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Parshas Shkalim: the power of half

Hamantashen, the traditional Purim pastry, are now available
Hamantashen, the traditional Purim pastry, are now available

This Sabbath we bless the coming of the second month of Adar this year, the one in which we will celebrate the holiday of Purim. It also is one of the ones known by the name of a special added portion of the Torah added on to the regular reading. We read the first section of Parshas Ki Tisa, which recounts the mitzvah of giving half machatzis hashekel, what amounts to half the value of a shekel coin,

"Reish Lakish said, 'It is revealed and known to He who created the world that Haman was destined to measure shkalim on Yisrael; therefore, He brought their shkalim before his, as we learn that on the first of Adar we read Shkaim'" [Megillah 13b]. The shkalim given by Yisrael counterbalanced those of their adversary. Haman could have made the case that he was offering the same sum as Yisrael, so his money should count just as much as theirs. But each of the half shkalim together amounted to something far greater than the sum of money that Haman offered the king in exchange for the lives of the Jews.

While "better half" is a common expression used to denote a spouse, in truth halves are by definition equal. The power of a half lies in its ability to join with another to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The 1/2 shekel illustrates the point that the parts have to combine to make a whole. The interconnectedness brings together the separate strands to form something that is more than just a gathering of pieces -- like the reeds woven together to form a basket. And each Jew has an equally important part in making up the whole, which is why all must give the same 1/2 shekel -- neither more nor less. The power of the 1/2 shekels contribution is the purity of motive involved. It is given with no hope of personal distinction. It does not augment one's status to say, "I gave 1/2 shekel," for so did everyone else! There is no contest to prove one's worth by giving an impressive amount. t is a reflection of each individual's worth becoming great as an indispensable component of the entity that is the whole of Israel.

That is something Haman was completely unaware of. He sought self-aggrandizement by showing how he alone could match the amount of money offered by all the Jews together. But he completely missed the greatness of the forest by only seeing separate trees. It is not the money but the cohesiveness of the people it represents that makes the 1/2 shekel so valuable in G-d's eyes.

Related: /the-first-adar-this-year