This week, in addition to Parshat Vayakhel, we read one of four special parshiot which are read in the month of Adar. These four parshiot are read in the three weeks leading up to Purim and the week after Purim. The first of these four parshiot is Parshat Shekalim. Parshat Shekalim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month) of Adar. Because this year is a leap year, we actually have two months of Adar. Since Purim falls into the second Adar, Parshat Shekalim is read before Rosh Chodesh of the second month of Adar.
Parshat Shekalim is named for the half-shekel coin which Moshe was instructed to make and which was used to count the Jews as well as as a contribution to the Tabernacle. But since nothing is ever random, the fact that we read Parshat Sheklaim together with Parshat Vayakhel this year, must imply a connection between them. The question is: what’s the connection?
The shekel that the Jews contributed was specifically made from silver, which in Hebrew is called “Kesef”. (This explains why in today’s modern-Hebrew, Kesef is also the word used to mean “money”.) But the original translation of the word “Kesef” is neither “silver” nor “money”. In Judaism, the “original” translation does not refer to that found in Webster’s or Oxford’s dictionaries. For Jews, the dictionary of choice is the Torah. When we want to understand what a word really means, we look for the first mention of that word in the Torah and from that context, we try to figure out its true meaning.
The first place in the Torah where the word “Kesef” appears, is in Sefer Bereishit (Genesis, 31:30). There, we find the story of Yaakov (Jacob) who, after many years of living in his father-in-law Lavan’s house, decides to leave. After taking counsel with his wives (smart husband!), Yaakov picks up his family one day and leaves the house of Lavan. When Lavan comes home and sees that Yaakov’s whole family is gone, Lavan chases after Yaakov. When Lavan finally catches up with Yaakov, he berates Yaakov for having left with Lavan’s daughters and grandchildren and as part of this outpouring Lavan says (31:30) “You went away because you so longed for (i.e. desired) your fathers house!” The word used for longing is “Nichsof” which is the passive form of the word “Kesef”. Thus we see that the original meaning of the word “Kesef” is longing or desire.
In discussing Hashem’s command to Moshe to make a half-shekel, the Gemarra Yerushalmi (Shekalim 1:4) says that Moshe was a bit confused as to exactly how the half-shekel should look. As a result, Hashem took a fiery form of a half-shekel from his throne of glory and showed it to Moshe, so that Moshe would understand how to make it. The Shem M’Shmuel (R. Shmuel Borenstein) explains that the shekel represents longing, because the original use of this word denotes longing/desire. The throne of Hashem represents Hashem’s essence. In other words, the half-shekel which the Jews give really represents the Jews’ longing for Hashem’s essence. Andwhat does the fire represent? According to the Shem M’Shmuel, the fire represents passion. It’s not enough to merely long for Hashem’s essence. We should long for His essence with a fire–a passion. If longing for Hashem’s (or anyone else’s) essence represents love, then passion intensifies that love. Love without passion is not as profound or as deeply felt as passionate love. Of course, some will take issue with this by saying that passion puts emotion before intellect, thus removing a person’s rationale. But maybe that’s a good thing. Passionate love SHOULD be slightly irrational. If it is all thought out, some of the excitement and the thrill is taken away. And what proof do we have that passionate love is a good thing?
At the end of Parshat Vayakhel, we are told that the sink which stood in the courtyard of the Tabernacle was made from (38:8) “Mirrors of hosts”. Rashi and Kli Yakar (R. Shlomo Efraim of Luntchitz) tell us that these mirrors belonged to the women who put them to special use. In Egypt, when the Jewish men came home from a back-breaking day in the brick pits, they were exhausted. The women would take these mirrors and use them to arouse their husbands so that they would be together and procreate. When the women tried to contribute these mirrors for the sink, Moshe refused to take them. According to Moshe, these mirrors were a symbol of passion, which was one of the factors that led to the making of the Golden Calf. In Moshe’s mind, it would be hypocritical to take such a symbol and use it for the very structure which was coming to atone for that grave transgression. But Hashem said to Moshe “Take them! These are more dear to me than the rest of the contributions because as a result of them, the Jews multiplied into many hosts.” In other words, when passion is used to fulfill Hashem’s will, it is a holy thing. The mirrors, like the half-shekel, represent our longing and desire to do Hashem’s will. May we always strive to do that will, passionately.