Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 10   No. 22

This issue is co-sponsored
by the Osborne Family of Jerusalem
in loving memory of their father and Zaide
Edwin H. Lipowitz
Yitzchak ben Cayim Ya'akov z.l.
on his 8th Yohrzeit


Rav Amram Hillel ben Mecnachem Feldman z.l.
by his wife, children, parents and family

Parshas Vayakhel

The Half-Shekel

Last week, we discussed David Hamelech's sin in counting K'lal Yisrael. Interestingly, the Ramban in Parshas Ki Sisa ascribes his mistake to the fact that the Torah does not clearly state that the prohibition of counting without a half-Shekel extended to future generations, leaving David to err in the assumption that it was confined to that year only. Whereas in Bamidbar, besides concurring with the explanation given by the Or ha'Chayim (that David's sin lay in counting them without reason), he offers the alternative suggestion that perhaps David sinned in counting the people from the age of thirteen, instead of twenty. Rav Sheval, in his notes in 'Peirush ha'Ramban al ha'Torah' in Ki Sisa, cites inter alia, the Levush ha'Orah, who explains off his own bat that David erred in thinking that it was permitted to count Yisrael by means of a head count, and to take half-Shekalim from the people afterwards to prevent a plague. He failed to realize however, that the Ayin-ha'Ra that results from counting Yisrael without a half-Shekel takes immediate effect, and that consequently, taking a half-Shekel afterwards is too late.


As for the Mitzvah of Machtzis ha'Shekel, the Ramban concludes, the annual obligation to donate a half-Shekel had nothing to do with counting K'lal Yisrael. In fact, he explains, the money went to Bedek ha'Bayis (for repairs and other Beis-Hamikdash expenses), as well as for the purchase of the Korbenos Tzibur. And he quotes the Pasuk in Nechemyah (10:33/34) which refers to the Mitzvah of giving "a third of a Shekel for the Avodah of the Beis-Hamikdash, to purchase the Lechem ha'Panim, the Minchas ha'Tamid, the Olas ha'Tamid for Shabbos, Rosh-Chodesh and Yom-Tov, for Kodshim and for Sin-offerings ... ."

The reason the Pasuk refers to a third of a Shekel is because Ezra raised the value of the Shekel from twenty Geirah to thirty.

According to the Yerushalmi, says the Ramban, when they returned to Eretz Yisrael from Bavel, and Bedek ha'Bayis desperately needed funds to function once again, the people agreed to donate a Darkon (a coin worth considerably more than a half-Shekel). This was acceptable, because it is permitted to give more than half a Shekel, provided everyone gives the same. Later, they then decreased the amount from a Darkon to a Sela, and then to a Shekel, but when they attempted to decrease it to less than a Shekel, the Beis-Din forbade it, since less than a half-Shekel does not constitute a Kofer Nefesh under any circumtances.


The Shekel coin was initiated by Moshe Rabeinu, says the Ramban, in his capacity as a great king, and he called it a 'Shekel' (meaning weight) because it contained no impurities whatsoever and its weight was therefore totally accurate. In fact, the Shekel coin was equivalent to that of a Sela, comprising four Dinrim.

The Shekel mentioned by Chazal throughout Shas, on the other hand, is actually half a Sela (two Dinrim). It seems, says the Ramban, that in the time of the second Beis-Hamikdash, they minted a new Shekel coin to coincide with the half-Shekel that they were obligated to give each year. The reason for this was to avoid having to pay the 'Kalbon', the small fee that accompanied every transaction with Hekdesh that required change.


Korbanos-wise, the Shivlei Leket explains, the new year begins in Nisan, which means that all Korbanos that are brought after Rosh Chodesh Nisan, have to be purchased with the new half-Shekalim. As a result, Chazal instituted a system of announcements in each and every town, starting already from the month of Adar (which we commemorate with the reading of Parshas Shekalim). And the Yerushalmi adds that they brought it forward to the beginning of the month, in order to preempt the Shekalim of Haman (which he offered Achashveirosh corresponding to the sum total of the half-Shekalim that Yisrael brought in the desert).

This is also hinted in the last letters of the words 'mi'ben esrim shonoh', which backwards spells 'Haman'.

The Torah juxtaposes Parshas Shekalim beside that of the ingredients of the Ketores, because like the Ketores, the half-Shekel had the power to stop plagues (as the Torah explicitly writes "and there will not be a plague among them when you count them).


Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the P'ninei Torah
and the Ma'yanah shel Torah)


"And Moshe gathered the entire congregation of Yisrael" (35:1).

Gathering the nation was an intrinsic part of the building of the Mishkan, says the Sochatchover Gaon. For so we find, up to the time that they began to build the Mishkan, Bamos (individual altars) were permitted. Anybody could build a Bamah anywhere and sacrifice on it. But all this stopped with the construction of the Mishkan. From then on, private Bamos were forbidden. Someone who wished to bring a Korban had to bring it to the Mishkan and offer it there.

The Mishkan it seems, ended the era of individuality, replacing it with one of centralization. From now on, they would serve Hashem in unison, in one place, on one Mizbei'ach.

Shabbos too, has the power to unify K'lal Yisrael ('all of them are united with the secret of Echad'). And that explains why the Torah commanded the Mitzvah of Shabbos immediately prior to that of the construction of the Mishkan. Shabbos was the instrument that G-d chose to initiate the togetherness of the people which was a vital component of the Mishkan. The Shem mi'Shmuel attributes the cause of the above change to the sin of the Eigel ha'Zahav. Before the sin, he explains, each individual could have built the Mishkan. Indeed, in Parshas Terumah (which precedes the sin), the Torah writes "from any man whose heart is willing". Nothing is said there about gathering the people. That is mentioned only here, after the Chet ha'Eigel, where the individual lost the power to attain such great heights. From now on, it was only by communal effort that they would be able to bring the Shechinah down into the world. Perhaps this is because the sin of the Eigel ha'Zahav was performed communally.

No doubt, this also explains the stress that Chazal lay on Tefilah be'Tzibur.


Breaking off the Shiduch

"Whoever does work on it (the Shabbos) shall die" (35:2).

To explain the severe punishment for Chilul Shabbos, the Chafetz Chayim draws an analogy between Shabbos and a bride.

If a bride returns the gifts that the Chasan sent her, it is a sign that the Shiduch is over.

The Gemara in Shabbos (10a) describes how G-d told Moshe about the special gift called Shabbos that He had put away in His treasury on behalf of K'lal Yisrael. If Chas ve'Shalom, Yisrael break Shabbos, it is like returning the Chasan his gifts; It is a sign that they have broken their ties with G-d.


The Greatest Chochmah

"And all the wise-hearted among you shall come and do all that G-d commanded" (35:10).

The greatest of all Chochmos is to do what G-d has commanded.

Two Chasidim were once having a discussion as to whose Rebbe was greater. The one boasted that his Rebbe was the epitome of the saying 'A Tzadik decrees and G-d fulfils'.

'That's nothing', the second Chasid retorted, 'My Rebbe is so great that whatever G-d decrees, he fulfils!'

The truth of the matter is, that both Chasidim were right, for the one depends on the other.


Wisdom of the Hands

The wise-hearted, says the Torah, shall come and do. If a man's wisdom remains in his heart, he is not a wise man but a fool.

A wise man is one who puts his wise thoughts into actions.

Wisdom may begin in the heart, but it ends in the hands (see also Pasuk 25).

What's more, says the D'rush ve'ha'Iyun, it is better to talk less about it, but just do it.

In similar vein, The G'ro explains the Pasuk in Mishlei (18) "A wise-hearted man takes mitzvos, whereas the fool's lips cause him to stumble".

The wise man performs the Mitzvos that come to hand at once, before something occurs to prevent him from doing so; whereas the fool keeps on talking about them until that is precisely what happens.


No Sooner Said ...

"And every man whose heart lifted him and whose spirit prompted him, brought the gift for G-d" (35:21).

In everyday life says the Chida, there are many people who have good intentions which seem to get lost along the way, when it comes to carrying them out. And it is nothing short of incredible that when it came to building the Mishkan, there was not one person who had the intention of donating, who did not actually do so.


Ladies First

"And the men came with the women" (35:22).

The men came together with their wives, explains the Seforno, in order to grant the collectors permission to accept their donations (in keeping with the Halachah which requires this).

Most commentaries do indeed follow the Targum Yonasan's translation of 'Vayovo'u ho'anoshim al ha'noshim' as 'with'. The Malbim however (probably bothered by the fact that the Torah writes "al" rather than "im") translates it as 'And the men came after the women'. When the men arrived at the Ohel Mo'ed with their donations, they found the women already there. Such was the level of the women of that generation, he observes. By the Golden Calf, they refused to give away their earrings (not because of a woman's natural attachment to her jewellery, but because they would play no part in the sin). Yet when it came to building the Mishkan, they rushed to bring their donations (see also how they gave away their copper mirrors [Rashi 38:8]). And what makes it even more amazing, is the fact that, not having had a hand in the Golden Calf, they were under no obligation to participate in the construction of the Mishkan in the first place, which came as an atonement for the sin of the Eigel.



"And every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands ... " (35:25).

In similar vein to what we wrote earlier (see 'Wisdom of the Hands'), there are many people out there who mean well, but who either lack the goodwill or the ability to put their thoughts into practice. Not so the wise-hearted women of that generation. No sooner did it enter their minds to participate in the construction of the Mishkan, than they got busy spinning the different coloured materials.

In similar vein, I once explained the Ma'amar Chazal 'Hos praiseworthy is he who arrives here (in the World to Come) with his learning in his hand'. Now surely a person's learning is in his head, not In his hand?

The person to whom Chazal are therefore extending praises is the one who arrives in Olam ha'Ba, not only having studied Torah, but having put his learning into practice. He is indeed praiseworthy.


(Adapted from the Yalkut Yitzchak)

There is nothing quite as powerful as communal effort. And that is why G-d commanded every Jew to participate equally in the Mitzvah of Machtzis ha'Shekel. Neither may a poor man give less, nor may a rich man give more. In this way, everyone had an equal share in the Korbenos Tzibur and their benefits. And in addition, the memory of all the people will rise before G-d, to combine them all for the good (Seifer ha'Chinuch).

Many reasons are given to explain why the Mitzvah comprises half a Shekel, and not a complete one. According to what we just wrote, stressing the importance of the communal aspect of the Mitzvah, it follows that one needs to give specifically half a Shekel, to stress that each person is only part of the community, and that he is inadequate on his own. Others put it like this; every Jew needs to know that on his own, he is incomplete, and it is only when he connects with another Jew, any other Jew, that he becomes a complete entity.

A Chassidic vort explains that where you have two 'Yidden' (two 'Yuds'), there is the Name of Hashem.

Some commentaries connect the idea of the half-Shekel with the sin of the Golden Calf, for which it comes to atone. And they point out that half a Shekel is equal to ten Geirah, which in turn, is reminiscent of the ten commandments which they broke (and the Luchos which they caused to be broken).

The Medrash cites Rebbi Yochanan, who explains that the half Shekel represents mid-day, the time of day when Yisrael sinned (as the Torah hints in the word 'boshesh' [which is the acronym of 'bo'u sheish', six hours arrived]).

Whereas Resh Lakish considers it an atonement for the sale of Yosef, whom the brothers sold for twenty Dinrim, of which each brother received a coin of two Dinrim (half a Shekel [as we explained in the main article]).

The Alshich cites a Zohar that every soul goes to Heaven as a couple, husband and wife. Now it is well known that it was only the men who sinned by the Golden Calf and not the women. Consequently, each man had to give a half-Shekel to atone for his sin. The other half, represented the women who did not sin, and who did not therefore require an atonement.

And the same author also explains that the 'Erech' of a Jew between the ages of twenty and sixty, was fifty Shekel, (as we find in Parshas Bechukosai) of which 'Ma'aser min ha'Ma'aser' is half a Shekel. What he means is that the half-Shekel was equivalent to T'rumas Ma'aser (one hundredth), the smallest of all the fixed donations that we find in the Torah.


The Blessing of the Beis-Hamikdash
(Adapted from the Rosh)

The Mitzvah of Machtzis ha'Shekel reminds us of a bygone era, but its very existence assures us that it will return. There are many Ma'amarei Chazal which portray the incredible difference between life with the Beis-Hamikdash and life without it, not to speak of the Fear of G-d that the House of G-d instilled into those who visited it. In brief, that difference can best be described as home with one's father, and home without him.

The Rosh in Parshas Tetzaveh writes the following:

The Chalos of the Korbanos spread a blessing in all the bread. Rav Huna bar Aba said 'At the time when the Korbanos were brought, a person would take a Sa'ah of flour to be ground, and it would produce one Sa'ah of fine flour, one Sa'ah of poorer flour and one Sa'ah of oats. Nowadays, it barely produces a total of one Sa'ah.

And on the merits of the Nesachim (the wine-offering), all the wine was blessed. The story is told of a certain Talmid-Chacham who left Yerushalayim. People recognized him, and offered him ten gold pieces to come and live with them. In response, he laughed and informed them about his vine, which was worth more to him than anything that they might offer him. That vine , he told them, produced six hundred barrels of wine annually, which he sold for a handsome profit.

Similarly, on the merits of the Mitzvah of Bikurim (the first-fruits of the seven species of which Eretz Yisrael is praised), all the fruit is blessed. Yonasan ben Elazar (a Tana who lived at the time of the Beis-Hamikdash) was once sitting underneath a fig-tree, when dew descended, extracting the honey from the figs and causing it to drip on to the ground. Then he saw how goats came to eat the honey, and how milk flowed from their udders, to form a stream of milk and honey. He quickly called his disciples to show them the phenomenon which he described as 'Olam ha'Ba in this world'.

But nowadays, the Rosh concludes, we sow a lot and little grows.

From the time that the Menachos (the Flour-offerings) ceased, one eats but is not satisfied (see Rashi Bechukosai 26:5), and from the time that the Nesachim stopped, one drinks but the wine does not enibriate.

From the time that the Priestly garments ceased, clothes do not keep a person warm, and from the time that the Bikurim stopped, there are no figs on the fig-trees.

From the time that Korban Tamid ceased, there are no sheep in the pens, and from the time that the bulls of Yom-Tov stopped, the stables are empty.

In time to come, all this will be returned, may we merit to witness its fulfillment.


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