Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Ki Tisa - 5774

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Ki Tisa. It continues the instructions regarding the building of the Tabernacle, which will also be discussed in the next two portions. But there is a break in the topic of the building of the Tabernacle.

Ki Tisa begins with the law that when a census is taken, rather than counting heads, each member gives one half-shekel, and the shekalim are counted to arrive at a number. It also lists laws on the observance of Shabbat, the preparation of the incense to be used in the Temple, and the longest passage in this Parasha describes the story of the Golden Calf. Much has been written and told about this great sin of making and worshipping a Golden Calf.

I would like to share with you a word about the first Mitzvah in this Parasha, the one of of giving one-half a shekel. Why give just half a shekel? Why not require from each person a whole shekel? Commentators explain the purpose is to teach the importance of being part of a community. No one is whole. Each and everyone of us is only one-half. We need the help and participation of others to make us whole.

Another point: The Torah states, "HEASHIR LO YARBEH", the rich shall not exceed (more than half), "VEHADAL LO YAMEET", and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel. This can be read to mean that a half-shekel is not going to make the rich much richer by not giving the half-shekel; neither will it make the poor much poorer by giving the half-shekel.

There is a lesson for us - when we are called to help the community, by withholding a gift, does that amount make us richer? And even when we cannot afford to give much by giving at some level, will that amount make us poorer?

This Mitzvah emphasizes the importance of being part of the community - as long as we give according to our ability. Tzedaka has been an important value that has helped the Jewish community throughout the ages. The beauty in this Mitzvah is that everyone can participate at some level.

Shabbat Shalom,