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The Half-Shekel of Marriage

The Half-Shekel of Marriage

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The man took a golden ring, a half-shekel in weight; and two bracelets of ten shekels’ weight of gold for her hands. (Genesis 24:22)

A half-shekel—to allude to the shekalim contributed by the people of Israel, a half-shekel per head (Rashi ad loc).

The first marriage of which we read in the Torah is the marriage of Adam and Eve. Theirs, of course, was a marriage wholly made in Heaven: G‑d Himself created the bride, perfumed and bejeweled her, and presented her to the groom. The first instance in which the Torah tells the story of a marriage achieved by human effort is in the chapter that describes the search for a bride for Isaac. Here are detailed the workings of a conventional shidduch: a matchmaker (Abraham’s servant Eliezer), an investigation into the prospective bride’s family and character, a dowry, the initial encounter between the bride and groom, and so on.

The Torah, which often conveys complex laws by means of a single word or letter, devotes no less than 67 verses to the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. Many of the details are related twice—first in the Torah’s account of their occurrence, and a second time in Eliezer’s speech to Rebecca’s parents. For here we are being presented with a prototype to guide our own approach to marriage—both in the conventional sense as the union of two human beings, and in the cosmic sense as the relationship between G‑d and man.

Half of Twenty

One of the details which the Torah includes in its account is the fact that a ring, a half-shekel in weight, was one of the gifts that Eliezer presented to Rebecca at their meeting at the well in Rebecca’s hometown of Aram Naharayim. Our sages explain that this was an allusion to, and the forerunner of, the half-shekel contributed by each Jew towards the building of the Sanctuary. As G‑d instructs Moses in the 30th chapter of Exodus:

Each man shall give the ransom of his soul to G‑d. . . . This they shall give: . . . a half-shekel. . . . A shekel is twenty gerah; a half-shekel [shall be given] as an offering to G‑d. . . . The rich man should not give more, and the pauper should not give less, than the half-shekel . . .

Why half a shekel? Maimonides writes that as a rule, “everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. . . . Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions, as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), ‘The choicest to G‑d’” (Mishneh Torah, Hil. Issurei Mizbe’ach 7:11).

Indeed, in many cases Torah law mandates that the object of a mitzvah (Divine commandment) be tamim, whole: a blemished animal cannot be brought as an offering to G‑d, nor can a blemished etrog be included in the Four Species taken on the festival of Sukkot. Even when this is not an absolute requirement, the law states that whenever possible, one should strive to fulfill a mitzvah with a whole object. For example, it is preferable to recite a blessing on a whole fruit or a whole loaf of bread, rather than on a slice (hence our use of two whole loaves at all Shabbat and festival meals).

Why, then, does the Torah instruct that each Jew contribute half a shekel towards the building of a dwelling for G‑d within the Israelite camp?

The Torah’s repeated reference to this contribution as a “half-shekel” is all the more puzzling in light of the fact that in these very same verses the Torah finds it necessary to clarify that a shekel consists of twenty gerah. In other words, the amount contributed by each Jew as “the ransom of his soul” was ten gerah. Ten is a number that connotes completeness and perfection: the entire Torah is encapsulated within the Ten Commandments; the world was created with ten Divine utterances; G‑d relates to His creation via ten sefirot (Divine attributes); and the soul of man, formed in the image of G‑d, is likewise comprised of ten powers. But instead of instructing to give ten gerah, the Torah says to give half of a twenty-gerah shekel, deliberately avoiding mention of the number ten and emphasizing the “half” element of our contribution to the Divine dwelling in our midst.

Separated at Birth

For such is the essence of marriage. If each partner approaches the marriage with a sense of his or her self as a complete entity, they will at best achieve only a “relationship” between two distinct, self-contained lives. But marriage is much more than that. The Kabbalists explain that husband and wife are the male and female aspects of a single soul, born into two different bodies; for many years they live separate lives, often at a great distance from each other and wholly unaware of the other’s existence. But Divine providence contrives to bring them together again under the wedding canopy and accord them the opportunity to become one again: not only one in essence, but also one on all levels—in their conscious thoughts and feelings and in their physical lives.

Marriage is thus more than the union of two individuals. It is the reunion of a halved soul, the fusion of two lives originally and intrinsically one.

To experience this reunion, each must approach his or her life together not as a “ten,” but as a half. This half-shekel consists of ten gerah—each must give their all to the marriage, devoting to it the full array of resources and potentials they possess. But each must regard him- or herself not as a complete being, but as a partner—a part seeking its other part to make it whole again.

The Sanctuary

The half-shekel ring given to Rebecca for her marriage to Isaac was the forerunner of the half-shekel contributed by each Jew towards the building of the Sanctuary, the marital home in the marriage between G‑d and man.

The soul of man is “a part of G‑d above”—a part that descended to a world whose mundanity and materiality conspire to distance it from its supernal source. So even a soul who is in full possession of her ten powers is still but a part. And even when G‑d fully manifests the ten attributes of His involvement with His creation, He is still only partly present in our world. It is only when these two parts unite in marriage that their original wholeness and integrity is restored.

So to build G‑d a home on earth, we must contribute half of a 20-gerah shekel. We must give ourselves fully to Him, devoting the full spectrum of our ten powers and potentials to our marriage with Him. But even as we achieve the utmost in self-realization in our relationship with G‑d, we must be permeated with a sense of our halfness—with the recognition and appreciation that we, as He, are incomplete without each other.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of MeaningfulLife.com. If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email permissions@meaningfullife.com.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous March 2, 2016

Great article! Thanks for posting! Reply

Anonymous March 1, 2016

Some time ago your site taught that the 1/2 Shekel paid into the Temple was the redemption money because of what Joseph brothers had done to him. Reply

yitzchakchaim January 28, 2016

I would like to add that marriage cannot be rushed. While our individual souls aren't complete until marriage, Gd has a time for every person to meet his or her soulmate and marry. Such devastation comes when we try to force our destiny and disobey Gds will. Love is patient, love is kind. Reply

Anonymous March 13, 2014

Beautiful. Hits the mark. Todah rabah. Reply

Lamont Myers hallandale, Fl. March 7, 2012

Part of a whole, and being half of that part This what every one seeking to be whole should accept when entering into marriage. Reply

Wolff Salt Lake City, UT via jewishutah.com March 5, 2011

Half-Shekhel Is it possible that we as humans reflect G-d?
Is it possible that G-d is both masculine & feminine? Two parts to make the whole, to create as we create when married. We are made in G-d's image. That G-d needs us as we need G-d to be complete. Yet still perfectly complete. Half-shekhel. Reply

Anonymous New York via mitzvahtank.com March 4, 2011

Completeness When it is said that God is "incomplete", it is only our human interpretation of the word that confuses people I think. There is no absolute existence that is "completed" like something physical. God is Spirit, He has no beginning and no end, He is infinite, and He Himself expands and creats new existences all the time. The science says that the Universe is constantly expanding. Who is expanding it? God is. We are just like Him are constantly moving, learning and expanding. And in terms of completeness of our souls - I don't think for a moment that every husband and wife are one soul in two bodies, in this case there would be no divorces. Things are different for different people, and sometimes our half may not even be in the physical incarnation at the same moment as we are. It definitely exists, but not necessarily on this plane. But if it is here, we can meet him/her only when we are whole in God, only then we'll be able to connect with our half the right way. Reply

GJN Las Vegas via chabadofsummerlin.com March 4, 2011

Union between man and woman Is not this union between a man and woman a progressive one? If indeed G-d is working to bring two half souls together, does it not take a human lifetime to work this out? To discover the soul of another (even if it is a half) is not something that can be accomplished in days, weeks, or months. The physical union is just the start and the union of soul is the process. I also agree that G-d is perfect and complete - - but He created man and woman and the physical universe to accomplish something divine - - to bring glory to Himself by expressing His completeness in the physical material realm. And Moshiach will accomplish this in time. Reply

Susan Ganter Waterloo, Il March 1, 2011

I am my beloved and he is mine I totally understand G_D hiding Himself ,I think He wants us to serch for Him, and never stop until you find Him, in the Book of Esther and Sng of Songs, He is hidden in the book of Esther but always working on our behalf, And what a beautiful book of how much G-D loves us so unconditionally.We are our Makers bride and the love is so intense we can't imagine. Reply

Errol Leon Berman "HERSCHELLE" Livingston, N.J. March 1, 2011

Half Shekhel Finally I have a clear and thorough explanation of something which I never understood. Reply

Anonymous February 15, 2010

Devon's answer No problem with your interpretation. I accept it as valid. G-d's Shechina is always close by, especially Shabbat. When Moshiach comes it is G-d's Shechina that will dwell in the third Holy Temple. However, your answer does not satisfy me. Sometimes it goes that way. The author knows what he means. I stand by my question. What is meant by G-d being incomplete ? For whatever reason, the perfection of G-d has been drilled into me. The author is contradicting this notion. I am not broken hearted by any means. But rather in need of an exacting answer by the author. I want to know the author's specific context. G-d is perfect. Perfect means complete.
Always open to the author's reply. Reply

Devori February 12, 2010

answer to anonymous G-d is not incomplete. I think what the author is saying is that G-d is not fully present in the world, meaning he hides himself. When the Holy Temple was built, there were a minimum of 20 miracles a day there, a tangible evidence of G-d's presence on earth. Therefore when Moshiach comes, the third Temple can be built revealing G-d to the world so we can see and understand our purpose here. Reply

Anonymous WC February 11, 2010

He is incomplete ? How can He, G-d, who is perfect, be incomplete. I suppose that i am taking this out of context. It just strikes me as so off track. Everything else fits.

Open to answers from the author of the article. Reply

Sanford Margate, Florida November 16, 2009

I have a question for the day. Is it possible for us to be in need of a deep sigh of pride the next time we feel a sense of anxiety or guilt about having done something worthy of accomplishment? Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA March 11, 2008

-Receiving Shabbat- Biologically sex is determined in a typical male human as one who has an X and a Y chromosome. The X chromosome is as the Feminine Spirit in a male. He is complete, but only having half of the Spirit of a woman. This is why a wife supports her husband on Shabbat, as while He is exhausted, the Feminine spirit gathers, such that He can continue. Reply

Antonina Murzina Oak Park, MI March 1, 2007

Thank you Thank you very much for the beautiful article! Very powerful on this special day - The Fast of Esther and helps me to understand what we must to do on this day! Reply

Chana Waterford, CT/USA September 3, 2005

Male/Female kaballa I enjoyed the Charity Anthology very much. There is much wisdom and thought to ponder in these beautiful discourses... Reply

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