Sheryl and her husband, Larry, disagreed about how to handle their young son, Michael. Whenever Michael misbehaved, Larry would explain his misdeed and demand an apology.

Sheryl, on the other hand, felt that if Michael’s apology wasn’t genuine and self-initiated, it held no value. “There is no point in insisting on an apology,” she asserted, “because that means he doesn’t feel true regret for his actions.”

“No, Sheryl,” Larry disagreed. “Michael needs to get used to saying he is sorry. 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 commanded 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).

Midrash Rabbah 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.’”

Why did this half-shekel commandment so perplex Moses? How did the “coin of fire” that G‑d showed him explain his difficulty? And what can we learn from this commandment?

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”(Exodus 25: 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 it did not give wholeheartedly from his 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 seeming contradiction, 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 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? Or what about yourself—do you feel that there is any value in doing something positive, even if you are only doing it because of social pressure?

The story of the half-shekel reminds us of the essential goodness of humanity. Life is full of challenges and enticing situations that might cause us to deviate from our authentic inner path. But deep down, we want to connect to our Creator.

Go ahead, proactively guide your child to help him act correctly—even if some of those actions might be involuntary. And do something positive, even if you don’t really feel it.

Because what’s motivating you or your child to do the right thing is your fiery G‑dly soul.

Even if you are not aware of it.