Thursday, March 10, 2016
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 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 month of Adar, being the end of the year with respect to the counting of the months (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 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 to benefit the Beis HaMikdash, our natural inclination towards God is stimulated and brought out. This is also why Chazal teach us to be particularly happy during the month of Adar. What can make a person happier than returning to God out of love.
This idea helps us to understand why Chazal teach us that giving the half shekel was a rectification for 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 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. 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. Since we do not have the Beis HaMikdash our desire to return can be even more intense. As a result, we are inspired to love God and to return to Him out of happiness. 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, 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. This is the renewal which comes specifically through happiness and love of God. Hence we accent happiness and returning to God out of love specifically during the month that precedes Nissan, the month of Adar.