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Chapter 141:5
Laws of the Megillah

5. Just before Purim, it is customary to donate the value of half of the standard monetary unit currently in use in one's local region (1), as a remembrance of the half-shekel ("Machtzis HaShekel") that people [were obligated] to donate [to the Beit Hamikdash (Temple)] every Adar for the purchase of the [animals used for the] communal sacrifices (2). It has become customary to donate three times the value of half [of the standard monetary unit], because in Parashas Ki Sisa (Exodus 30:11), it says the word "Terumah" ("donation") three times [in the paragraph discussing the mitzvah to donate the half-shekel].

The money should be given in the evening, before the Megillah reading. It should be distributed to the poor. A minor is exempt from this donation, but if his father contributes on his behalf one time, it becomes his obligation for life. According to some authorities, a thirteen year old boy is obligated to donate, while others rule that he is exempt until the age of twenty.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) A half of a dollar in the United States.

(2) From Rosh Chodesh Nissan onwards, the animals used for all the communal sacrifices had to be purchased using money collected that year. Therefore, one month before, on Rosh Chodesh Adar, announcements would be made to remind people to donate the half-shekel, so that animals could be purchased with the "new" money before Nissan. The reading of Parashas Shekalim just before (or on) Rosh Chodesh Adar also serves as a reminder of that mitzvah (See HY 140:1).

 

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