Vayakhel Shekalim

Vayakhel Shekalim

הרב יצחק דעי

This Shabbat, parshat Vayakhel, in the public Torah reading we will hear parshat Shekalim as well.  We must look into the meanings of parshat Shekalim, and into the connection between this parsha and the month of Adar, since "On the first of Adar the Shekalim are announced."

It is known that the purpose of the half-shekel is the purchase of communal sacrifices, first and foremost the twice-daily Tamid sacrifice.

The Gemara in Menachot (65a) describes a conflict between the Sages of Israel and the Tzedukkim (Sadducees). The struggle was not over the fundamentals of faith or over the indivisibility of the Land of Israel. The Tzedukkim didn't even ask for part of the Kotel for their deviant activities. What was the argument about? Whether an individual can volunteer to bring a Tamid sacrifice. The Tzedukkim claimed that an individual can bring a Tamid sacrifice, and attempted to support this with the words "you (in the singular) shall do (the Tamid) in the morning." And our Rabbis, the Sages of Israel, reasoned that an individual cannot volunteer to bring a communal sacrifice, and brought a proof from the verse: "You (in the plural) will take care to sacrifice to Me at the appointed time."

When the controversy ended, the P'rushim (Pharisees – the Sages) had the upper hand and prevailed. Following this victory, they decided to establish eight days at the beginning of Nissan as joyous days during which eulogies are not said. They called these days "Itukam T'mida" (The upholding of the Tamid) in honor of the event. And one who reads this will wonder (As Megillat Esther 9:26 says regarding the naming of Purim): "What did they see here, what happened to them?" What was the monumental importance of victory in this argument? Weren't there more important and fundamental issues to fight for? It should be pointed out that the account of this debate is described in the Gemara in the proximity of the description of another conflict, one which is much better known, and perhaps, if we are permitted to say so, one which is much more important: the argument over "the day after the Sabbath" which determines the date of the Shavuot festival, and in reality the entire Jewish calendar. Defeat in this dispute could have undermined the existence of all the Jewish holidays. 

HaRav Kook ZTZ"L, in a response (Mishpat Cohen ch. 124, which is essentially a haskama [endorsement] adorning the book of one of the famous acharonim, the Cli Hemdah, HaRav Meir Dan Falachki ZTZ"L), explained in depth what was behind the Tzedukkim's  attempt to promote the idea that an individual can volunteer to bring a Tamid.

The Tzedukkim, explains HaRav Kook, tried to assert that there is no special holiness in Am Israel which is called "Klal Israel" (the entirety of Israel) and just like every other nation, where there is no distinct, unique entity called the Klal, and the community is merely a type of partnership,  so it is with Am Israel. Therefore, an individual can volunteer to bring a communal sacrifice because in the final analysis the community - the nation - is a collection of individuals.

The truth is that in the case of Am Israel, "partners" and "community" are two completely different concepts. The term "community" when used referring to other nations is in fact a conglomeration which is formed by the gathering of individuals for the purpose of improving their conditions. There is no special value to the community beyond that of a partnership. Not so with regard to Israel: here the concept of "partnership" remains "a gathering of individuals" but the concept of "community" or "Klal" is fundamentally different.

Klal Israel (or Knesset Israel) is a spiritual entity which has existed before the creation of the world, before HaShem created man upon the earth. Chazal express this in Bereshis Rabbah (1,5) with the words: "The concept of Israel preceded the world." Am Israel, as a national community, reveals this high level. It does not create it. It cannot be divided and therefore there is no possibility that an individual or even a group of partners can volunteer the Tamid sacrifice which belongs to Klal Israel. Rav Kook concludes by writing: "And I still did not explain all the ramifications of the details of the depth of this holy secret."

According to this insight, we can understand why the Sages of Israel placed such great importance in the victory over the Tzedukkim in the conflict over this issue. The subject is not limited to who can or cannot bring a Tamid sacrifice. The underlying issue is whether Am Israel is a nation like all the other nations, or whether it possesses a unique quality which expresses paramount holiness.

On the basis of this understanding, we can explain several questions regarding the half-Shekel, the purpose of which, as we said, is the purchase of communal sacrifices. The Torah specifically says: "The rich man will not add and the poor man will not detract" and the explanation is that one individual cannot have, G-d forbid, distinction over another. In the same spirit we can understand the Torah's specifying a half shekel and not a whole one, which is certainly easier to count, in order to emphasize the principle that an individual does not possess the completeness which exists in the Klal. In addition, we can understand why the half-shekel is collected only from those of age twenty or more, and not from the age of thirteen (as in all the other mitzvot). This is because one who brings this terumah (contribution) must have a communal standing, meaning that he is qualified to devote himself to the nation by going out to war or by serving in the Temple.

In conclusion, we will bring the words of Chazal in Masechat Megillah (13b) "Reish Lakish said: It was revealed and known to He who spoke and (as a result) the world was created, that in the future Haman will weigh Shekalim against Israel (offer them as "compensation" to Achashverosh for the intended annihilation of the Jews). Therefore He preceded their Shekalim (of Israel) to his (Haman's) Shekalim. And this is what the Mishna says: On the first of Adar the Shekalim are announced." And his words require explanation: how does the mitzvah of the half-Shekel have the power to overcome Haman? And what connection is there between our Shekalim and the Shekalim of that tormentor? Is this a play on words? According to what we have seen, the connection is clear. Haman claimed that "there is one nation which is scattered and divided among the nations." The refutation of Haman's allegation is clearly demonstrated by the mitzvah of Shekalim, which manifests the concepts of "Klal" and "community" and therefore demonstrates the unique unity of Am Israel.




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