Monthly Archives: February 2015

Terumah – A House for G-d

Parshat Terumah contains the instructions for building the portable sanctuary which we call the Mishkan. The purpose of this sanctuary is stated at the beginning of the Parsha:

וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם
They will make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. (Shemot 25:3)

Even though the word Mishkan means “place of dwelling,” G-d makes it clear that His intention is not to have a place to live, but rather to allow His Presence to be felt by the Jewish People. He will not dwelling in “it,” He will be dwelling “among them.”

The same phrase is used in the Haftarah, which describes the construction of the first permanent sanctuary, the Beit HaMikdash, built by Shlomo in Yerushalayim. After the description of the massive effort and architectural marvels, the Haftarah tells us that G-d has a message for Shlomo:

הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בֹנֶה אִם תֵּלֵךְ בְּחֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשֶׂה וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹתַי לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת דְּבָרִי אִתָּךְ אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל דָּוִד אָבִיךָ: וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב אֶת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
About this House that you are building: if you follow My statutes and carry out My laws, and keep all My commandments, to walk in their ways, then I shall keep My word to you as I spoke to your father, David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will not forsake My people, Israel. (Melachim I 6:12-13)

Here too, G-d stresses that the purpose of this building is for Him to dwell among the Jewish People, and refers to an earlier conversation that He had with Shlomo’s father, David. In order for us to understand the full import of what G-d was telling Shlomo, we need to go back to the context of that earlier conversation.

Soon after David established his kingdom and built his own palace in Yerushalayim, he decided that he felt uncomfortable living in such grandeur, while the Sanctuary that contained the Ark of the Covenant, also in Yerushalayim, was housed in a simple goatskin tent. He mentioned to his court prophet, Natan, that the right thing to do would be to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary. At first, Natan was enthusiastic about the idea and told him to go right ahead and implement this plan. However, that very night, G-d appeared to Natan with the following message for David HaMelech:

בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲדָבָר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶת אַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי לִרְעוֹת אֶת עַמִּי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר לָמָּה לֹא בְנִיתֶם לִי בֵּית אֲרָזִים .. וְהִגִּיד לְךָ ה’ כִּי בַיִת יַעֲשֶׂה לְּךָ ה’
For all that I walked with all of children of Israel, did I ever say to one of the tribes of Israel, that I had appointed to herd My people Israel, saying, why haven’t you built Me a house of cedar? … Hashem said to you that Hashem will make you a house (Shmuel II 7:7)

In a prime example of prophetic sarcasm, G-d points out that in the four hundred years since the Exodus, He had never once asked them to build Him a house. He assures David that if He had had a problem with the tent where the Sanctuary was placed, He would have let them know. The house that David needs to worry about is his own “house”, his dynasty, that G-d is building for him. Only after this dynasty is firmly established, would his son be permitted to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary.

After hearing this message, David put aside his dream of building a House for G-d, and focused on building his kingdom and raising Shlomo to be the first ever hereditary ruler of the Jewish People.

In the Haftarah, we are at the point where Shlomo has fulfilled David’s dream. And now that Shlomo has built this architectural wonder of a Beit Hashem, a House for G-d, G-d reminds him that He doesn’t particularly need or want it.

What, then, does He want? On this point, G-d is very clear, both in the Parsha and in the Haftarah. The purpose of the beautiful impressive House is the same as the purpose of the simple goatskin tent: “to dwell among the Jewish People.”

This phrase, “dwelling among us” refers to the prophetic experience of G-d by the entire nation. Part of the purpose of the Revelation at Sinai was the profound sense of the “Glory of Hashem” which was manifest by a “cloud” that “dwelled” on the mountain:

וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד ה’ עַל הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן
The Glory of Hashem dwelled on Har Sinai; the cloud covered it for six days; He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the cloud. (Shmot 24:17)

When the Mishkan that is first described in Parshat Terumah was finally completed, its dedication was accompanied by a similar description:

וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד ה’ מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן
The cloud covered the Tent of Assembly, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34)

The Mishkan provided ongoing access to the experience of G-d’s Presence that they had known at Har Sinai. This is the meaning of “and I will dwell among them.”

But this is not something that happens automatically. In the pagan world. people believed that “if you build it, they will come.” If the deity gets a temple, the deity can be found in the temple. This is not the case for the Jewish People. The purpose of the Revelation at Har Sinai was to receive the Torah. The prerequisite for a direct relationship with G-d has always been fulfilling the commandments that the Jewish People committed to at Sinai. It is impossible to conceive of G-d allowing them access to His Presence while they ignore His laws.

Therefore, when Shlomo builds a House of G-d to rival any temple in the known world, G-d makes a point to tell him that building it is not enough. If the Jewish People keep the Torah, He is present among them, and He is happy to use this House as the focal point for His Presence, cloud and all, as indeed happened at its dedication:

וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּהֲנִים מִן הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת בֵּית ה’
As the Cohanim left the Sanctuary, the cloud filled the House of Hashem
(Melachim II 8)

But if not? If the Jewish People renege on their commitment at Sinai, then it’s just wood and stone. G-d dwells among the Jewish People, not in some grandiose building.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Filed under Connections, Sefer Shemot, Terumah

Shabbat Shekalim – Parshat HaKessef

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot that precede the Passover season. For the Maftir at the end of the Torah reading, we read verses that describe the commandment to give a half-shekel for the census. The money would be used for the communal sacrifices for the entire year. Since these funds were collected at the beginning of the national year in Nissan, the reminder of the commandment would be read one month earlier, at the beginning of Adar.
Besides the Maftir, we also read a special Haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim. It tells us how King Yoash attempted different ways of raising money in order to repair the Temple. The word, “כסף”, silver/money, is repeated fourteen times in about as many verses.

Shabbat Shekalim usually comes out on Parshat Mishpatim. It is the first set of commandments that Moshe was given at Har Sinai. “Mishpatim” means “civil laws” and the Parsha contains dozens of commandments about money.
Shabbat Shekalim also marks Rosh Chodesh Adar, the month of the Purim holiday. Money shows up there, too: at the crucial moment when Haman gets Achashverosh drunk and convinces him to kill all the Jews, we read:

ט) אִם עַל הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר כֶּסֶף אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה
לְהָבִיא אֶל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ:
9) If it pleases the king, let it be written to destroy them, and ten thousand measures of silver, I will weigh out into the hands of the contractors to bring to the king’s treasury. (Esther 3:9)

That money must have been very important, because when Mordechai tells Esther about the meeting between Achashverosh and Haman, he says:

וַיַּגֶּד לוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וְאֵת פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָן לִשְׁקוֹל עַל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיְּהוּדִים לְאַבְּדָם:
7) Mordechai told [Esther’s proxy] about all that had happened to him, and about the matter of the money, that Haman had said to weigh out to the king’s treasury to destroy the Jews (Esther 7:7)

Thus, Parshat Mishpatim, Parshat Shekalim, the Haftarah of Shekalim, and the Megilla can all be called Parshat HaKessef – a matter of money.

There are religions and philosophies that see money as a necessary evil at best; they believe a person of intellect and standing should not concern himself with something so trivial. Then there are societies where money is the ultimate way of keeping score, where entire industries exist for its growth, where it achieves an overriding importance in people’s lives.
There are those that worship its power, and those that attempt to negate it altogether.

How does the Torah view money?

שנא’ (דברים ו) ואהבת את ה’ אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך … ובכל מאדך בכל ממונך
… as it says, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” … With all your might: with all your money (Mishna Berachot 9:5)

The Mishna equates “might” with “money”. Money gives you the power to build, or rebuild. As we see in the Haftarah, even the House of G-d cannot be repaired if there isn’t money to pay the contractors.

The Haftarah goes out of its way to tell us of the failures of King Yoash’s attempts at incentive-based fundraising. Ultimately, the money did not come from his complicated schemes, but rather through crowd-funding: a tzedaka box placed in the Beit HaMikdash itself, to which people donated as they saw fit. Small contributions from many people added up to more than enough to fund the project.

The commandment of Shekalim carries the same message: everyone gives a small amount, half a shekel, and it adds up to enough money to fund all the daily sacrifices for the entire year.

Money, thus, is not just a source of power for individuals; it is a way for a society to pool its resources to accomplish something that no individual could possibly do alone.

In truth, money only exists because society makes it so. Silver did not become a medium of exchange because of its inherent value, but only because people agreed that it should be one. In our society, money is not even based on silver or gold, but that doesn’t matter. Money is whatever the society agrees to use. It is not true value, but rather a representation of value.

The word that the Torah uses for the concept of a representation of value is “כופר” , usually translated as “atonement.”
In Parshat Mishpatim, we find the following commandment:

וְאִם שׁוֹר נַגָּח הוּא מִתְּמֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם וְהוּעַד בִּבְעָלָיו וְלֹא יִשְׁמְרֶנּוּ וְהֵמִית אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה הַשּׁוֹר יִסָּקֵל וְגַם בְּעָלָיו יוּמָת:אִם כֹּפֶר יוּשַׁת עָלָיו וְנָתַן פִּדְיֹן נַפְשׁוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוּשַׁת עָלָיו:
But if the ox has gored in the past, and the owner has been warned and did not guard it, and it killed a man or a woman: the ox shall be stoned, and the owner also will die.
If an atonement is placed upon him, he may give a ransom for his soul,
according to what is placed upon him. (Shemot 21:29-30)

The commentaries explain that despite the statement that “the owner also will die,” in actuality, the law is that the owner pays a monetary fine. The reason it is stated in this harsh manner is to point out that it was due to his criminal negligence that this life was lost. However, because he was only an indirect cause, in this particular case the Torah allows a “כופר,” an atonement, to take his place. Money, which is itself is a representation of value, can be used to represent the value of life.

The commandment of Shekalim is stated in similar terms:

הֶעָשִׁיר לֹא יַרְבֶּה וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט מִמַּחֲצִית הַשָּׁקֶל לָתֵת אֶת תְּרוּמַת ה’ לְכַפֵּר עַל נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם:
The rich will not give more and the poor will not give less than the half a shekel, to give the donation to Hashem, to atone for your lives. (Shemot 30:15-16)

The donation of half a shekel is meant to represent the value of each individual in the Jewish People. This money was used for sacrifices, which themselves are a representation of G-d’s ownership of our very lives. Through this half a shekel, we “purchase” our lives from G-d.

But why did G-d decide on half a shekel as the symbolic price of a Jewish life? One of the many interpretations is that the half shekel highlights the fact that the amount is incomplete. In order to achieve anything with half a shekel, you need someone else to contribute the other half. This is not about the monetary power of the individual, but rather the combined power of the entire Jewish community. The sacrifices that this money paid for were not individual sacrifices, but rather communal ones that represented all of the Jewish People.

The Midrash points out that the sum total of all the half-shekel donations of the entire nation added up to ten thousand measures of silver. This brings us to Haman, who handed over ten thousand measures of silver to Achashverosh. Haman thought that he was purchasing the lives of all the Jewish People from Achashverosh. Perhaps he would have been successful, if not for the fact that Achashverosh was not the owner.

אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש גלוי וידוע לפני הקב”ה שעתיד המן הרשע לשקול שקלים על ישראל לפיכך הקדים שקליהם לשקליו:
R’ Shimon ben Lakish said: Hashem knew that Haman the Rasha would weigh Shekalim against Israel, therefore, He pre-empted his Shekels with their Shekels.
(Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Ki-Tisa 386)

The commandment of Shekalim made it impossible for Haman to purchase the Jewish People. We were already “paid for”, and no longer for sale.

Moreover, Haman had described the Jewish People as “dispersed and scattered among the nations.” They were vulnerable because in their exile, they saw themselves as no longer a nation, but rather as scattered individuals. The commandment of Shekalim is the antidote to this self-image. All the little half-shekels put together represent the value of an entire nation.
Shabbat Shekalim heralds the season of the Passover Holidays, the new year that begins in Nissan. Just as Elul is a time of preparation for the New Year of Tishrei, Adar is a time of preparation for the time of national renewal and redemption. Money allows society to abstract the concept of value, and makes it possible to achieve things that would be out of reach for scattered individuals. Parshat Mishpatim, the Megilla, Parshat Shekalim, and the Haftarah all teach us how money can be used to serve G-d, “with all your might.”

PDF for printing, 3 pages A4
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Filed under Shabbat Shekalim, Special Shabbatot