This shall they give…a half Shekel. (Parsha Ki Tisa: Ex. 30:13)
God showed Moshe a coin made from fire, teaches the Midrash, showing him the amount that everyone must give towards the mishkan, tabernacle. Based on this Midrash, the great Polish hassidic Master, Rabbi Elimelech of Leżajsk, also known as the Noam Elimelch, explains that money is very much like fire. If fire is misused it can destroy, but it can also be used to prepare food and warmth. Money too can be used for a good purpose. If used for charity or kindness, it can be a conduit for great blessing. But if a person uses his money foolishly or wrongly, it can cause great destruction.
My friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken directed me to a wonderful question by the late sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l, whose thirtieth Yahrtzeit is 13th of Adar II. Rabbi Feinstein asked, ‘Why did G-d have to show Moshe a coin at all? Why was it so difficult for Moshe to understand the size of a half-shekel? The verse states that a shekel was 20 geirah, a known amount, so it should have been easy to determine a half-shekel.’
We can answer, said Rabbi Feinstein, that Hashem showed Moshe the coin in order to help him understand a critical life lesson. Moshe was anticipating that people living in a materialistic world would have a hard time involving themselves with spiritual pursuits. The reason that God showed him a half-shekel was to teach him how to do “business” in the world.
A person must divide their time between the material and the spiritual. Too much emphasis on material pursuit and acquisition of wealth and his spiritual life will decay. Too much time spent in purely spiritual purs
How much more so today, must we be cognizant to not ignore the our spiritual pursuit and growth, and to ensure that the money we do make is used for good and holy purposes.
Rabbi Yonah is Co-founder and Rabbi of Pico Shul, a new community in Los Angeles dedicated to spiritual growth, living mindfully, and helping others.