Contact Us

Become a "Half-Shekel"

Become a "Half-Shekel"

Parshat Mishpatim

 Email

“All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has from the rest…. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, ‘How strong I am now and how secure,’ and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence”

—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Surely a morose assessment of humankind, made by one of theYou risk descending into a prison of your own making more anguished 19th century novelists.

Stand alone, he says, rely on your own capacities and cunning, and you risk descending into a prison of your own making.

But this sentiment preceded Dostoyevsky by two millennia, when Moses warned the nation as they were on the cusp of entering the Land of Israel to never forget the true source of their wealth and achievement—to never fall prey to that dogged thought, “My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me.1” It is G‑d who empowers us, provides us with talents, resources, and opportunities to fashion something for ourselves in this world.

Maybe, though, Moses’ exhortation is twofold: Do not forget G‑d who makes everything possible, or the fellow human beings with whom we are all inextricably tied.

If we are to remain a united nation on that land, Moses says, we cannot afford to become self-absorbed. Because the more we withdraw within ourselves, the less we recognize the need for others. And once we dispense with human contact, there is no community, no nation, indeed, no need for a common land.

The remedy for this cutting sense of isolation is offered in the reading of Parshat Shekalim, read annually on the Shabbat before the first of Adar. This passage obligates every adult male to make a yearly contribution of a half-shekel to the Temple’s communal coffers, used to fund the daily Temple service.

The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel…”2

This seems to be a departure from the Torah’s normal expectations—that one be prepared to exhaust all of one’s resources in the service of G‑d.3 Are we not told to give G‑d the entire heart? Why, then, when it comes to funding the mainstay of our spiritual lives—the Temple service—are we strictly confined to the specific amount of a half shekel?

Because for the community to be whole, the contribution of each of its member’s must be an admission of their imperfections. If each person elbows their way to the front waving their own bloated credentials, if each imagines he or she to have the solution to the community’s ailments, then collaboration becomes impossible, and Dostoyevsky’s description becomes inevitable.

Come forward with a half shekel, be comfortable with your own incompleteness, with the fact that no human being is full, self-sufficient, independent—and a cohesive sense of kinship will arise from all our fragmented donations.4

This same awareness can rectify another societal illness—the stigmatizing and distancing of those with disabilities. I can look out at someone who does not walk the same way I do, or talk the same way, or learn the same way, and reflexively conclude that the difference in our abilities speaks to some inherent chasm between us. I can move freely, she cannot; does that not make me more functional, more useful, more—normal? But I also wear glasses. In fact, I would probably walk better drunk with glasses than sober without them. Yet somehow, I have never been made to feel different than those without visual aid. Of course, millions of people share this limitation, and think nothing of it. On further reflection, every person will be able to identify some variation of ability that distinguishes themselves from others—are we all athletes?

The stigmatization comes in the form of denigrating certainEvery person can identify some variation in ability variations, and normalizing others. But with a clear-eyed appraisal of the very nature of humanity, that every individual is a “half-shekel,” we can move past the pigeonholing of those with disabilities.

Our communal coffers are empty if some of us think we are complete. There can be no collective movement towards G‑d, towards each other, when we claim to not need the assistance of others, when we “split up into units...keep apart, each in his own groove.” Only by depositing a coin of partial value, by reminding ourselves of what it is to be human—fallible, unsteady, vulnerable, incomplete—can we be a united people who cherishes each of our individual parts.

Footnotes
3.
See, for example, Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Issurei Mizbe’ach 7:11.
4.
See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 31, pp. 132-134.
This article was produced in partnership by the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI).
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Start a Discussion
1000 characters remaining