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Thursday, Adar 16, 5783 (Hakhel Year) / March 9, 2023


This week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, begins, “G-d spoke to Moshe saying, ‘When you wish to know the amount of the people of Israel, count them by having each man (between the ages of 20 to 60) give to G-d an atonement for his soul, then there will not be a plague among them when they are counted.”


G-d tells Moshe that each man shall give a half shekel. The half shekalim were then counted and thus, Moshe knew their exact amount. The half-shekalim totaled 603,550. These half-Shekalim were later used for the foundation of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle which the Jewish people built and used during their forty years in the desert.


This way Moshe also knew the exact number of men who were eligible to be drafted in case of war, as the age of those who fought in the wars was between 20-60.


In this Parsha the Torah also relates the story of how the Golden Calf-- one of the gravest sins which the people of Israel committed in the desert.


G-d wanted to destroy the nation and rebuild the Jewish nation from Moshe. After much pleading by Moshe, G-d forgave them for this sin, withholding his immediate punishment. Yet, our sages tell us that it wasn’t forgiven fully. G-d distributes punishment for this sin little by little, over time.


On fast days, when we remember a tragic event in Jewish history, we read from the Torah from this Parsha about Moshe's prayer for his people and G-d's subsequent forgiveness.


Q.Why did G-d command only the mento give the half shekel as an atonement? Also, why only a HALFshekel (not a full shekel)?


A.The Torah commentary, Alshich, has an interesting explanation: The Torah tells us that only the men gave their golden rings to make the Golden Calf.  The women refused to have any part in making the Golden Calf. Thus, the women didn’t have to atone for this sin, as they had no part in it.


Explains the Alshich, a man and his wife are onecomplete soul. Each of them is only half. In fact, the numerical value of the Hebrew word shekelis 430, the same as Nefesh(soul) which is also 430.


Being that only the men sinned, only they needed forgiveness. This is why G-d asked for a contribution of a HALFshekel (a half-soul) to show that the women were not involved in the sin of the Golden Calf.


Another reason for the HALF shekel: The "Half-Shekel" was atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. In order to atone for this terrible sin, it was important that Jews stand united. Thus the "half" Shekel teaches that each Jew on their own is only half. As Hillel the Elder teaches in Pirkei Avot, "If I am only for myself, what am I?" Only when the two half shekalim – two Jewsare united, they are completed and make a complete shekel. The lesson is obvious: Only united are we complete.