Mishpatim / Shekalim 5777

Fiery coins[1]

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[2]

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[3]. 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[4].

Rashi has a consistent opinion throughout the Chumash[5] that whenever the Torah uses the word זה, “this”, it’s meant to be demonstrative. Someone is usually being shown something. Here, when the Torah says זה יתנו, this they shall give, Rashi quotes a Midrash[6] that Moshe had difficulty understanding the machatzis hashekel, so Hashem took out from under the כסא הכבוד, His Throne of Glory[7], a coin made of fire, and showed it to him[8]. He told Moshe that everyone should give a coin “like this”. The gemarra[9] gives three other examples where Moshe had difficulty understanding something, so Hashem showed him a vision to demonstrate what it looked like[10]. One was with regards to the making of the Menorah, one was the stage of the lunar cycle the moon when it was to be sanctified, and finally which creatures were forbidden to eat.

This begs the question, what was so difficult to understand? A shekel was a known weight of silver, so making a coin with half that weight couldn’t have been so confusing. Being confused about the Menorah is understandable, it had a very complicated design; it had to be made of one solid piece of gold. The creatures were also understandable; some of them weren’t native to Egypt so Moshe couldn’t have been familiar with them. But why did he need to be shown a vision of the coin? Also, why was it specifically a vision of a fiery coin?

One answer[11] is it wasn’t that Moshe didn’t understand what the coin looked like. Rather, he had difficulty understanding how it could serve as an atonement[12]. This is because money is often the source for a lot of problems in the world. Greed, theft, fighting, are often motivated by the pursuit of money. Therefore, Hashem showed Moshe a vision of a fiery coin. Is fire good or bad? It depends. Fire can be one of the most destructive things in the world, destroying possessions and ending lives. On the other hand, we would be in a lot of trouble without fire. Many people would freeze in the winter without it. It would be very difficult to cook food without it. Besides fire, we see that there are many things in this world that can be used for good or for bad. They can bring tremendous improvement, or terrible destruction. The point of showing Moshe the coin made out of fire was to equate money with fire[13]. Money too, can be destructive or constructive, depending on how it’s used.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a devar torah by Rabbi Frand from parshas Ki Sisa 5770. It can be read at http://torah.org/torah-portion/ravfrand-5770-kisisa

[2] Exodus 30:13

[3] Ibid verses 11-16

[4] Ibid verse 16

[5] For example: Exodus 12:2, Numbers 8:4

[6] Midrash Tanchuma Ki Sisa § 9

[7] A shiur I heard by Rav Moshe Shapira zt”l from 5775 explained the significance of taking it out from under the כסא הכבוד, but it was beyond my understanding

[8] Midrash Tanchuma loc. cit.; Yerushalmi Shekalim 1:9

[9] Menachos 29a

[10] As above, in note 5, all three have a verse that uses the word זה. The verse for non-kosher animals is Leviticus 11:29

[11] This is a very popular question with many answers. I recommend looking around to find different approaches, and you’ll surely end up with a nice devar torah to share

[12] The Midrash Tanchuma loc. cit. essentially says this, so it’s interesting that everyone tries to explain what was bothering Moshe. The Midrash however, doesn’t explain how a fiery coin answers the question

[13] Oznaim LeTorah