The Torah reading Sisa begins with G‑d telling Moshe1 that when he takes a national census, he should do so by having each Jew 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 thereby, G‑d told him it would be accomplished by their half-shekel atonement gift for tzedakah.2

What was so unique about this charitable act? Charity is, after all, a logical action that was performed even before the Torah was given.3 Moreover, acting in a charitable fashion is not limited to human beings — animals, too, are charitable and merciful to their offspring, etc.?

Tzedakah may be given for any number of reasons: It may be done out of an instinctive caring for others, or out of a logical imperative — the survival of humanity depends on it. Understandably, in such an instance the giving will be commensurate with the giver’s inherently limited degree of feeling or understanding.

A higher form of tzedakah occurs when a person gives, not out of personal motivations, but because G‑d — Who is unlimited — so commanded. However, even in this instance, since the person gives tzedakah because of his desire to fulfill G‑d’s will, his giving will be subject to the limitations of this desire.

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

For with regard to the half-shekel that the Jews were to give for tzedakah , 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 the Jews to give the half-shekel with all the fire of their divine souls, thus causing their gift to be wholly selfless — the epitome of tzedakah. The 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.

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

A coin possesses a permanent shape and form, while fire has neither. Moreover, fire, having no discernible weight, is entirely opposite a coin, the value of which lies precisely in its weight.

The above leads to another difference between fire and coins: because of its lack of weight, fire rises upwards — symbolic of the wholly selfless desire to leave the physical and become one with one’s source above,6 while the weight of a coin is symbolic of the dragging heaviness of physicality and corporeality.

The merging of these two opposites thus denoted the highest level of tzedakah , a degree that surpassed all bonds and limitations and therefore was able to combine opposites.

Just as fire has no form and constantly strives toward that which is loftier than itself, so too with the highest manner of tzedakah — it is given with fire and passion, not as a result of one’s emotions, intellect, hope of reward, or even out of one’s desire to fulfill G‑d’s will, but simply — like the nature of fire itself — because of the formless, limitless and intrinsic Jewish response to G‑d’s command that we give tzedakah.

Nevertheless, this fiery and ethereal tzedakah was given by means of a coin, i.e., in a very tangible manner, demonstrating that this ultimate tzedakah permeates one’s physical being.

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