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By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari | Series: | Level:

‘Rabbi Levi said, â??It was known and evident to Hashem that the day would come when Haman would weigh out shekalim [to Ahashverosh] to harm Israel, so He forestalled the effect of those shekalim with the commandment to Israel to give shekalim. So we learn â??On the first of Adar we announce the obligation to bring shekalim’ ‘ (Megillah, 13b). ‘Half a shekel ….to effect atonement for your souls’ (Shmot, 30:15). The Avnei Nezer queried the role of the shekalim as bringing atonement, since we know that that is a function of the zerikat hadam of the korbanot. His answer is that through the shekalim, the penitents return to the body of the Jewish people, from which they were separated by the sins that they had committed. The only place that the Torah uses the term â??Ivri’ is in connection with a Jew who is sold as an indentured servant because of theft. Avraham was called â??Ivri’, meaning â??one who passed over, since he had passed out of the world of idolatry. Now the Jew who had stolen had passed over back to that world, thus separating himself from Klall Yisrael. This separation of the sinners is what is meant by the verse, ‘In order that the land shall not cast you forth’ (VaYikrah, 18:27-28). Eretz Yisrael does not suffer sin or sinners to dwell on its soil; in the same way, the community of Israel cannot contain the sinners. By virtue of the communal nature of the shekalim the penitent is able to rejoin Klall Yisrael. The Shem Mi Shmuel adds that we still have to understand how the shekalim can affect this, even though there has not yet been the atonement of the zerikat hadam of the korbanot. Hashem showed Moshe the form of a coin of fire in connection with the commandment of the shekalim, saying, ‘Like this they shall bring’ (Shekalim, chapter 1, halakhah4). So that the love expressed by the donation of the silver coins- kesef, that is silver and kisufim, that are yearnings- should not be pedestrian, unfeeling and without ecstasy. This is to teach us that the penitent must leave his sins with a passion and whole-heartedly. Then, by virtue of this negation of the mechanical and the pedestrian, the shekalim can bring atonement.

That is why the commandment to us to bring shekalim could forestall the shekalim of Haman. We read concerning Amalek, ‘Asher karkha- who cooled you,’ (Dvarim, 25:18) and ‘they camped in Rephidim’ (Shmot, 17:8); where the Jewish avodah became weakened and casual, then there came Amalek. Eisav, Amalek and Haman, were devoted to a cooling of the Avodah of Israel, to a cooling of the relationships of one Jew to the next and to the resultant separation of Israel from Hashem. We need to understand the discussion (Yerushalmi, Shekalim, 2, halakha 3; Also the Midrash Ki Tisah, 10), as to which sins the shekalim came to atone for. One said that it was for their error of the Golden Calf that they had made at midday while another said that that had been at the 6th hour of the day. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Rabbi Nechemiah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, as they had transgressed the Ten Commandments, each one in Israel had to bring in atonement, a half shekel, that is a tenth of a gerah in weight. Rabbi Shimon Ben Levi taught that as they had collectively sinned by selling Rachel’s first born for 20 pieces of silver, each descendant of the 10 brothers had to bring a coin, in memory of their share of the sale price, in atonement. Those scholars that relate the shekalim to the error of the Golden Calf saw their test as being their inability to serve Hashem even without wisdom or knowledge [that is only with their bodies]. Wisdom and knowledge were missing at that time, either because Satan had caused confusion and ignorance amongst Israel at the absence of Moshe that obviated their wisdom [Israel said, ‘We do not know what has happened to the man Moshe’ (Shmot, 32:1)], or because the number 6 represents the unity of the diverse parts of our bodies, but does not include our wisdom, that is the innermost part of us, represented by the number 7. Rabbi Shimon ben Levi, who held that the shekel came to atone for the sale of Yosef, argues that that sin was one of the mind and the intellect. They had to judge him with their minds but there occurred a distortion in their intellectual wisdom that led to an error in judgment. The two aspects that are contained in the shekalim will show that there is no difference between the Sages. There was the numerical element of shekalim and there was the element of the silver in them. The numerical element is reflected in the 6th hour and this refers to the chet haeigel. There is an insistence on silver in the shekalim; ‘All the hekdeishot may be redeemed [by payment with near money] except for shekalim that have to be brought in silver coins’ (Bechorot, 72).This insistence on silver is a reminder of the knowledge and intellect involved in the sin of the selling of Yosef. The Maharal explains that ‘You shall love your G-d with all your might, meodekha’, [that means as Rashi comments, â??with all your possessions’] refers to our minds, intellect and wisdom since our possessions are at the heart of everything and Mankind is immersed in their possessions. That is why they are called â??Kesef’ since our kissuffim, all our yearnings, are for them.

Now we can understand the saying of our Sages, that Hashem commanded us to bring shekalim, to forestall the coins of Haman. In that period, the Jews had committed two sins; one with their bodies, in that they partook of the king’s feast and one with their minds and intellect, in that they bowed to the idol. The shekalim atoned both for their bodily sin and for the intellectual one, since they combine both body and mind.

Shem Mi Shmuel, Mishpatim – Parshat Shekalim, 5671; 5672.

Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and

Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics ( in Jerusalem.