Shabbat Shekalim - שבת שקלים

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


Introduction. 1

In The Targum.. 2

Rashi’s comments. 3

In The Midrash. 3

In The Gemara. 10

From My Teacher. 11

Further Commentary. 13

The Nature Of Money. 14

Soul Money. 14

The Shekel As A Symbol 15

Determining Spiritual Value. 15

Understanding Haman’s Shekels. 16

The Story Of King Ahasuerus. 16

The Fiery Half-Shekel 17

The Nazarean Codicil and The Half-Shekel 18

An Analysis Of The Parasha. 20




In this study I would like to examine the customs of the Jews as they relate to the shabbat on or before Rosh Chodesh Adar. This shabbat is commonly called Shabbat Shekalim[1] - שבת שקלים.


Shabbat Shekalim begins at sundown in the Diaspora on:


·          Friday, February 12, 2010

(29th of Shebat, 5770)


·          Friday, March 4, 2011

(29th of Adar I, 5771)


·          Friday, February 17, 2012

(25th of Shebat, 5772)


·          Friday, February 8, 2013

(29th of Shebat, 5773)


Festival Torah readings[2] for Shabbat Shekalim readings:


Torah readings:

Regular portion plus:

Shemot (Exodus) 30:11 - 30:16.

On Rosh Chodesh add:

Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:9 - 28:15.


Haftarah: II Melachim (Kings) 12:1 - 12:17


Triennial Torah readings:


Torah readings:

Torah:             Shemot (Exodus) 30:1-38

Haftarah:        Melachim Bet (Kings) 11:17–12:17

                        Sh’muel Alef (1 Samuel) 20:18,42

Psalms:           145, 104:1-35


Codicil:           Matityahu 28:11-15 (17:24-27)


On Rosh Chodesh add Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:9 - 28:15.


Mishle (Proverbs) Proverbs 7:1-27


Seder Themes: D’varim 29:9 – 30:10


a)     Renewal of the Covenant – D’varim 29:9-14

b)     Warning against intellectual, physical, and spiritual Idolatry – D’varim 29:15-28

c)     The eventual repentance and redemption (the New Covenant) – D’varim 30:1-10


Haftarah Themes: - Yehoshua 24:1-18


a)     A second assembly – Yehoshua 24:1-11

b)     Yehoshua’s Discourse – Yehoshua 24:12-18

Psalm Themes: - Glory to G-d – Ps. 145


Nazarean Codicil Themes: Matityahu 28:11-15      “The Guards’ Report”


Shabbat Shekalim occurs on the Rosh Chodesh of the month before the month of Nisan (that is, the Rosh Chodesh of Adar or Adar II in leap years), or on the last Shabbat before that Rosh Chodesh. Nisan is the month when Pesach occurs. Shekalim is read at this time because, according to tradition, the half-shekel census was taken on the first of Nisan, and the reading is meant to be a reminder of the upcoming census.


We celebrate Shabbat Shekalim in conformance with the Torah command.


Shemot (Exodus 30:11-16 And HaShem spake unto Moses, saying, 12 When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give[3] every man a ransom for his soul unto HaShem, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. 13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered,[4] half a shekel[5] after the shekel of the sanctuary:[6] (a shekel is twenty gerahs:[7]) an half shekel shall be the offering of HaShem. 14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old[8] and above, shall give an offering unto HaShem. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel , when they give an offering unto HaShem, to make an atonement for your souls.[9] 16 And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before HaShem, to make an atonement for your souls.


One of the 613 commandments of the Torah enjoins all Jewish males above the age of bar mitzva[10] to contribute a half-shekel[11] each year to the Temple. From the money that accumulates, all the public sacrifices that are brought in the Temple during the following year are purchased.


The year renews itself on the first of Nisan, the first month the Israelites observed, after being told to keep a calendar by the new moon during the exodus from Egypt.  From the first of Nisan, only offerings purchased from fresh contributions are acceptable. Thus the half shekels must reach the hands of the overseers by this date. During Temple times, an announcement to bring the half shekels was issued each year on the first of Adar, a month prior to the due date.


In The Targum


The Targum Pseudo Yonatan provides us with some insights on a couple of these verses:


Shemot (Exodus 30:12-13 When you take the sum of the sons of Israel according to their number, they will give every man the ransom of their souls before the Lord when you number them; that there may not be among them the calamity of death when you dost number them. [JERUSALEM. When you take the head of the number of the sums of the sons of Israel.]13 This valuation was shown to Moshe in the mountain as with a denarius of fire, and thus spoke He to him: So will every one who passes to the numbering give a half shekel of the coin of the sanctuary: (a half shekel is twenty manin:) the half shekel is to be the separation before the Lord.


Rashi’s comments


Rashi also provides us with some insights on these verses:


12 When you take Heb. כִּי תִשָׂא . [This is] an expression of taking, as the Targum [Onkelos] renders. [I.e.,] when you wish to take the sum [total] of their numbers to know how many they are, do not count them by the head, but each one shall give a half-shekel, and you shall count the shekels. [Thereby] you will know their number.


then there will be no plague among them for the evil eye has power over numbered things, and pestilence comes upon them, as we find in David’s time.[12]


13 This they shall give He [God] showed him [Moses] a sort of coin of fire weighing half a shekel, and He said to him, “Like this one they shall give.”[13]


who goes through the counting Hebrew הָעֽבֵר עַל-הַפְקֻדִים . It is customary for those who count to pass the ones who have been counted one following another, and so [too the word יַעֲבֽר in] “each one that passes under the rod”,[14] and so [the word תַּעֲבֽרְנָה in] “flocks will again pass under the hands of one who counts them”.[15]


half a shekel according to the holy shekel By the weight of the shekel that I fixed for you [against which] to weigh the holy shekels, such as the shekels mentioned in the section dealing with personal evaluations[16] and [in the section concerning] inherited fields.[17]


Twenty gerahs equal one shekel Now He explains to you how much it is. gerahs Heb. גֵרָה , a word meaning a ma’ah [a small coin]. Likewise, “will come to prostrate himself before him for a silver piece (אֲגוֹרַתכֶּסֶף) and a morsel of bread”.[18]


Twenty gerahs equal one shekel for a whole shekel equals four zuzim, and the zuz was originally five ma’oth, but they came and added a sixth to it and raised it to six ma’oth of silver, and half of this shekel [of] which I have spoken to you [here in this verse], they shall give as an offering to the Lord.


In The Midrash


The Midrash, also gives us some very significant insights:


Midrash Tanhuma Yelammedenu  on

Shemot (Exodus)  30:1-38


1. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). May our masters teach us: How many times each year did the Israelites bring their offerings to the Temple? Thus did our masters teach us: They brought them three times a year; on the first day of the months of Nisan, Iyar, and Elul. On the first day of the months of Nisan and Iyar the offerings for the Temple treasury would be collected and the priests would approach the altar to seek forgiveness for the sins of Israel with the shekels they had contributed. But why did they do so three times a year? In order that all the Israelites might be involved, throughout the year, in giving their contributions. Why did they begin to accumulate their contributions on the first day of Adar (actually the Sanhedrin would make the announcement on the first day of Adar), though they did not bring it in until the first day of Nisan? It was done that way so that the offering would not become an unbearable hardship for the Israelites. Hence they (the priests) would remind the Israelites on the first day of the month of Adar (to prepare their offerings).


Solomon exclaimed: The way of the sluggard is as yough hedged by thorns; but the path of the upright is even (Proverbs 15:19). Scripture is referring in this verse to the wicked Esau. Just as the thorns from a bush that cling to a man’s garment will cling to another part of the garment when he tries to brush them off, so the government of Esau (Rome), while still collecting a crop tax from Israel, would impose a head tax. And even before the head tax was fully collected, it would impose a levy for the care of its soldiers. The Holy One, blessed be He, did not do that: For the path of the upright is even, made level before Israel.


They announced the obligations on the first day of Adar, and then it was collected by the priests on the first day of Nisan. How much did they collect? A half-shekel.[19] And how much was it? It was equal to half a sela. They were collected only to make it possible to atone for the sins of Israel. They would purchase the daily burnt offerings with the contribution. Because the Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that in every census Israel would take in the future, some of them would be missing,[20] He ordained the shekel offering as a remedy so that it might atone for them and no plague would befall them.



2. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). Scripture states elsewhere in allusion to this verse: Your navel is like a round goblet, your belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies, wherein no mingled wine is wanting (Song 7:3). Your navel refers to the Sanhedrin. But why did they call the Sanhedrin a navel? Just as the navel is located in the center of a man’s body, so the Sanhedrin met in a chamber of hewn stone in the center of the Temple. Furthermore, just as the child, whose mouth is closed whilst within its mother’s womb, is sustained through the navel, so the Israelites were sustained only by virtue of the Sanhedrin. Hence they likened it to a navel. The word round indicates that just as the navel is round, so the Sanhedrin sat in a semi-circular room.


The meeting place of a Sanhedrin was called a sahar (“goblet”) because it resembled a sohar (“store”). For just as you are able to find whatever you need in a store, so the Sanhedrin decided what was pure and impure, fit and unfit, permitted and forbidden.


Wherein no mingled wine was wanting. If one of the members of the Sanhedrin found it necessary to leave the meeting to satisfy his physical needs, he would first look about to see if twenty-three members were in attendance.[21] If there were, he would leave, but if not he would not depart. Your belly is like a heap of wheat alludes to the book of Leviticus, which contains the means for attaining atonement for guilt and sinful acts. It holds a heap of sin offerings and a heap of guilt offerings. He placed in the middle of the Torah, with all its offerings (two books of the Torah precede Leviticus and two follow it), with all its offerings. In that way it resembles a heap of wheat.


R. Simeon the son of Lakish said: Why is it (Israel) compared to wheat? Just as wheat piles up when poured into a measure, so the elders, the students, the wise, and the pious increase in number when a census is taken.


Your belly is like a heap of wheat. R. Idi said: Is not a heap of cedar cones more beautiful than a heap of wheat? Why does this verse says a heap of wheat? They replied: The world cannot exist on cedar cones if it lacks wheat. Hence it says: Your belly is like a heap of wheat.


Set about with lilies. Does a man ever fence in his fields with lilies? Does he not normally fence his fields with thorns and thistles, with pits and thorn-bushes? What then is the meaning of Set about with lilies? This refers to numerous commandments that are as sensitive as lilies. For example, a man is extremely anxious to enter his bridal chamber, for no day is dearer to him than that day. It is the day in which he rejoices with his bride. What does he do? He spends a considerable amount of money to set up the bridal chamber and he comes to have intercourse with her. But if she says to him: “I have seen something like a red lily (i.e. like the blood of her menstruation), he draws away from her. He turns his face to one side and she to the other. What compelled him to turn from her? Was it a snake biting him, a scorpion stinging him, or a thorn between them? No, only the words of the Torah, since it is said: And you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is impure by her uncleanness.[22] Hence it is written: Set about like lilies.


They shall give:[23] Observe that Israel was so beloved that even their sins brought them considerable benefit. If their sins could do that, how much more so would their meritorious deeds. You find that when Jacob sent Joseph to his brethren, they watched him approach and said to one another: Behold this dreamer comes. Come now, therefore, and let us slay him (Genesis 37:19-20). They hurled him into the pit and said: Let us eat and drink, and then we will kill him. After eating and drinking, they were about to say grace when Judah said to them: We are planning to take a life, yet now we would bless G-d. If we should do this, we would be blaspheming against G-d and not blessing Him. Because of this, Scripture says:


Tehillim (Psalm) 10:3 And the covetous vaunts himself, yough he condemn the Lord.


Bereshit (Genesis) 37:27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites amd let not our hand be upon him. (And they all agreed.)


Bereshit (Genesis) 37:25 And they sat down to eat bread.


R. Judah the son of Shalum said: This is a notable instance of many sitting down together in unity, with a single yought in mind; to sell Joseph. Yet he fed the world for seven years, through two famines. If despite their sin he could feed the world and cause it to endure, how much more beneficial would have been the result if they had acted meritoriously. Similarly, observe what happened to the tribes in the chapter Shekalim, when they were permitted to atone for the incident of the golden calf. If the heinous sin they committed could lead to the performance of a worthy act, how much more so if they had acted meritoriously.


3. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). R. Tanhuma the son of Abba began the discussion with the verse Sweet is the sleep of a laboring man, whether he eat little or much; but the satiety of the rich will not suffer him to sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:11). They said to Solomon after he spoke these words: Surely you must be jesting, inasmuch as it is written concerning you: For he was wiser than all men (1 Kings 5:11). And now you say: Sweet is the sleep of a laboring man, whether he eat little or much. Is it not a fact that anyone who is hungry because he ate only a little cannot sleep, while one that eats much sleeps well? He replied: I am speaking here only of righteous men and those who labor in the study of the law. For example, a man who lives only thirty years may have devoted himself from his tenth year to the day of his death to the study of the law and the commandments, while another man who lives eighty years, may have devoted himself to the study of the law and the commandments from his tenth year to the day of his death. You might say: Woe to the first one, who labored only twenty years in the study of the law, whilst the other devoted himself to the study of the law for seventy years. Surely the Holy One, blessed be He, will give him a greater reward than He will give to him who labored in the law only twenty years.  Hence I said: Whether he eat little or much. For the one who had devoted twenty years to the study of the Torah might well say to the Holy One, blessed be He: “If You had not removed me from this world in the prime of my life, I would have had additional years to devote to the study of the law and the commandments.” Therefore I repeat: Whether he eat little or much, the reward of one is equal to the reward of the other.      


Then they said to him: You declared also that The satiety of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. What can this mean? Certainly it permits him to sleep. In fact, a man sated with food falls asleep more quickly than others. Solomon replied: I was speaking about those who possess the riches of the Torah and not material possessions. For example, a man who is distinguished and wealthy in the knowledge of the Torah will teach many students and disseminate his knowledge among the masses, and he is satisfied in his knowledge of Torah. And when he dies, the disciples he raised do not permit him to be forgotten. They sit and labor in the Torah, the Talmud, the law, and the Aggadah, quoting the law in his name and recalling him to mind constantly. They do not permit him to sleep undisturbed in his grave.


R. Simeon the son of Lakish, R. Akiba, and R. Simeon the son of Yohai said: His disciples do not permit him to sleep undisturbed in his grave, as it is said: Moving gently the lips of those that are asleep (Song 7:10). Hence, The satiety of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. Similarly, Moses taught the Torah to the Israelites, trained them in the observance of the law, arranged the order of the chapters of the Torah, and assigned the chapters to be read each Sabbath, on Rosh Chodesh, and on the holy days. And they call him to mind as they read each Torah portion.


With reference to the portion Shekalim, Moses had said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, when I die I shall not be remembered. The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: Be sure that just as you stand here now, giving them the portion containing Shekalim, thereby lifting their heads upright (i.e., to be forgiven), every year when they read it before Me, it will be as yough you were standing in that place and lifting their heads upright. How do we know this? From what they shall read concerning this matter in the verse And the Lord spoke to Moses saying: When you are lifting up the head of Israel (Exodus 30:11). “Lift up the head” is not said, but rather when you are lifting up (the future tense of the word “lifting” is used: “they will be forgiven.”)   


4. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). Scripture states elsewhere: Many there are that say of my soul: “There is no salvation for him in God,” Selah. But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3-4). R. Samuel the son of Ammi and the rabbis discussed this verse. R. Samuel the son of Ammi contended that this verse refers to Doeg and Ahithophel, who were masters of the Torah. That say of my soul suggests that they would say to David: Can a man who captures a lamb and then kills the shepherd causing Israel to fall before the sword gain salvation, since it is written: There is no salvation for him in God, Selah?


Then David cried out: But You, O Lord, as if to say, O You who are Master of the world, Your law agrees with them, for You said: The adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). But are a shield to me refers to the merits of my ancestors. My glory indicates that You have restored me to kingship; and Lifter of my head implies that yough I was guilty of murder, You permitted me to lift up the head, that is, to be forgiven through Nathan the Prophet, for he said: The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die (II Samuel 12:13).


However, the Rabbis held that this verse refers to the nations of the world. The idolaters are many (rabim), as it is written: The uproar of many peoples (Isaiah 17:12). They said to Israel: You are a nation that heard at Sinai: I am the Lord Your God, you shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3), yet at the end of forty days you said of a calf: This is your god O Israel (ibid., 32:4). How can they enjoy salvation, since it says: There is no salvation for him in God (Psalm 3:3)? But You, O Lord, are a shield about me suggests that Israel cried out: Master of the universe, do You agree with them, since You have said: He that sacrifices unto the gods shall be utterly destroyed (Exodus 22:19)? A shield about me alludes to the merits of the fathers; my glory implies that You will cause Your Shekhinah to dwell in our midst when You said: Build Me a sanctuary that I may tabernacle among them (ibid., 25:8), and lifter of the head indicates that instead of sentencing us to destruction, You permitted us to lift up the head, that is, to be forgiven because of Moses, as it is said: You lift up the head.


R. Jacob the son of Yohai, in the name of R. Jonathan, explained the text: And man bows down, and man lowers himself (Isaiah 2:9). And man bows down alludes to the Israelites, as it is said: And you My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, are men (Exodus 34:31), while man lowers himself refers to Moses, as it is said: Now the man Moses was very meek (Numbers 12:3). Moses cried out: Master of the universe, I know that Israel lowered itself before a calf, but I too lowered myself; will You not forgive them? He replied: You will forgive them. Hence: When you take the sum (forgive them) [“take the sum” (lit. “lift up the head”) is a Hebrew idiom meaning “forgive.”]


5. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). R. Jonah began to discuss the verse For God is judge; He puts down one, and lifts up another (Psalm 75:8). A Roman matron asked R. Yose the son of Halfta: “In how many days did the Holy One, blessed be He, create the world?” “In six days,” he replied, “as it is said: For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth (Exodus 20:11).” “What has He been doing since that time?” she queried. “He has been uniting couples and making one man wealthy and another poor,” he responded. Whereupon she retorted: “I too am able to do this. I have many slaves and maid servants, and I can couple them all this very night. What He has been doing since the time of creation, I can do easily in one hour.” “It may appear a simple matter to you,” he replied, “but to Him it is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea, for it is written: God makes the solitary to dwell in a house (Psalm 68:7).


He left her and went on his way. What did she do? She took a thousand male slaves and a thousand female slaves and had them stand face to face in two rows. This male slave, she commanded, shall take this one as his wife, and this shall take the other, and she continued to do this until she had coupled them all on that one night. When they returned in the morning, one had lost an eye, another had suffered a head wound, and a third one’s leg was broken. One shouted: “I do not want him as my husband,” while another exclaimed: “I do not want her as my wife.” Thereupon she summoned R. Yose. When he came to her she said: “I agree that your God is a God of truth, and that His law is the truth, and that everything you have said is indeed so.” He said to her: “The Holy One, blessed be He, sits and joins them together even against their will. He binds a chain about the neck of one and brings him from one end of the earth to the other to couple him with his mate, as it is said: God makes the solitary to dwell in a house; He brings out the prisoners into prosperity (Psalm 68:7).”


What does bakosharot (“prosperity”) imply? The one who is not pleased (with his mate) weeps, the one who is pleased sings. Hence the word bakosharot (from beki,weeping”, and shirot, “songs”) is used in the text. He causes one to ascend the ladder and another to descend. Thus it is said: For God is judge; He puts down this one, and lifts up this one (Psalm 76:8).


R. Jonah of Bozrah and the rabbis disagreed concerning the meaning of this verse. The rabbis maintain that it refers to Aaron. Because of the word this (in the preceding verse) he was humbled, as it is said: And I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf (Exodus 32:24), and because of the word this he was exalted, as it is said: This is the offering of Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 6:13). R. Jonah, however, was of the opinion that this verse refers to Israel: With the word this they debased themselves, and with the word this they exalted themselves. With the word this they debased themselves in saying: As for this man Moses (Exodus 32:1), and with the word this they exalted themselves, as it is said: This they shall give (ibid., 30:13). Scripture states elsewhere: Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34). R. Joshua said: Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people is indicated by the fact that when Israel sinned, the nations of the world turned against them and enslaved them.


R. Nahuniah the son of Hakanah maintained that Righteousness exalts a nation alludes to Israel, while sin is a reproach to any people is applicable to the idolatrous nations that sinned against Israel. From whom do you learn this? You learn it from Mesha, king of Moab, for it is said: Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master (II Kings 3:4). What is meant by a noked (“sheep-master”)? He was a shepherd, for it is said: And he rendered unto the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand rams (ibid.). What is meant by the wool of rams? R. Abba the son of Kahana said: Sheep. What did he do? He assembled all his astrologers and said to them: “I have a problem, tell me what to do. Should I wage war together with all the nations against Israel and exile them, or should I wage war alone against Israel so that the victory may be mine alone?” They replied: “Israel had a patriarch called Abraham who was given a child when he was one hundred years old, and he offered him as a sacrifice.” He asked them: “Was the sacrifice completed?” “No,” they answered. He replied: “He offered a sacrifice that was not completed and yet He performed miracles for them, how many more miracles would He have performed if the sacrifice had been completed. Now, since I have a firstborn son who will rule in my stead, I shall offer him as a sacrifice, and perhaps a miracle will be performed in my behalf.” Hence it is written: Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall, and there came a great wrath upon Israel (II Kings 3:27-28).


Homah (“wall”) is written here, since he prostrated himself towards the hamah (“sun”) (in performing the sacrifice). Forthwith there came a great wrath upon Israel. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: The idolaters do not acknowledge My glory, and so they rebel against Me, but you, who acknowledge My glory, rebel against Me as well.


R. Mani stated: Were it not for the merit of Obadiah’s wife, Israel would have been exterminated at that time: Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha (II Kings 4:1).


R. Huna said: Whatever justice and kindness the idolaters perform is as dangerous to Israel as the poison of a serpent. From whom does one learn this? From Berodach, who would eat every day at the third hour of the day and would sleep until the ninth hour. Once, during the time of Hezekiah, he was allowed to sleep through the sun’s return on its track (According to II Kings 20 the sun was made to go backwards for Hezekiah). When he awakened and discovered that it was morning, he wanted to slay all his servants. He asked them: “Why did you permit me to sleep through a whole day and night?” They replied: “The God of Hezekiah is the greatest of all the gods in the world.” Then Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, King of Babylon, sent a letter and a present to Hezekiah (II Kings 20:12). He wrote: “Peace to Hezekiah the king, peace to Jerusalem, and peace to the great God.” As the scribes were about to depart, he became uneasy. He said to himself: “Did I not do wrong in mentioning the peace of Hezekiah and of the city before addressing the great God?” He arose from his throne, took three steps to recall the scribes, and wrote another letter to replace it. This time he said: “Peace to the great God, peace to Jerusalem, and peace to Hezekiah.”


The Holy One, blessed be He, then said to him: Because you arose and took three steps for the sake of My honor, I will cause three kings to descend from you who will rule from one end of the earth to the other. They were Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, and Belshazzar. However, when these came to power they blasphemed, and so the Holy One, blessed be He, destroyed them and caused others to arise in their place. The rabbis said: Righteousness exalts a nation refers to the free-will gifts that Israel brought to the Temple. Therefore He granted them forgiveness through Moses. And He said: When you take the sum.


7. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). R. Yose the son of Hanina said: This verse indicated to him that in the future he would bring the first of the tribes to the Shekhinah. But which one was the first tribe? It is Reuben, as it is said: Let Reuben live and not die (Deuteronomy 33:6). This is what is meant by You lift up the head (rosh) of the children of Israel; i.e. he lifted up the first (rishon) of the tribes.


9. When you take the sum of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:12). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Take the sum of the children of Israel. He replied: My master, it is written: And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth (Genesis 28:14), and it is written elsewhere: And make your seed as the sand of the sea (ibid., 32:13), yet you tell me now to do this. He answered: If you want to know their number, you need only add together the first letter of the names of each of the tribes and this will give you their number. The resh in the word Reuben stands for two hundred thousand; the shin in Simeon stands for three hundred thousand, the yods in the names Judah, Issachar, and Joseph total thirty thousand, the nun in Naphtali accounts for fifty thousand, the zayin in Zebulun’s name is seven thousand, the dalet in Dan is four thousand, the gimel in Gad is three thousand, and the alef in Asheris one thousand – totaling five hundred and ninety-seven thousand in all. The three thousand not accounted for were slain at the time of the episode of the golden calf, as it is said: And the sons of Levi did according to the words of Moses; and there fell of the people on that day about three thousand men (Exodus 33:28). Hence the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: You are taking the count to learn how many are missing. R. Menahem said in the name of R. Bebai: This may be compared to a king who had many sheep. When wolves attacked and destroyed some of them, the king told his shepherd: “Count the sheep and find out how many are missing.” Likewise, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Go, count the Israelites, and find out how many are missing.


A census of Israel was taken on ten different occasions. The first occurred when they descended to Egypt, as it is said: Your fathers went down into Egypt with three score and ten persons (Deuteronomy 10:29). Again, when they came out of Egypt, as is said: And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men (Exodus 12:37). Once in the Book of Numbers (it was taken) with reference to the standards (Numbers 2:21); once with regard to the spies (Numbers 13); in the days of Joshua when the land was divided (Joshua 18:10); twice in the time of Saul, as it is said: And he numbered them with lambs in Telaim (I Samuel 14:4) and He numbered them with pebbles in Bezek (ibid., 11:8). What is indicated by the word Telaim? When they were prosperous, he counted them by means of their lambs (telayim), but when they were poor in deeds, he counted them with stones. What is bezek? It is a stone. He took a stone for each one of them and then totaled the stones. A census was taken in the days of David, as is said: Joab gave up the sum, the number of the people to the king (II Samuel 24:9); and again at the time of Ezra: The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand, three hundred and three score (Ezra 2:14). In the time-to-come (a census will be taken), as is said: The flock shall again pass into the hands of Him that counts them (Jeremiah 33:13), and in this instance: When you take the sum.


R. Menahem said in the name of R. Bebai, in the name of R. Hiyya the son of Abba in the name of R. Eliezer the son of Johanan: It is stated: And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea (Hosea 2:1). Why were the children of Israel compared to the sand of the sea? To inform us that just as a hole dug in the sand of the sea at evening time fills up again by morning, so the thousands lacking at the time of David would be replaced by the time of his son Solomon, as it is said: Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude (I Kings 4:20).


R. Eliezer in the name of R. Yose the son of Zimra: Whenever the Israelites were counted because it was essential to do so, none were lacking, but whenever they were counted when there was no need to do so, some were missing. When were they counted to meet a need? When Moses took the census. When were they counted unnecessarily? At the time of David. Then they shall give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord (Exodus 30:12). This occurred at the time of Moses: That there be no plague among them (ibid), but there was no plague at the time of David.


This they shall give. R. Menahem said: The Holy One, blessed be He, removed from beneath His throne of glory a coin of fire (the size of a half-shekel coin) and showed it to Moses. Then He said to him: This they shall give. That is to say, everyone who passes by as the census is taken shall give something similar to them.


10. This they shall give, everyone that passes among them that are numbered, half a shekel (Exodus 30:15). Because they had sinned at the sixth hour [word-play reading the word boshet (“shame, disgrace”) as bo shish (“the sixth hour”); thus, “The sixth hour came, they erected the golden calf.”], which is the middle of the day, they shall give half a shekel, which is six grammmata. R. Johanan declared: Because they had violated the Ten Commandments each one had to give ten gerah, which totals half a shekel. R. Simeon the son of Levi said: Because they sold Rachel’s first born for twenty pieces of silver and each one took a coin for himself, each one had to give one coin.


R. Judah the son of Simon stated: Moses heard three things from the lips of the Mighty One that confused and startled him. When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8), he replied: Master of the universe, the heavens and the heavens of the heavens cannot contain You. He responded: Moses, it is not as you think. Erect twenty boards on the northern side and twenty boards on the southern side and eight on the eastern side and eight on the western side, and I will compress My Shekhinah and dwell within them; as it is written: And there I will meet with You, and I will speak with you (ibid., v.22).


Similarly when He said: Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: My food which is presented unto Me for offerings (Numbers 28:2), Moses called out: Master of the universe, if I should assemble all the animals and all the beasts in the world, they would not be sufficient for one offering, and all the trees of the world would be insufficient for a single fire, for it is said: And Lebanon is not sufficient fuel, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for bunt offerings (Isaiah 40:16). He replied: Moses, it is not as you think. You need offer unto Me but one lamb in the morning and not two, for they are not meant to be food and drink for Me. If I had food and drink when you were with Me on the mountain for forty days, would I not have eaten, and if I had food would you not have eaten? Only for a sweet savor, shall you observe to offer unto Me (Numbers 28:2).


And when He said: When shall they give every man a ransom for his soul (Exodus 30:12), he wondered and said: Who is able to give a ransom for his soul, since it is said: No man can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him, for too costly is the redemption of their soul (Psalm 48:8-9)? He replied: Moses it is not as you imagine. This they shall give indicates that they shall give something like this. R. Huna said in the name of Rab: The Almighty, whom we cannot find out, is excellent in power (Job 37:23) implies that the Holy One, blessed be He, did not impose impossible burdens upon Israel. When Moses realized that, he declared: Happy is the people that is in such a case (Psalm 144:15) and Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob (ibid. 146:5).


In The Gemara


The Gemara gives us the specifics:


Megilah 13b And so we have learnt: ‘On the first of Adar proclamation is made regarding the shekalim and the mixed seeds’.


Notice that each person was required to give a half-shekel, no less and no more. This made each person realize that he is not a complete entity to himself. On his own, he is considered only a half, incomplete. To be complete, he can not exist alone, he must unite with others and others must unite with him. No man should be an island. There is a responsibility of the individual towards the community and a responsibility of the community to the individual. The Torah way is with community.


When this census was taken the shekalim were counted, not the people! This is the halacha: We do not count people.


Our Ashlamata for Shabbat Shekalim details how the shekalim were used.


II Melachim (Kings) 12:4-6 And Jehoash said to the priests, All the money of the dedicated things that is brought into the house of HaShem, even the money of every one that passeth the account, the money that every man is set at, and all the money that cometh into any man’s heart to bring into the house of HaShem, 5 Let the priests take it to them, every man of his acquaintance: and let them repair the breaches of the house, wheresoever any breach shall be found. 6 But it was so, that in the three and twentieth year of king Jehoash the priests had not repaired the breaches of the house.


In the case of this census, the item which was contributed, by rich and poor alike, was a half shekel (using the sacred shekel), the “shekel” being the coin in use at the time, roughly equivalent to our dollar. The collected shekels, or shekalim, in Hebrew, were then used for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan, the portable Temple, which was used until the Temple found its permanent residence in Jerusalem.


The equal participation of all the People symbolizes that all Jews must communally share in achieving national goals, by giving up his selfish, personal interests for the sake of the nation. One who does so gains infinite benefit, because the mission of Israel is dependent upon the unity of the whole.[24]


The verses also speak in terms of atonement that is achieved by participation in this half-shekel assessment… A solitary human being can seldom survive Divine scrutiny; what person is free of sin and shortcomings? But when a nation becomes one, it ascends to a higher plane, because all its individuals merge their virtues with one another. This is also the reason that it is better to pray with a “minyan,” a quorum, to establish a community, whose virtues can merge, instead of praying individually.


Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim Chapter 1 If a person commits a grave transgression and forfeits his life to the government, can he ransom himself with money? And even if there were a monetary ransom for one found guilty before a king of flesh and blood, is there a monetary ransom for one found guilty before the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed-be-He? And even if he were able to ransom his life with money, could he do so with some small coin? And Israel was found liable to a death penalty before the King of Kings, but G-d bade them only to give half-a-shekel !


Moshe was perplexed and could not understand this matter. How could this small coin suffice to be a life ransom for those who bowed down to the calf, and said to it: ‘This is your god, 0 Israel, which has brought you forth from the Land of Egypt?’ Rabbi Meir said: ‘G-d brought forth the likeness of a fiery coin from underneath the Throne of His Glory: He showed it to Moshe and said to him: ‘This they shall give.’ The likeness of this they shall give’.


A Jew himself is only a half, incomplete; he becomes whole only when united with another Jew. Moreover, each congregational sacrifice was offered by the entire Jewish nation as one entity, not as a grouping of individuals.


From My Teacher


His Eminence Hakham Dr. Yosef ben Haggai gives us the following commentary for Shabbat Shekalim and Matityahu (Matthew) 17:24-27:


24.  ¶ When they arrived into K’far Nakhum, the collectors of the half shekel [the temple tax] went up to Shimon HaTsefet bar Yonah and said, Does not your Rabbi pay the half shekel?


25.  HaTsefet answered, Yes. And coming into the house, Yeshua anticipated him, saying, What do you suppose, Shimon? From whom do the kings of a land collect duties or tribute--from their own sons or from the outsiders?

26.  And when HaTsefet said, From the outsiders, Yeshua said to him, Then the sons are indeed freemen.

27.  However, in order that we may not ensnare them, go down to the waters and throw in a hook. Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find there a shekel . Take it and give it to them to pay the temple tax for me and for yourself.



For the Midrash specialist, Hakham Matityahu (Matthew), the occasion for the collection of the Holy Half shekel brings the perfect time to explain the metaphorical meaning of this solemn Torah requirement. According to our Sages, the meaning of the Half shekel  is to teach us that personal Judaism is a lie, since Judaism is by essence communal, and therefore the shekel  is not complete until two Jews agree together to observe the mitzvot (commandments) and create a Jewish community.


The Master adds here a further and most profound insight. For our Master a Jew has the unescapable vocation to become a Torah teacher. And therefore, he either earns a lot of money to pay yearly the half shekel  or he finds Torah disciples from amongst the Gentiles who will pay the half shekel  for him. The waters here are a picture of the Gentiles and the fish is a symbol of a Gentile who has a calling to become a Torah Disciple.


There is in this narrative an expectation that the Gentiles who comes to learn Torah will have in his mouth what is required to economically support his Torah teacher. If this is not the case, then it is obvious that the Gentile who is learning Torah is by his non-payment not partaking of the “sap” of the good olive tree. The Gentiles owe an immense debt to the Jewish people, firstly because it is through the Jewish people that the salvation of the Gentiles is achieved, second, it is through the Jewish people that the Gentiles can know the revealed will of G-d as is in the Bible. Thirdly, even to this very day, without Jewish hermeneutics and Jewish Codes of Law, and Jewish masters to teach it , it is impossible to fully perceive and understand the depth and great hidden riches of the writings of the Nazarean Codicil. For these three chief reasons, the Gentiles who come to adhere to the Master of Nazareth (the King of the Jews) owe it to the Master to support Jewish Torah Scholars.


Therefore, in the grand picture of the Governance (Kingdom) of G-d, the commandment of the Half shekel  teaches us that Jews are to teach the Torah to the Gentiles, and conversely the Gentiles who are taught in the Torah are to support the Torah scholar teaching to them as a outward sign of an inner work: - i.e. that he/she has been grafted into the Jewish olive tree and brought near to the Commonwealth of Israel.


Hakham Shaul, therefore rules:


1 Corinthians 9:7 Who serves as a soldier at his own wages at any time? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not eat of the milk of the flock?


1 Corinthians 9:8 Do I speak these things according to man, or does not the Law say these things also?


1 Corinthians 9:9 For it has been written in the Law of Moses, “You will not muzzle an ox treading out grain” (Deut. 25:4). Is it that it matters to God as to oxen?


1 Corinthians 9:10 Or, does He say it altogether because of us? It is written because of us, so that the one ploughing ought to plough in hope, and the one threshing in hope to partake of hope.


1 Corinthians 9:11 If we have sowed spiritual things to you, is it a great thing if we reap of your fleshly things?


1 Corinthians 9:12 If others have a share of the authority over you, should not rather we? But we did not use this authority, but we endured all things, so that we might not give a hindrance to the Mesorah of Messiah.


1 Corinthians 9:13 Do you not know that those labouring about the holy things of the temple eat? Those attending on the altar partake with the altar.


1 Corinthians 9:14 So also the master ordained those proclaiming the Mesorah to live from the Mesorah.


And also:


Gal 6:6 But let the one being taught in the Torah share with the one teaching, in all good things.


But of course, this kind of discipline requires that they walk in and according to Emunah – i.e., faithful obedience. If there is no Emunah, then this and other mitzvot of the Torah will very unlikely be kept.


Further Commentary


By Hakham Dr. Yosef ben Haggai


For further study on the New Moon see:


One of the major problems that Christianity has faced and is presently facing is one which lacks theological explanation on the key Scriptural concepts of “obligation,” “partnership,” and “national consciousness as a people of G-d.” And for that matter, neither is there a clear differentiation made in any respected treatise of systematic theology between abstract and applied Theology. In fact, if one opens any theological work either by Luther, Calvin, Wesley and others these concepts are totally ignored, and sadly are only dealt with in tomes for the legal profession.


This week we celebrate the obligation of the Half-shekel, the concept of partnership and as well the idea of national consciousness as a distinct people from all other peoples and nationalities – the consciousness of being the people of G-d. These themes are all part of Shabbat Shekalim.


Two plus weeks prior to Purim there is a command to announce the obligation we have incurred as being the people of G-d to contribute the half shekel, also known as Temple Tax. Every Jewish male above the age of twenty is obliged to bring this offering before Nisan 1. It is important to note that this Temple tax is called “the ransom of his soul to Ha-Shem,” and it is not a full one Temple silver Shekel but half of a Temple silver Shekel.


The Half Temple Silver Shekel therefore teaches us that we have communal obligations by virtue of being the people of G-d, and G-d’s people are obligated to pay Torah taxes if they so wish to be considered part of the people of G-d in good standing. But the half Shekel also teaches us about something that pervades throughout the whole Torah the concept of partnership – partnership in marriage, partnership in Torah study, partnership in the professions, partnership with the community, and partnership with G-d. In fact, the Torah couches all of our obligations to either G-d or fellow in terms of partnership.  


This idea of partnership in the study of Torah and in effective and lasting ministry is made clear by the words of the Master in the Midrash of Matityahu 17:27 – “Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find there a shekel. Take it and give it to them to pay the temple tax for me and for yourself.” The fish could have easily coughed up only a half shekel to pay for the Master, but it brought up one shekel to pay for two persons – i.e. the idea of partnership!


In fact the idea of partnership starts in Bereshit (Genesis) when G-d partnered with Adam in prophecy and let Adam give names to every animal and plant. Then the idea of partnership is followed when G-d makes out of Adam a suitable partner for him as it is written: “but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him. And HaShem God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man … etc”.[25]


And then we come to the study of Torah, a labor in which all human beings have an obligation to participate to the best of their abilities daily. Our Sages instruct how this holy endeavor must be performed:


Pirke Abot 1:6 Yehoshua ben Perachyah and Nittai of Arbel received [the oral tradition] from them. Yehoshua ben Perachyah says: “Provide yourself with a master; acquire for yourself a colleague; and judge every person favorably.”


In other words, we can study as much Torah as we like but the obligation is not fulfilled nor can G-d bless the holy endeavor, unless we study from a Torah Master, and we study Torah with a colleague. He/she who is not meeting these requirements in the study of Torah, is prone to much error, haughtiness, and above all has not fulfilled the commandment before G-d! Why? Because in all endeavors G-d saw fit from the very beginning that all must be done in terms of partnership in order to receive G-d’s blessing.


Please note the language of this Mishnaone must make provision to have a Torah Master, but above all the text says that one ought to acquire, that is even buy if necessary a study-partner. In other words, no meaningful study can ever take place unless it is in the context of a partnership. In the same way that no legitimate child can ever be born wiyout there being a male and a corresponding female partner to produce it, and rear it.


Equally when it comes to ministry observe the deeds of the Master – he sends them two by two. In other words, the Biblical idea of leadership is collegiate. Even with Moshe our teacher, G-d put a limit to Moshe’s leadership by making his brother Aharon the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), and therefore the leadership became collegiate with Aharon sharing the load with Mosheh, and each with distinct responsibilities. And when we go to the Nazarean Codicil we see highly effective and most productive partnerships like that of Markos (Mordechai - Mark) with Hakham Tsefet (Peter), and that of Dr. Lukas (Hillel - Luke) with Hakham Shaul (Paul).


And so as we come to this section of the Temple tax, or rather, part of the Biblical ministry tax, a holy obligation upon all males over the age of twenty that belong to the people of G-d, reminding us that when we tithe or we give an offering we become partners with G-d. And we also announce that in the Kingdom of the Heavens there is no room for solo flights and solo virtuosi, all recognized labor in the name of G-d is collegiate.


On this Shabbat Shekalim, I challenge you to make the Mishnah of Pirke Abot 1:6 a reality in your life. Provide yourself with a Torah Master, and acquire a study partner to study Torah with, and see how fast you will grow spiritually, intellectually, and the many blessings with which G-d provides to them that take upon themselves seriously the obligations of His commandments which are collectively called the Yoke of the Torah – the Yoke of partnership with the Holy Word of G-d! We do it G-d’s way or our way, knowing that doing it our way is the best route straight to Gehinom. May we and all Yisrael find the courage to become real and genuine partners with G-d and our fellow, amen ve amen!


The Nature Of Money


By Hacham Menachem Leibtag

(Tanach Study Center)


By Hacham Noson Weisz

(Aish HaTorah)


Revised and modified by

Hakham Dr. Yosef ben Haggi


Soul Money


One of the 613 commandments of the Torah enjoins all Jewish males above the age of bar mitzva to contribute a half-shekel each year to the Temple. From the money that accumulates, all the public sacrifices that are brought in the Temple during the following year are purchased.


The year renews itself on the first of Nisan, the first month the Israelites observed, after being told to keep a calendar by the new moon during the exodus from Egypt.  From the first of Nisan, only offerings purchased from fresh contributions are acceptable. Thus the half shekels must reach the hands of the overseers by this date.


During Temple times, an announcement to bring the half shekels was issued each year on the first of Adar, a month prior to the due date. Reminiscent of this custom, we read the Torah section, in the annual lectionary, that contains this commandment, the first chapter of Parshat Ki Tisa, on the Shabbat just before Rosh Chodesh Adar.


Rabbi Meir said, “The Holy One pulled out a coin of fire from underneath his glorious throne and showed it to Moses”.[26]


There was apparently something very difficult about this commandment that required G-d to make a personal demonstration to Moses before he could grasp the significance of this half shekel. What could be difficult about grasping a commandment that involves the donation of a simple coin?


We find another strange reference to these half shekels in the Book of Esther:


Esther 3:9 If it pleases the King, let it be recorded that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand silver talents (shekels) . to the Kings treasury.


Resh Lakish said: “It was known to the One Who spoke and brought the world into being that Haman would expend shekels to destroy Israel, therefore he made sure that their (Jewish) shekels preceded his (Haman’s) shekels. It is written that on the first day of Adar an announcement is issued regarding the bringing of shekels”.[27]


Thus in some way, our shekels need to balance Haman’s shekels, otherwise we are lost. What does all this mean?


The Shekel As A Symbol


The shekel is the symbol of money. Although a phenomenon of the physical world, money has a nearly spiritual quality to it.  Money is the commodity that unites society. According to social contract theory, the formation of societies is a survival device. Without social concourse, each human individual would have to worry about food, shelter, clothing, security, educating children, and entertainment for himself, clearly an impossible task. But by gathering into groups, each person can specialize thus allowing all people to survive. One worries about food another is placed in charge of shelter and so on. But this requires a principle of exchange. There must be some way to determine how much food is the equivalent of how much clothing, and what is a fair return for providing security or entertainment. In turn, this requires a medium of exchange, hence money.


The word shekel in Hebrew also means “weight.” The relative weight of all things is decided by the monetary value attached to them, and this determination allows for social harmony, provided all people are in substantial agreement. If soldiers for example, feel that their services are undervalued, and they are not receiving a fair exchange for their contribution, there is a great danger that society will implode. The army is likely to rebel, and destroy social harmony.


Social harmony is a function of widespread satisfaction with the reliability of the monetary system and its ability to assign the proper weight to goods and services, so all people receive a fair exchange for their contribution to society. Alternative systems that have been attempted throughout  history, such as communism, where compensation was separated from the value of the individual’s social contribution, simply have not worked. Only the free market translation of goods and services into money has worked as a principle of social unity over the ages.


Determining Spiritual Value


But while money has always functioned efficiently to unify the physical world, it has never worked well as a determinant of spiritual value. The great moral models of history have never been compensated for the inspiration they have provided society by a fair return for their services. Great artists have frequently subsisted at the very edge of starvation even while composing masterpieces that have enriched the rest of the world. Even today, the free market has not learned how to assign proper value to anything spiritual. Thus great paintings can either be picked up for pennies before the artist becomes famous, or can only be obtained for absurdly astronomic sums after their works have come into fashion.


Because spirituality is not a necessity of life in a secular society, this lack of efficiency does not have serious affects on the social harmony. But suppose we were to organize an entire society for purely spiritual aims. Money would obviously be a very poor way to unify such a society.


Jewish society was organized for precisely such a spiritual purpose. In the prelude to the Covenant of Sinai, God declares:


Shemot (Exodus) 19:5-6 And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.


Indeed, we find that the great Sages of Israel were often poverty stricken. For example:  Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa,[28] Rabbi Yehoshua[29] and Rabbi Akiva.[30] There must be an alternative device available to manage social exchange and generate unity.


In a society organized around social contract theory, distribution of wealth should correspond somewhat with the level of goods and services that individuals provide society. Thus greater contributors of goods and services to the social welfare will end up with greater wealth than those that contribute less. Therefore wealth is also associated with status, as people with greater amounts of wealth tend to make greater contributions to the welfare of all human beings and are therefore deserving of greater honor. Wealth, status and honor tend to coincide.


In a society organized around spirituality, wealth and status are totally divorced from one another. In fact, generally speaking, people who excel spiritually tend to be uninterested in money, and there is even a loose negative correlation between money and status in such a society. When Israel was spiritually healthy, there was absolutely no connection between a person’s wealth and his position in society.


Understanding Haman’s Shekels


We have now set the stage to properly understand the significance of Haman’s shekels. Haman rose to prominence under the rule of King Ahasuerus, the ruler of the Medean (Persian) Empire that extended over 127 countries. This same King Ahasuerus was not of royal lineage. Although he was not in line to inherit the throne, he bought his way into power with money.[31] The Book of Esther begins with a description of the party he threw in the third year of his reign, whose purpose was to impress his subjects with his vast wealth.[32]


Later in the story, this same monarch elevates one of his ministers, Haman, to such lofty heights, that a command is issued mandating everyone to bow down to him.[33] The Midrash explains that Ahasuerus elevated Haman because of his immense wealth. He was one of the wealthiest men that ever lived. (The refusal of Mordechai to bow to Haman was the provocation that ultimately led to the edict that the Jewish people should all be destroyed.) In short, money was a very valued commodity in Ahasuerus’ kingdom.


We have pointed out many times in the course of these essays that the Torah does not discuss the plans and ambitions of primitive people, nor does it treat the ignorant with respect. The people described here created the background for a potential Holocaust which was only aborted miraculously; we still celebrate the defeat of Haman after all these centuries on the Festival of Purim. We can be sure that neither Ahasuerus nor Haman were primitive or stupid.


The Story Of King Ahasuerus


Ahasuerus came to power seventy years after the destruction of the Temple. The prophets had foretold that the Babylonian Exile would last for seventy years and then the Jews would be redeemed. The world waited but the redeemer never arrived.[34] Observing this, Ahasuerus decided that this was the opportune time to unite the world around a new concept.


G-d was the predominant force in human history up until this time. The worship of G-d and the interest in spirituality that was its inevitable companion dominated human ideas. Mankind was united by the principle of G-d worship. The fact that each people had its own unique way of worshipping G-d was unimportant. All men were focused on the same goal, to interrelate successfully with the Divine.


But this world was now at an end. G-d had abandoned the physical world for good. Indeed, He has never returned to rest His Presence (Shechinah) among men, to communicate with people through prophecy, to openly manifest His presence in the physical world. It was the right time to introduce a new unifying principle, the secular social contract whose unifying principle would be money. The underlying idea of this unifying principle was that man does not need G-d. If all men pool their resources together intelligently, man can provide for all his own needs, by exploiting the bounties of nature with ever-increasing productivity. Money is such a superb unifying principle that man needs no other. (In counter-balance to this idea, one of the most striking aspects of the American greenback is the motto ‘In G-d we trust.’)


The human symbol of the new order was the world’s richest man, who rose to dizzying heights through his own creative drive, Haman. He was the person who would embody this modern dream. These events in the secular world, ran parallel to an upheaval of major proportions among Jews. As Nachmanides explains,[35] the Jews of Persia had decided that the covenant made at Sinai had come to its conclusion. G-d had kicked the Jews out of Israel, and in their circumstances in exile, the observance of the commandments was not practical. In a secular world, the Jews had to adjust to a new reality.


Shmuel said: “Ten representatives came and sat before the prophet. He told them, ‘Repent.’ They answered him, ‘A slave that was sold by his master, or a wife who was divorced by her husband, do they have any attachment left to each other?’ G-d said to the prophet, ‘Tell them: Where is your document of divorce that I sent you, or where are the creditors to whom I sold you. It was for your sins that you were sold, and for your rebelliousness that you were sent away’.[36] What you are thinking will never come to pass:  That you say, “We will be as other nations, like the families of the earth, we shall also serve trees and stones.” By my life, says HaShem G-d, “If I will not rule you with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and pouring anger if need be”.[37] This problem has plagued the Jewish people ever since. In a world that does not offer us the protection of the Divine presence, it has always been difficult to remain an observant Jew. Many Jews have left the confines of observance over the ages on the grounds of practicality.


Mordechai symbolizes the Torah Jew who remains steadfast to Torah values in a changing world. His refusal to bow to Haman represents his refusal to adjust to the new world order. As Mordechai was a leader of his people who, to their great credit, neither rejected him or made any attempt to officially distance themselves from him, Haman decided that the entire Jewish people would have to go so that the new world order could be successfully implemented.


The Fiery Half-Shekel


We finally come to the commandment of the half shekel. The saving grace of a spiritual society is that it does not value people according to the amount of material goods and services they contribute to the social welfare. People are valued according to their spiritual contribution.


In Hebrew the numerical value of the word shekel, meaning “weight” or “money”, is 130, equivalent to the numerical value of the word “nefesh,” meaning “soul”, which is also 130. Thus, we understand that the commandment of the half shekel is to give it as an atonement for one’s soul.[38]


This is the idea that Moses found conceptually difficult. What do money and soul have to do with each other? Spirituality and money seem mutually exclusive. And the giving half a shekel is hardly a great sacrifice, so how can it possibly be understood as the equivalent of giving up one’s goods in exchange for benefit to one’s soul? Furthermore, how can it be an atonement?


The image of a fiery coin from beneath G-d’s throne was in answer to Moses’ bewilderment.  The commandment of the half shekel is actually a dismissal of money as the principle of unity. In a society where a person is valued according to the size of his contribution in goods and services, people do not weigh the same. People are always taxed according to their means. As goods and services are valued in terms of money, the wealthy possess a greater share of the social pie. When society as a whole has to pay for something, the wealthy must naturally contribute a greater share. If there was a spiritual tax in a democratic society to conscript common resources for the communal sacrifice, no doubt this tax would be graduated like any other.


G-d told Moses that He wants people to understand that in His eyes people are fire. The word nefesh, “soul”, stands for “ner”, “lamp”, “shemen”, “oil”, and “psilo”, “wick”, each person’s soul is a repository for the Divine flame that originates in G-d’s throne. A lamp is only a vehicle to hold the flame; the humblest lamp is more worthy than the most expensive one if it gives off a brighter flame. All Jews are lamps; they each carry the Divine flame. The social unity is the addition of all the individual flames into a tremendously bright light that can dispel the darkness of the world. The goods and services associated with its maintenance cost only half a shekel, yet, you cannot have a fire without the lamp to sustain it.


Our present Diaspora is extremely similar to the one described in Esther’s day. We live in an extremely materialistic society that measures the quality of life in terms of the goods and services at one’s disposal.


The students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him: “Why did the Jews of that generation deserve to be placed under an edict of destruction?” He told them: ”You know the answer”. They told him: “Because they went to enjoy the party of Ahasuerus”.[39]   


Jews are the repositories of G-d’s flame. Our job is not to lose ourselves in the enjoyment of the meal provided by a wealthy materialistic society. Our job is to light up the materialistic darkness with the bright light of G-d’s spiritual flame. When we sit with abandon at Ahasurerus’ table we risk our own destruction. Our half shekels take precedence over Haman’s only as long as we refuse to bow to his values.  


The Nazarean Codicil and The Half-Shekel


In Matityahu 17:24-27 we encounter the following enigmatic passage:


Matityahu (Matthew) 17:24-27 And they having come to K’far-Nachum, those who receive the half-shekel came to Tsefet and said, Your Rabbi, does he not pay the Temple tax? He (Tsefet) said, yes. And when he entered into the house, Yeshua anticipated him saying, What do you think Shim’on? The kings of the earth fom whom do they receive custom or tribute, from their sons or from the strangers? Says Tsefet to him, from the strangers. Yeshua said to him, Then indeed free are the sons. But that we may not offend them, having gone to the sea cast a hook, and the first fish coming up take, and having opened its mouth you will find a shekel; that having taken give to them for you and me.


Before we enter into any commentary or ellucidation of this interesting passage, let us be reminded that we are dealing here with a Middrashic text, where the rules of Drash Hermeneutics apply, and also where what is written is not to be interpreted literally but rather what we have here before us is a sophisticated Jewish parable.


Now here, His Majesty King Yeshua makes a distinction between Israelites and “Sons of G-d” or Hakhamim. This indeed is important because technically speaking all Nazareans are supposed to be/become “Hakhamim” since this is their primary vocation in life. A Nazarean that is not studying the Torah, and making the necessary preparation in his life to become a Hakham is in the first place is not worthy of the sublime adjective “Nazarean.” In this sense we can define the Nazarean movement as a mass Yeshivah[40] movement, since it is chief pursuit is to provide each of its members with Rabbinical instruction and qualifications equal or even above the very high standards required to day to become a Hakham. Every Nazarean person is a Hakham in the making, if not already a Hakham. Those who find this calling and vocation to be contrary to their goals in life should then become part of generic Jewish Orthodoxy rather than be associated intimately with other Nazareans and His Majesty King Yeshua the Messiah.


Jewish Orthodox Nazareanism is not a movement seeking the conversion of many souls to the truth, no matter how noble that exercise might be, but first and foremost our goal is one of making it possible for everyone wishing to become a Nazarean to achieve the vocation in his life which that calling represents. This is not a movement seeking to have large numbers of members or great synagogues, no, but rather it is a movement engaged in the pursuit of training all its members to become Hakhamim no matter how long it takes and no matter what background that person comes from. If we fail in this endeavour we would have miserably failed in our calling and would have missed the boat altogether. We are called to rule and to teach with His Majesty King Yeshua the Messiah, and to do that we need to prepare themselves to that role and devote our lives to that effect.  


Now concerning Hakhamim[41] the Shulchan Aruch[42] states:


One who is known to be a Torah Scholar in his generation, that is, he is competent to discuss topics of the Torah, and comprehends most of the places in the Talmud and the codes of Law, and study of Torah is his main occupation, even if he has some profession of business from which he earns just enough to support his family but not to amass wealth from it, and whenever he is at leisure, he studies the Torah, such a man is, according to Jewish law, exempt from all kinds of taxations and assessments, even though he may be rich. Even the personal tax which every individual is bound to pay, should be paid for him by his townsmen. And it is up to the discretion of the Jewish community leaders of the town”.[43] 


The collectors of the Half-Shekel then were so mean that they, knowing that His Majesty King Yeshua was a Rabbi, asked of him to pay the Temple tax even when Jewish Law obliges the community or town where he resides to pay for this Temple Tax for him. Messiah replies to Hakham Tsefet in a rhetorical Midrashic style: “But that we may not offend them, having gone to the sea cast a hook, and the first fish coming up take, and having opened its mouth you will find a shekel; that having taken give to them for you and me”. Note, that though he was in his right to demand the town to pay for his tax, he says “that we may not offend them”.


This is a principle that we have to remember as Nazarean Orthodox Jews. We may have a Torah right on paper to many things and services in our local Jewish communities, however, in order “that we may not offend them” we may well choose and are advised to make our own. We may have a right for example to the communal mikveh in the Jewish locality where we live but in order “that we may not offend them” we will make our own. We may have a Torah right to send our children to local Jewish schools, however, in order ”that we may not offend them” will either build our own or seek other ways in which we may fulfill these needs. In other words, even though from HaShem’s point of view we are very much part of K’lal Yisrael, of any Jewish community wherever it might be, yet in order “that we may not offend them” we need to become self-suficient and our Nazarean Jewish communities need to be in all repects concerning Torah practices “self-reliant”. 


Thus, as Jewish Orthodox Nazareans we need to be very much aware of this key principle that Mashiach taught: “that we may not offend them” and become as Nazarean communities self-sufficient and self-reliant, noting this, that our communities unlike the rest are communities of Torah students atempting to become Hachamim, and therefore it’s organisation and outlook is different from the average ”Jewish Community” because of its ultimate aim and purpose. In other words, A Nazarean Jewish community does not exists for the purpose of housing Nazarean Orthodox Jews and providing services to them, but rather it exists as would any other educational institution for the purpose of providing Torah education from the cradle to the grave, and thus resembling college campuses more than ordinary Jewish communities per se, since our aims in life are different. 


Further Mashiach states: “having gone to the sea cast a hook, and the first fish coming up take, and having opened its mouth you will find a shekel; that having taken give to them for you and me.” The “sea”, as described in the book of Revelation, is a symbol of the nations, which we need to Talmudise.[44] In other words here we have a veiled enunciation of what we quoted above from the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh. The disciples of a Torah Scholar are obliged to help him with the payment of his taxes and communal capitation fees. By the way, this does not oblige his disciples to pay for his tithes. Since the basic command of Nazareans is to go and Talmudise (ie. teach them Mishna and Gemara = Talmud) the Gentiles, their Torah students then should pay for the taxes of their Torah Teacher.     


An Analysis Of The Parasha


Why does the Torah command us to collect a half of a shekel? After all, once a collection is being made, it would definitely be more logical (and profitable) to collect a whole shekel instead of half! This special law that each member of Klal Yisrael must bring a Machatzit HaShekel (a half of a shekel) suggests that the very concept of a “machatzit” may be significant. The standard (and I think correct) explanation is that by giving a ‘fraction’ of a value - as opposed to whole - the individual shows that he is an integral part of a more complete entity. Each individual Jew is not an entity by himself; rather he is a fraction or segment of Klal Yisrael.


Using a ‘tree’ parable, the nature of the relationship between the individual and the group can be understood in two ways:


1) The individual acts as a single tree, while the group could be compared to a forest.


2) The group itself is like a tree, while the indivuals could be compared to the various parts of the tree, such as the leaves, roots, twigs, branches, etc.


Hence, our explanation above of “machazit ha’shekel” suggests that we use the latter example to explain the relationship between Klal Yisrael and each individual Jew. At the spiritual level, all members of Klal Yisrael are interdependent. Based on this understanding, we can advance a possible reason for giving a “machazit ha’shekel” when taking a census. Should we count each person individually, we focus on the independent nature of each individual. On the other hand, by counting the nation collectively, each person giving a “machazit ha’shekel,” we focus of the collective nature of the nation. Considering that G-d has given Am Yisrael[45] a Divine purpose as a collective group, i.e. to become G-d’s special nation, then G-d may judge each individual more leniently in order that he can fulfill that Divine purpose.


Moreover, counting each person individually may reflect a lack of understanding of the collective nature of Am Yisrael, thus invoking G-d’s anger (see 30:12 - “v’lo (and not) yihiyeh (shall be) ba’hem (among them) negef (a plague) b’fkod (when counting)otam (them) ...”).


[It is interesting to note that the money collected from “machazit ha’shekel” is used to buy the korbanot tzibur, the collective offering brought each day in the Temple.]


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

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[1] Machatzit hashekel

[2] Lectionary

[3] Rashi: This they shall give He [God] showed him [Moses] a sort of coin of fire weighing half a shekel, and He said to him, “Like this one they shall give.” -[from Tanchuma 9; Tanchuma Buber, Naso p. 35; Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 19a; Midrash Psalms 91:1; Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:4]

[4] Rashi: who goes through the counting Heb. הָעֽבֵר עַל-הַפְקֻדִים . It is customary for those who count to pass the ones who have been counted one following another, and so [too the word יַעֲבֽר in] “each one that passes under the rod” (Lev. 27:32), and so [the word תַּעֲבֽרְנָה in] “flocks will again pass under the hands of one who counts them” (Jer. 33:13).

[5] Rashi: half a shekel according to the holy shekel By the weight of the shekel that I fixed for you [against which] to weigh the holy shekels, such as the shekels mentioned in the section dealing with personal evaluations (Lev. 27:1-8) and [in the section concerning] inherited fields (Lev. 27:16-21).

[6] The sacred shekel was twice the weight of a regular shekel. Bechoroth 5a

[7] Rashi: Twenty gerahs equal one shekel Now He explains to you how much it is. gerahs Heb. גֵרָה , a word meaning a ma’ah [a small coin]. Likewise, “will come to prostrate himself before him for a silver piece (אֲגוֹרַתכֶּסֶף) and a morsel of bread” (I Sam. 2:36).

[8] Rashi: from the age of twenty and upward [The Torah] teaches you here that no one under twenty years old goes out [to serve] in the army or is counted among men.

[9] Rashi: to atone for your souls That they should not be struck by a plague because of the counting. Another explanation:

[10] Age thirteen (13).

[11] The word שקל (shekel), in Hebrew, also means “weight”. In Hebrew the numerical value of the word shekel is 130, equivalent to the numerical value of the word “nefesh - “, meaning “soul,” which is also 130. Thus, we understand that the commandment of the half shekel is to give it as an atonement for one’s soul. (See Exodus 30:12.)

[12] II Shmuel (Samuel) 24

[13] From Tanchuma 9; Tanchuma Buber, Naso p. 35; Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 19a; Midrash Psalms 91:1; Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:4

[14] Vayikra (Leviticus) 27:32

[15] Yiremyahu (Jeremiah) 33:13

[16] Vayikra (Leviticus) 27:1-8

[17] Vayikra (Leviticus) 27:16-21

[18] I Shmuel (Samuel) 2:36

[19] the head-tax for the Temple

[20] As a punishment for the census – since there is a prohibition against taking a cencus of Jews; see Yoma 22b and II Samuel 24

[21] The judicial court, also called a small court, consisted of twenty-three members; all had to be present at a trial

[22] Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:19

[23] Shemot (Exodus) 30:12

[24] Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, cited in the ArtScroll Stone Edition of the Chumash.

[25] Bereshit (Genesis) 2:20-21

[26] Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim, 46b

[27] Talmud, Megilah 13b

[28] see Talmud, Brachot 17b

[29] see Talmud Brachot 28a

[30] see Talmud, Ketuboth, 63a

[31] See Talmud, Megila, 11a.

[32] See Esther 1:4.

[33] See Esther 3:1.

[34] See Talmud, Megila 11b.

[35] In Sabbath 88a

[36] Isaiah 50

[37]Sanhedrin 105a, Ezekiel 20

[38] See Exodus 30:12.

[39] Talmud, Megila 12a

[40] Rabbinical Academy

[41] Torah Scholars

[42] Brief summary of Jewish Law

[43] Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried, translated by Hyman E. Goldin, New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1996, Chapter 144:6, Vol. IV, p.5

[44] Matityahu (Matthew) 28:19-20

[45] The noble people of Israel