The Torah portion of Sisa begins with G‑d telling Moshe1 that, when he takes a census of the Jewish nation, he should do so by having each individual give a half-shekel atonement offering. So powerful was this charity offering that, when Moshe was perplexed as to how the Jews could be uplifted, G‑d told him that it would be accomplished by this half-shekel gift.2

What was so unique about this charitable act? Charity is, after all, a logical action; it was practiced even before the Torah was given.3 Moreover, acting in a charitable fashion is not limited to human beings; animals, too, can be charitable.

Tzedakah may be given for any number of reasons: It may be the manifestation of an instinctive caring for others, or be performed as the result of a logical imperative; after all, the survival of humanity depends on it. Understandably, in such an instance, the individual’s giving is commensurate with his (inherently limited) degree of feeling or understanding.

A higher form of tzedakah is when a person gives, not for any personal reason, but because G‑d — Who is unlimited — has so commanded. Yet, even in this instance, since the person gives because of his desire to fulfill G‑d’s will, his giving will still be subject to the limitations of his desire to fulfill G‑d’s commands.

The highest form of tzedakah is — to paraphrase the Rambam4 — “A truthful act because it is verily so.” In other words, the Jew gives tzedakah as a visceral and reflexive response to G‑d’s command, without any motive or desire whatsoever. It was in this manner that the Jewish people gave the half-shekel.

For, with regard to the coin that the Jews were to use, we are told5 that “G‑d showed him [Moshe] a coin of fire whose weight was half a shekel , and said to him: ‘similar to this [coin] shall they give.’ ”

By exhibiting a “coin of fire ,” G‑d empowered each Jew to give his or her half-shekel with all the fire of their Divine soul, thus enabling the gift to be wholly selfless — the epitome of tzedakah.

This half-shekel gift was therefore very different from all acts of tzedakah performed until then, and enabled the Jews to be uplifted to a far greater degree than they had yet experienced.

This lofty manner of tzedakah is alluded to by the phrase “a coin of fire, whose weight was half a shekel ” — a combination of two opposite qualities.

A coin possesses a definite shape and form, while fire has no distinct shape. What’s more, fire rises, while the value of a half-shekel coin lies precisely in its weight.

Because fire rises, it symbolizes the selfless desire to leave the physical and become one with our Source above,6 while the weight of a coin is symbolic of the heaviness of physicality that causes one to be dragged downward.

The combination of these two opposites in the half-shekel weightless and formless fire with weighted and shaped coin — thus denotes a level of tzedakah that surpasses all limitations.

Just as fire has no form and constantly strives upwards, so too with the highest manner of tzedakah — it is given with fire and passion, and not as a result of one’s emotions or intellect, or for the sake of reward, or even out of a desire to fulfill G‑d’s will, but simply — like fire itself — because of every Jew’s formless, limitless and intrinsic response to G‑d’s command.

Nevertheless, this ethereal tzedakah was given by means of a coin — in a very tangible manner — demonstrating that the ultimate tzedakah permeates the giver’s entire physical being.

Based on Sefer HaSichos 5749, Vol. I, pp. 280-287