Sheryl and her husband Larry were at variance as far as how to handle their young son, Michael.

Whenever Michael misbehaved, Larry would explain his misdeed to him and demand an apology.

Sheryl, on the other hand, was of the opinion that if Michael’s apology wasn’t genuine and self-initiated, it held no value.

“He should apologize only if and when he is ready,” Sheryl asserted. “There is no point in us insisting on it, because that means he feels no true regret for his actions.”

“No, Sheryl,” Larry disagreed. “Michael needs to become accustomed to saying he is sorry, even if we have to prompt him. I believe that, intuitively, he understands that what he has done is wrong; it’s just a matter of training him to verbalize what he essentially feels inside.”

In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35), G‑d commands Moses to instruct the Jewish people to each donate a half-shekel as an “atonement offering for their souls,” for their participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. The silver was used to make the “foundation sockets” for the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary the Israelites built in the desert).

The Midrash relates that when Moses heard about this offering, “he became flustered and recoiled,” wondering how a mere half-shekel could compensate for the grave sin of the Golden Calf. In response, “G‑d showed Moses a coin of fire that He had taken from under His throne of Glory and said, ‘Such as this, they shall give.’”1

Why did this half-shekel commandment so perplex Moses? How did the “coin of fire” which G‑d showed him explain his difficulty? And what can we learn from this commandment in our role as parents, in what kind of “offerings” to expect from our children?

All the other gifts that the Jewish people donated to the Tabernacle were given, as the Torah repeatedly emphasizes, because “their hearts were inspired to give.”2 Men and women, young and old, from each of the different tribes willingly and enthusiastically contributed as much as they could of the many materials used to make the Tabernacle.

By contrast, the half-shekel gift was mandatory, and a uniform amount was demanded from each individual, poor and rich alike.

Moses could not comprehend how an offering that was compulsory could achieve atonement. If the individual donating did not give wholeheartedly, from his own initiative and to the best of his ability, how could it be considered an “offering”? Furthermore, how would this forced donation achieve atonement for the serious sin of the Golden Calf?

To explain this, G‑d showed Moses this coin of fire. G‑d was alluding to the fire of the soul. Every soul originates from beneath G‑d’s very throne of glory, and is driven by a fiery desire to be connected with its Source. Every soul is continually and eternally bound to G‑d, and all of an individual’s positive actions are a direct result of his soul’s motivational tugging.

G‑d was demonstrating to Moses that even a Jew who is being compelled to give the half-shekel gift, desires to give it. Though his actions may seem forced, in truth he is connecting to his soul’s fiery, inner quest to unite with G‑d.

As a parent, do you hear yourself wondering if there is any benefit in compelling your child to do what is right, when he’s doing so only because he cannot disobey you? Do you feel that unless he enthusiastically volunteers on his own, his actions are valueless? Do you consider it futile to expressly demand an apology for a wrong that he has committed?

The story of the half-shekel reminds us of the essential goodness of every individual. Life is full of challenges and enticing situations that might cause us to deviate from our authentic inner path. But our deep-seated desire is to connect to our Creator.

As a parent, remember that your child was created with a fiery soul, originating from G‑d’s very throne of glory, that innately desires to do the right thing. If your child becomes sidetracked, your parental role is to guide him back to his soul’s genuine inner goals. Different children might need different techniques in helping them overcome outside temptations, but your approach to your child must be based on the fundamental premise that he wants to do good.

Proactively guide your child, to help him act correctly—even if some of those actions might be forced.

Because despite external pressures, parental reminders or rules, the real motivation for your child doing the right thing is his fiery G‑dly soul.

Even if he—and you—are not aware of it.