaches that the mishkon could only be built by a unified Klal.

We have seen this idea previously in parshas Yisro, where Rashi makes his famous comment on the words "Vayichan shom Yisroel". Why is the verb "vayichan" in the singular? Because at Har Sinai Bnei Yisroel were 'like one man, with one heart." It was precisely this unity and brotherhood which made them fitting to receive the Torah. So too, in our Parsha, this message of unity is reiterated as being essential to the building of the mishkon. We thus see why the Torah forbids anyone from setting themselves apart from the Klal by giving any amount of money other than machatsis hashekel.

The idea of unity is represented too by the Ketores, described in this week's parsha. The Ketores includes sweet smelling spices and surprisingly also galbanum, a foul smelling spice. Rashi comments that this spice represents sinners, and the inclusion of it within the ketores teaches that we must also include sinners within public fasts and prayers, rather than thinking of them as outsiders and insignificant. We see this idea through the arba minim on Sukkos too. The arba minim includes two plant species which bear fruit and two which don't. One could think that those without fruit are less important- just like the galbanum- but one can only be yotzei the mitzvah with all types bound into one unit. Rashi in Amos 9:6 comments that "when Bnei Yisroel fast they will only be answered when they are one unit, tzadikim and reshoim together, just like those species (of the arba minim) that bear fruit and those which don't." We must even make an effort to include those people we think are sinners as part of the tzibur.

This parsha thus gives a strong message about the importance of being an Aguda Achas. Only through achdus could the Torah be given, the Mishkon built and Bnei Yisroel's prayers answered. May we all be zoche to take this message to heart and spread achdus within Klal Yisroel.


Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Ki Tisa