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Posted on February 21, 2019 (5782) By Yitzchak Szyf | Series: | Level:

Parshas Shekalim – The Doorway into our Spring Cycle of Yomim Tovim

Our calendar has two unique groups of holidays, each with its own full month—an “Elul”—of preparation:

We enter the “fall cycle” of Yomim Tovim in the month of Elul as our focus turns to teshuvah. From the addition of “l’dovid” and the blowing of the shofar, to the regular recitation of selichos and the changing of the paroches to white, the preparation process of Elul is clearly evident in our shuls. This fall cycle takes us through the Yomim Tovim of Tishei, and reaches its peak on Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. According to many Chassidic writings, this holiday period continues into Chanukah and reaches its peak on Zos Chanukah.

The “spring cycle” is similarly proceeded by a month of preparation, the month of Adar. Some have even referred to those special days of Adar as “ימי האלול של פסח”. This spring cycle takes us through Purim, Pesach, the days of the Omer, and into the climax of Shavuos. But to reach Pesach and the stages that follow, we must make four unique “stops” along the route—two before Purim and two between Purim and Pesach—which mark four steps of preparation. These stops are known as the “Four Parshiyos”.

The first step of preparation happens each year either on Rosh Chodesh Adar itself[1] (if it falls on a Shabbos), or more commonly (when Rosh Chodesh falls during the week) on the Shabbos that precedes it (Shabbos Mevorchim). On this Shabbos, the preparation for the spring cycle of Yomim Tovim is felt in all shuls: A second Torah is taken out and the special verses of Parshas Shekalim (from the beginning of Parshas Ki Sisa) are read, followed by a Haftarah that discusses the shekalim raised for the Beis Hamikdash. In some shuls, the liturgy itself is transformed, both in Shacharis and Mussaf with the addition of beautiful piyutim, commonly referred to as “yotzros”. It is clear to all that a new period in the Jewish calendar is now beginning.

What is so special about the message of the shekalim that allows them to play the key role of opening the entire spring cycle of Yomim Tovim?

The Sfas Emes explains that while the first of Nissan and the first of Tishrei are both “New Years”, and are both preceded by their respective preparation months, which are designated as times for teshuvah, there is a key difference: The teshuvah in Elul is “teshuva me’yirah” (repentance out of fear) and the teshuvah of Adar is “teshuva me’ahava” (repentance out of love).[2] The shekalim and the idea of “giving” is the first step in showing true ahavah (love). When one loves, one gives! The message of giving portrayed by the shekalim is meant to inspire an overall abundance of generosity during this time, and this generosity among people leads to true simcha. Adar is thus naturally a month of simcha. The generosity toward each other must of course be complemented by a generosity toward Hashem. The Sfas Emes explains that the idea of “giving money to Hashem” reflects more than just giving money. It represents our ability to dedicate our innermost self to our Creator. This leads us into renewing our bond with Hashem as we enter Nissan, the month of renewal, and get closer to Pesach.

But the shekalim do not only help us strengthen our future relationship, they also help to repair the past so that our future can be built on a sound foundation. In fact, the first idea mentioned in the yotzros[3] of Parshas Shekalim is the role that the shekalim play in serving as a kaparah (atonement) for the sin of the Golden Calf. The piyut, written by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir, says as follows:

הַעַל הֵמִירוּ כְּבוֹד רֵעַ בְּבַעַל / וְזֶה לְלֹא זֶה פָּצְחוּ בְּמַעַל

זֻנְּחוּ בַּחֲרוֹן אַף וְנֶגֶף וָגַעַל / חָל בַּעֲדָם חֶבֶר וְהַצֳּרִי תַעַל


כָּפְרָם פָּץ תֵּת לְאֻמִּים מַשְׂאֵת / לְנַטְּלָם לְנַשְּׂאָם בְּכִי תִשָּׂא אֶת

Because they betrayed the honor of their Friend [G-D] in favor of the Golden Calf,

And brazenly declared, [“This is your god”]

They were set aside for punishment and disdain by G-D’s wrath.

Moshe prayed and brought a cure….

As a redemption You said the other nations would be Israel’s servants. And that Israel would be uplifted through giving the [Shekels].

What’s the connection with the golden calf and why would the half-shekel play a key role in redemption from that sin?

First of all, the idea of the half-shekel serving as a kaparah of some sort is hinted to in the pesukim in Ki Sisa, which say that the half-shekel can serve to “lechaper al nafshoseichem”. The simple meaning is that it serves as a general kaparah from sin since it is used to buy korbanos which help bring kaparah, but those words can equally hint to the actual process of giving the half-shekel serving as a kaparah. If that is the case, it is logical that the kaparah would apply to the major sin that is discussed just a few verses later (in the same parsha of Ki Sisa), the chet ha’egel.

The pesukim also say “veloh yihyeh vahem negef” (“so that there will not be a plague among them”). The simple understanding of the concept of negef (plague) in this context relates to the “negef” that can occur if one were to directly count the people. The verse thus highlights the role of the shekalim in facilitating an indirect count and thereby averting such a “negef”. Again, however, it can also can be understood as a reference to the plague that resulted from the chet ha’egel and the ability of the shekalim to limit that and prevent future ones.

We see that we have possible references within the verses themselves of the ability of the half-shekel to serve as a kaparah for a sin as well as to prevent plagues, both very relevant to its role as a counterpoint to the chet ha’egel. But beyond the possible hints described above, there must be a stronger connection between the half-shekel and the chet ha’egel for R’ Elazar Hakalir to make such an explicit point related to the chet ha’egel in the piyutim he composed. Where did he find such an explicit connection?

It is likely from the Jerusalem Talmud.

The Jerusalem Talmud directly connects the half-shekel and the golden calf when it explains that the half-shekel signifies the fact that they sinned in the middle of the day:

כל העובר על הפקודים: ר’  יהודה ור’  נחמיה חד אמר לפי שחטאו במחצית היום יתנו מחצית השקל וחד אמר לפי שחטאו בשש שעות ביום יתנו מחצית השקל דעבד שיתא

תלמוד ירושלמי שקלים ט׳ ב

The Jerusalem Talmud is saying that since they sinned in the “half point of the day”, they should offer half a shekel (as a redemption).

[This is also discussed in Pesikta de Rav Kahana and Midrash Tanchuma.[4] It is in fact very common for R’ Elazar Hakalir to highlight ideas from sources such as these, since he lived in Israel and was strongly influenced by the Jerusalem Talmud[5] and the Israeli midrashim.]

If the half-shekel in fact serves as a kaparah for the chet ha’egel, we can understand why its commandment is placed within the same parsha (Ki Sisa) of, and just shortly prior to, the discussion of the chet ha’egel, even though it does not belong there chronologically. In fact, this would be a classic example of kadma refuah lamaka, of the Torah introducing the antidote to a problem before the problem transpires. Even though the shekalim were not needed until the mishkan was built, the Torah presents them here before the description of the sin (which of course happened before the commandment of the mishkan), to show that Hashem had already prepared the shekalim to be an antidote.

But conceptually, why would giving a relatively small amount of money, a half-shekel, serve as a kaparah for the terrible sin of the golden calf?

The answer likely has to do with what the sin, and the redemption, represent. A key part of the sin of the golden calf was the fact that the people kept throwing in all of their valuables (jewelry, gold, silver, etc) for a worthless cause. Rashi explains that Aharon, in fact, could not believe that they would actually do that, and thought that he would be able to delay the entire process if he were to suggest that they pour their own wealth into the fire. The fact that the people were able to part from so many of their valuables shows how dedicated they were to the cause. The best takanah (fix) for such a sin is to properly use money, and refocus our dedication toward Hashem.[6] People are known to spend money on things they are most passionate about. The donation of the half-shekel for the purpose of purchasing public offerings in the mishkan/Beis Hamikdash clearly signifies the importance of properly using one’s wealth for valuable causes, and this annual machatzis hashekel process provides a continual atonement for the chet ha’egel.[7]

As discussed above in the name of the Sfas Emes, Adar is a month of teshuvah m’ahavah (repentance out of love) and the concept of giving the half-shekel (which represents the concept of giving in general) is a key aspect of that teshuvah process. But as discussed here in this first piyut of the yotzros, the shekalim also serve as an atonement for the chet ha’egel because they represent a “fix” in one of the core problems leading to that sin. Instead of spilling our wealth on foolishness as in the case of the golden calf, our money can be used to strengthen our connection with Hashem and with each other. This is a key element in any teshuvah process (ie: being in the same situation, or having a similar tool, and using it to correct the wrong, in this case our relationship with Hashem).

This dual power of the mitzvah of chatzi shekel (ie: to symbolically “give” to Hashem and thereby strengthen our love for Him, as well as to repair our relationship with Him by fixing our past sins that involved an improper use of our money and resources) is particularly relevant as we embark on teshuvah m’ahavah and prepare for the months of Nissan, Iyar, and Sivan, which are the months in which our relationship with Hashem reaches its peak.


[1] Adar II in a leap year

[2] Text of Sfas Emes available at the end of this document

[3] In truth, “yotzros” represent specifically those piyutim said in birkos kriyas shema (which R’ Elazar Hakalir also composed for this and for many other Shabbosos) but they will not be discussed here. Rather, the discussion will focus on the more commonly-recited and printed krovos, which are the piyutim said in Chazaras Hashatz of Shacharis. Nevertheless, since the krovos are commonly (and incorrectly) referred to yotzros today, I will stick with that terminology.

[4] Torah Temimah also discusses connection to half-shekel. See also Yismach Yehudah on Ki Sisa for full discussion

[5] See Tosfos on Chagigia 13a “veraglei hachayos”.

[6] I learned about this idea of the “theme” of the yotzros teaching about the overall proper use of money from a beautiful shiur by Rabbi Tzvi Romm, titled “the yotzros as a window to the theme of Parshas shekalim”, available on

[7] Even the words “Ki Sisa”, which are often translated as “when you count”, can also mean “when you raise” (see Bava Basra 10b) since the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel helped raise the people to a loftier level.