Friday, March 04, 2011

Shekalim 5631 First Ma'amar

The shekel is a silver coin that was in use at the time of the giving of the Torah.  It is a mitzvah[1] for every man to donate a half shekel (or at least its value) to the Beis HaMikdash once a year.  The money is used for public sacrifices.  Sacrifices must be brought during the year in which they were purchased.  For this purpose the year is considered to start on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.  Therefore, even though the half shekel was given during Adar, the sacrifices were first purchased during Nissan.  This being the case, why was the money given during Adar?

The Sfas Emes explains that the Adar, being the end of the year with respect to the counting of the months[2] (Nissan = month #1, Iyar = month #2 … Adar = month #12) is a time of repentance similar to Elul, the end of the year with respect to the counting of years.  The difference between Elul and Adar is in the type of repentance that is required.  In Elul, we repent out of fear or awe.  In Adar we repent out of love of God.

The mitzvah of Shekalim helps us to love God.  This is because giving to a cause is a great way to develop an affinity for that cause.  When we give towards the Beis HaMikdash, our natural inclination towards God is         stimulated and brought out. 

This idea helps us to understand why Chazal[3] teach us that giving the half shekel was a rectification of the transgression of the golden calf.  Once that natural inner desire to be close to God is stimulated and comes to the fore, every barrier falls away.  Chazal[4] allude to this idea when they say that even an iron barrier cannot come between us and God.  Similarly, God's beloved said, "שימני כחותם על לבך .../[For the sake of my love,] place me like a seal upon Your heart …" (Shir HaShirim 8:6) – with no barrier separating us.

The mitzvah of Shekalim applies only when the Beis HaMikdash stands[5].  Nowadays, we are still stimulated to love God when we hear Parshas Shekalim read on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar, maybe even more so since our desire to give to God is not bounded by the mitzvah of giving the half shekel.  As a result of this pining to sacrifice for God, we are inspired to return to Him out of love.  After all, God is interested in our return to Him, not in the half shekel.  Giving the half shekel is only a tool to help us come close to God.

Why are we encouraged to prepare for the month of Nissan specifically by cultivating love of God and happiness?  Elsewhere[6], the Sfas Emes teaches that every Rosh Chodesh is a time of renewal.  The moon's cycle of waning and waxing is an obvious metaphor for renewal.  The aspect of renewal is particularly strong in the month of Nissan since it is the first of all the months.

Elsewhere[7] the Sfas Emes teaches us that there is no renewal in this world, "אין כל חדש תחת השמש/There is nothing new under the sun." (Koheles 1:9)  The implication is that all renewal comes from "above the sun", from the spiritual realms.  In essence the more we attach ourselves to God, so to speak, the more we are open to the renewal that ultimately comes from Him.  The best way to come close to God is by cultivating happiness and a love for Him.  Hence we accent happiness and returning to God out of love specifically during the month that precedes Nissan, the month of Adar. 

[1] Viz Yad HaChazaka Shekalim 1:1, 4:1, 4:11
[2] Rosh HaShana 1:1
[3] Tanchuma Ki Sisa 2
[4] Pesachim 85b – ma'amar of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi
[5] Viz Yad HaChazaka Shekalim 1:8
[6] Sfas Emes Mikeitz 5631 Second Ma'amar and other places
[7] Ibid.

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