There are four additional Torah readings called “Arbah Parshiyos” that happen around this time of year, where, in addition to the scheduled Torah reading, we add another one pertinent to the time of year.
This week is the first one, called “Parshas Shekalim” the portion of the coins. We add the Torah Reading from Parshas Kee Seesa that talks about the Machtzis haShekel (the half coin tax) the Jews donated. It is read the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar (so either the last Shabbos of Shevat or in a leap year, the last Shabbos of Adar Alef).
Each year in history, Rosh Chodesh Adar, there would be announcements to the Jews to remember to contribute their half Shekel, which money would go for communal sacrifices and for the upkeep of the Temple. By the 25th of Adar, if someone hadn’t yet paid, he was forced to pay. EVERYONE had to pay the Machtzis HaShekel. No one could get away with less. No one could give more. In our times, when we don’t have this in place, we read the Torah portion about the Machtzis HaShekel the Shabbos before the beginning of Adar.
The first time the Jews were commanded to give this half-coin was right after the sin of the Golden Calf. Hashem told Moshe everyone should give a Machtzis HaShekel for that was the way Moshe was to count the Jews and that was the way the Jews would be forgiven for their sin. Moshe wasn’t sure of what they had to contribute. So Hashem showed Moshe a vision of the coin in fiery form. What wasn’t Moshe sure about here? Did he not know his cents and not know what a half-cent coin looked like? What Moshe couldn’t understand is how a Machtzis HaShekel, such a small little insignificant amount, could save Jews from death. So Hashem showed him the coin, in fiery form. That is the way we should be giving – with our hearts ablaze – fired up with enthusiasm. Hashem wants our hearts. Quantity doesn’t matter when it comes to doing things for G-d. Heart and soul, quality, matters. G-d showed Moshe it was not about the sum of what the Jews gave, but how enthusiastically they gave charity, for if they gave with enthusiasm, that was enough to save them.
Notice that it says Kee Seesah, which translates into “when you lift up, the heads of the Jews”, and does not translate into “when you count the Jews” – Moshe was being taught that each Jew matters, that no one is just another number in Judaism. Each small contribution we make to Hashem in our lives, if done with a willing heart, is special. Never say, I’m just another person, another speck of foam in the ocean of humanity. This is why there was a standard small coin used. The rich man couldn’t donate more. The poor man couldn’t donate less. To teach both rich and poor, mighty and meek, that they were equal in the eyes of G-d. The knowledge of the value of each person was broadcast through this Mitzva and would serve to “lift up the heads”, give self-esteem to each Jew.
But we balance that out, knowing we are only a Machtzis – only a half, needing others to make a whole. That is why a half-coin was used, not a full coin. No man is an island alone. Together, we do great things. None of us can presume to think ourselves whole – we need each other.