זה יתנו כל-העבר על-הפקדים מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש עשרים גרה השקל מחצית השקל תרומה לשם
This they shall give, all who pass over the counting, the half shekel coin of the holy shekel, 20 gerah to a shekel, the half shekel as a donation to Hashem
This week, besides being parshas Mishpatim, is also parshas Shekalim. It’s the first of what’s known as the “daled parshiyos”, four parshas that lead up to Purim and Pesach. Instead of reading the usual maftir for Mishpatim, we read a passage from parshas Ki Sisa. It describes the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel, the half-coin donation. Every year, a half-shekel coin was collected from all the Jewish people in order to provide funds for the Temple. In addition to being a form of tzedakah, the Torah says that it provides atonement for the people’s souls.
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The princess and the peasant
לא תחמד אשת רעך ועבדו ואמתו ושורו וחמרו וכל אשר לרעך
Don’t covet the wife of your friend, his servant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend
Many people have found the final of the Ten Commandments very hard to comprehend. People naturally have desires for things they see that attract them. If someone sees their friend in possession of a nice object, how could Hashem forbid them from wanting it? This is something that happens automatically, how can anyone be expected to avoid these desires?
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How to deal with troublemakers
ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבכים הם בארץ סגר עליהם המדבר
And Pharaoh said of the Jews, “they are lost in the land, the wilderness has closed in on them”
Hashem had just granted the Jews their freedom and they had begun their exodus from Egypt. Word got back to Pharaoh that the Jews took a detour, and he thought this was to his advantage. He then described that they appear to be lost. The problem is the verse says that ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל, Pharaoh spoke to the Jewish people. Who was there to speak to? All the Jews had left! This is why Rashi explains that the prefix ל in Hebrew, while usually meaning “to”, can sometimes mean “about”. The verse is then telling us that he spoke about the Jewish people, not to them. Targum “Yonasan”, however, takes the verse literally and says that it means “to”. Who was he speaking to? He understands that Pharaoh spoke to Dasan and Aviram, who remained in Egypt.
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The miracle of nature
והיה לך לאות על-ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת יקוק בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך יקוק ממצרים
And [tefillin] will be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth, because with a mighty hand Hashem took you out of Egypt
There are many mitzvos, commandments, that are associated with yetzias mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Tefillin, both on the arm and on the head, contain four sections from the Torah, written on parchment. Two of them are sections from the end of this week’s parsha, which not only describe the mitzvah of tefillin but various other commandments. Both parshiyos also mention the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt. Other examples of mitzvos associated with the Exodus include Shabbos, Sukkos, tzitzis, mezuzah, the obligation to remember twice daily the Exodus, and of course the holiday of Pesach and all that it entails. Why are there so many mitzvos connected with leaving Egypt? While the Exodus is a central part of Jewish history (it’s where the Jews emerged as a nation and was the precursor to entering the Land of Israel), what does it have to do with us today?
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