Parsha Ki Sisa : Dr. Laura Danoff
Peace of Parsha
In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Ki Sisa Hashem commands Moshe to count the Children of Israel. This was actually the third time a census was done. The first time was when the Jews traveled to Egypt (Ya’acov’s family numbered seventy), the second time was when they left Egypt (600,000 men) and the third time was the day after Yom Kippur since many Jews had died following the sin of the Golden Calf and the census was done to count the number of male survivors over the age of twenty. According to Rashi, Hashem repeatedly counted the Children of Israel because of his deep love for them.
When a census was done, each man was required to contribute a silver coin of a half -shekel. The words Ki Sisa does not actually mean, “counting”, but instead “the elevation of one’s head”. The method of counting by means of coins is significant to prove that every single person has his own individual worth and potential. By donating a half shekel and not a whole emphasizes that no one is complete without another. When we realize that we count, our heads are lifted up and we are elevated.
According to Rav Hirsch “the mission of Israel is dependent on the unity of the whole”. When a nation becomes one, it is elevated to a higher plane. The nation is judged more benevolently as a whole than on an individual basis. Kuzari says this is also one of the reasons why praying with a minyan is better than davening alone and is more effective. The union of prayer has a force and a power all its own.
Rabbi Zweig said that the half-shekel represented the soul of each person. Therefore by giving the half-shekel the Jews were giving themselves over to Hashem with the understanding that G-d held their other half. This is the reason each person had to give individually and everyone had to give equally and no one could give for another person.
The half shekel was not a one time mitzvah brought about because of the sin of the Golden Calf. It was a permanent contribution done one time a year and from this the animals for the communal sacrifices could be bought. These offerings were also intended as an atonement for the people.
In the opening of the parsha it says, “Every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them”. The Hebrew word v’nasnu meaning “and they shall give” can be read the same backward and forward. This reminds us that when we give- it will come back to us in the form of a mitzvah and enrich us. The phrase “when counting them ” is repeated twice to remind us that no one is allowed to count Jews like we count objects - not just during Moshe’s time but forever. Rashi explains that when people are counted ordinarily they become subject to an evil eye.
Hashem showed Moshe an image of a coin made of fire and said “this, they shall give”(Exodus 30:13). According to Rashi, this tells us that money is like fire. Both money and fire can be either beneficial or destructive, depending on how they are used. Giving tzedakah should always be done with enthusiasm and a good heart. Fourteen out of the fifteen materials used for the Mishkan’s construction were received “from every man whose heart impels him to give”. (Exodus 25:2). Silver was the only material according to Hashem that was to be contributed equally by each Jew -the rich were not to give more and the poor were not allowed to give less. The half shekel was melted down and used for the silver sockets, the foundation of the Mishkan.
Since we celebrate the holiday of Purim this week, it is interesting to note that it states in the Megillah that Haman offered to increase the King’s treasury by 10,000 kikar silver in exchange for the right to kill the Jews. Tosfos, in Tractate Megillah, points out that this was a half Shekel for every Jewish person.
Haman’s whole plot was based on the division of the nation. That is why G-d insisted that each Jew should give precisely one half shekel. The symbolism of half shekel is that each Jew is only a fraction of the whole. He needs to unite with his fellow Jew to make a significant contribution.
This parsha impresses upon us that each one of us can make a difference in our own families, in our communities, and in the world! Our words, actions and our mitzvot have tremendous significance. It is our responsibility to grow and become better people. There is a unique strength in unity, which makes the Jewish people even greater and stronger. So, count and make a difference!
Shabbat Shalom! This d’var torah is in honor of the birthday of my husband, Scott whose actions and mitzvot serve as a role model for our family and shul!