God’s Business Advice to Moshe

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 pursuits, and his materials needs will become ignored. Therefor a person needs a life balanced between their spiritual and material pursuits. We cannot ignore one for the other.

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.

Shabbat Shalom!


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.

Torah in Translation

Just before he passes away, Moses gathers the Jewish people together to offer an explanation of the entire Torah. Rashi, the medieval French commentator notes that Moses taught the Torah in 70 languages.

In other words, he taught the Torah in different ways, and in different languages to ensure that people received the message in the way that would be most clearly communicated to them specifically.

On the banks of the Jordan River, just a few short weeks before he was to leave this world, Moses spoke to a new generation of the Children of Israel who had not experienced the awesomeness of Sinai, the joy and dancing after the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea, and who had not spent years in backbreaking servitude to cruel Egyptian taskmasters. This new generation had not participated in the largest march to freedom in human experience.

In order to make sure that the lessons learned in the desert were transmitted from generation to generation, Moses spent the last weeks of his life teaching Torah at their level, in their language, in a way that they could understand it vest. Moses made sure that he didn’t just transmit his enthusiasm about their future legacy, but was careful to also teach the more complex details of the fabric of Jewish life and values in a way that they could best integrate into their lives.

I learn from our teacher Moses that to be an effective teacher, I need to teach with great sensitivity to others experiences, tradition, and background. I can’t make assumptions, be condescending, or judgmental, for if I have not walked in my students shoes, I can’t possibly know who they truly are. Everyone has a unique set of experiences, and knowledge that is special, and helps them understand our Torah in a way that is meaningful to them.

When I bean working in the Polish Jewish community in 1991, I didn’t speak any Polish. I learned a few words and patched them together haphazardly. I learned to count and important words like bread, beer, and “I’m a vegetarian.” But really, in those first summers that I worked in Poland with Jewish youth, every time I taught, I taught in English, and sometimes with an eager teenager as my translator.

I would speak a line or two in English, and then someone would translate what I said into Polish. If I attempted a joke or something humorous, there would inevitably be a delay in people’s responses. If someone asked me a question and didn’t feel confident about their English, which was often the case, I would wait for the translator to get the question into English. Often the translator would have to ask a few questions to the petitioner to make sure they understood the question in Polish before attempting to translate it into English for me. Read more