Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Shekalim, 5631
The Sfas Emes begins this ma’amar by quoting from the first mishna in Maseches Shekalim: “On the first day of Adar, we inform people about their obligation to donate a half shekel to the Beis HaMikdash and about kilayim (that is, the obligation, when planting one’s field, to avoid mixing seeds of different plants, such as grapes and wheat).”
The Sfas Emes poses a basic question: Why were these announcements made specifically in the month of Adar? The Sfas Emes answers that the month of Adar resembles the month of Elul in certain important ways. We know that Elul is the month before the end of one year and the beginning of a new year that begins with Rosh Hashana. Thus its position as a potential turning point in our lives makes Elul a propitious time for doing teshuva, for repenting. So, too, the Sfas Emes tells us, the month of Adar immediately precedes the new year that begins in Nisan. Thus, Adar is also well placed for a person to look inside himself and do teshuva. Because of its importance, Adar is a good time for making the key announcements mentioned in the mishna.
But, notes the Sfas Emes, there is an important difference between teshuva in Adar and teshuva in Elul. In Elul, we do teshuva from yirah (fear or a sense of awe). By contrast, in Adar, we can more easily do teshuva out of a sense of love (ahava) for HaShem. Indeed, that is why we experience heightened joy ? simcha – in Adar. When Adar comes, our expansiveness and good feeling toward HaShem increase.
That is the reason for our obligation to donate half a shekel to the Beis HaMikdash. Obviously HaShem does not need our donations. What He wants is to give us the opportunity to awaken our good feelings and dedication toward Him.
(Note, incidentally, that the Sfas Emes has just given us a whole new perspective on giving tzedaka. The conventional view sees us giving tzedaka because of our commitment to observe mitzvos. Ultimately, love for HaShem may enter the process. But that happens only if we work on ourselves diligently enough to do the mitzva not by rote and or out of social pressure but rather because of our love for HaShem. By contrast, the Sfas Emes sees the process as beginning from our love and good feelings to HaShem.)
Every Jew has within him 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 Hamikdash 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 by citing a dvar Torah from his grandfather, the Chidushei Harim. The pasuk in Shir HaShirim (7:2) says: “Mah yafu pe’ahmayich bane’alim, bas nadiv.” (ArtScroll: “But your footsteps were so lovely when shod in pilgrim’s sandals, O daughter of nobles.”). The Chidushei HaRim read this pasuk in the following non-pshat manner: The generosity and expansiveness of spirit (he is reading “pe’ahmahyich as “pulse rate,” i.e., “spirit”) of the Jewish people as the descendants of Avraham Avinu (whose great chesed and magnanimity entitled him to the sobriquet “the Nadiv,” i.e., the “benefactor”) is so great that it must be locked up (“min’al” = lock). That is, this love can be so overpowering that it has to be watched and controled lest it go outside, i.e., be misdirected. (Anyone familiar with the devotion and love that too many Jews in Russia and Poland harbored for communism will concur in this comment of the Chidushei HaRim.)
The Sfas Emes continues, addressing a question that may have bothered you earlier. The mishna quoted above juxtaposes two things . First, it specifies awakening people?s hearts to nedivus ? expansiveness. The mishna conveys his message by requiring all of us to make a donation to the Beis Hamikdash. Then the mishna warns us to be careful to avoid kil’ayim. What is the connection beween these two items in the mishna ? The Sfas Emes answers this question by offering us a non-pshat reading of the word ‘kil’ayim’. He reads the word as an allusion to “locking up” (as in “beis ha’kela” = prison). People must be warned to be careful with their idealism and generosity.
The Sfas Emes concludes: Every year when we read the parsha of Shekalim, our hearts are awakened to give all to HaShem. Unfortunately, we do not have the Beis HaMikdash and thus cannot give our all as an offering. But in any case, HaShem’s love for us is awakened, and we can do teshuva with simcha.
Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org