By Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, zechuso tagein aleinu, Parshas Shekalim, 5631
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar by quoting the first Mishna in Maseches
Shekalim. That Mishna says: 'On the first day of Adar, we have people
hear about: their obligation to donate half a shekel to the Bais
Ha'mikdash; and about Kil'ayim. This involves the need to be careful,
when planting one's field, to avoid mixing seeds of different species
(e.g., grapes and wheat).
As he often does, the Sfas Emes poses a basic question. Why were these
announcements made in Adar? He answers that Adar resembles Elul in
certain important ways. Elul is the month before the end of one year (and
the beginning of a new year). Because of its position as a potential
turning point in our lives, Elul is a propitious time for doing Teshuva.
Similarly, Adar comes right before the new year that begins in Nisan.
Thus, Adar is also well-placed for a person to look inside of himself, and
But, notes the Sfas Emes, there is an important difference between Teshuva
in Adar and Teshuva in Elul. In Elul, people typically do Teshuva because
of yir'ah (fear; a sense of awe). By contrast, in Adar, people may return
to HaShem out of ahava (love) In fact, continues the Sfas Emes, that is
why we experience heightened joy -Simcha -- in Adar. We feel more joyous
because when Adar comes, our expansiveness and good feeling toward HaShem
increase. Likewise, this is the reason for our obligation to make a
donation to the Beis Ha'mikdash in Adar. HaShem does not need our
donations. What HaShem does want is to give us the opportunity to awaken
our good feelings and dedication toward Him.
(Note that the Sfas Emes has just given us a whole new perspective on
giving Tzedaka. The conventional view sees a person giving Tzedaka because
of his/her commitment to do mitzvos. Ultimately, love for HaShem may
enter the process. But that happens only if we work on ourselves hard
enough to do the mitzva not out of rote and not because of social
pressure, but because of our love for HaShem. By contrast, the Sfas Emes
sees the process as BEGINNING from our love for HaShem.)
Every Jewish person has within him/her a latent devotion to HaShem. What
we need is an activity to express that devotion. The obligation to give
the half Shekel to the Beis Ha'mikdosh provides such an opportunity. And
because Adar gives us an opportunity to express that love for HaShem, we
feel more joy!
At this point, the Sfas Emes injects a note of severe caution into the
ma'amar. He does this by citing a Dvar Torah that he had from his Grand-
Father, the Chidushei HaRim. The Pasuk in Shir HaShirim (7, 2) says: 'Mah
yafu pe'ah'mayich ba'ne'alim, bas nadiv'. (ArtScroll: 'But your footsteps
were so lovely when shod in pilgrim's sandals, O daughter of nobles.'.)
By contrast, the Chidushei HaRim read this Pasuk in the following Non-
The generosity and expansiveness of spirit (he is reading 'pe'ah'mah'yich
as 'pulse rate', -- i.e., 'spirit'. Cf. 'Vatipah'eim rucho' in Bereishis
41, 8) that the Jewish people have, as the descendants of Avraham Avinu
(whose Chessed and magnanimity were so great that he could be called ' the
Nadiv '; i.e., the benefactor') is so great that it must be locked up
(Min'al == lock). That is, love can be so overpowering that it has to be
watched, lest it go outside. (Anyone who knows of the devotion and love
that many Jews in Russia and Poland had for Communism, will assent to this
comment of the Chidushei HaRim.) The Sfas Emes continues: that is why the
Mishna with which we began says that at the same time as we awaken
peoples' hearts to Nedivus -- expansiveness-we must also warn them
about 'Kil'ayim' -- which the SE reads as alluding to locking up, (as
in 'Beis Ha'kela' prison). That is, people must be warned to be careful
with that love and devotion.
The Sfas Emes concludes: Every year, when we read the parsha of Shekalim,
our hearts are awakened to give all to HaShem . But unfortunately, we do
not have the Beis Ha'mikdosh, and thus cannot give our all as an
offering. Inevitably, HaShem's love for US is awakened, and we can do
Teshuva with Simcha (i.e., joyously).
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.