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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.

Waging Today’s Battles

We read in the Mishna about Moshe and the Jewish people’s battle with Amalek, which we will recall this Shabbat, Parsha Zachor, the Shabbat preceding Purim.

“And so it was, when Moshe raised his hand, Israel prevailed…” (Exodus 17:11). Did the hands of Moshe make or break the battle?” (Mishna Rosh Hashanah 3:8)

Could it be that Moshe’s hands had that kind of power to fight a war on behalf of the Jewish people? The question has merit. After all, wasn’t it Moshe’s hand and rod that split the sea and brought so many of the plagues?

However, if it was indeed Moshe’s hands that caused the Jewish people to win, then why did Moshe need help to keep them raised? Would he have not had enough strength knowing the importance of the matter to keep them raised himself? This is Moshe who assembled the Mishkan (tabernacle) all by himself!

So the Mishna begins to answer these questions, “Rather, this comes to tell you that whenever Israel would turn their thoughts above, and subjugate their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail; and if not, they would fall.”

Moshe’s hands were directional aids they were not secret weapons. The Jewish people would look at Moshe and be inspired and be victorious.

But we return to a similar problem. If Moshe knew that keeping his hands up was going to provide them with the inspiration they needed to succeed in battle, how could he ever let them down? Would he have not had the strength needed to keep them up as long as possible?

The Sfas Emes answers that we have the scenario reversed. When the Jewish people in battle were focusing their hearts for the sake of heaven, and consequently they were victorious, then Moses hands were strengthened, and held high. But when the Jewish people’s hearts were not in the battle – or worse, when they were not convinced that it was God who would bring them victoriously through battle –  then Moses didn’t have the strength to keep his hands raised.

In other words, the Jewish people’s disposition brings strength to their leaders, which in turns allows their leaders the courage to lead and inspire.

Today we have many battles that we are waging — some of them existential threats and some of them internal spiritual battles — and all of them are rooted in this battle with Amalek.

What are we to do? We must maintain our determination and trust in God that we can be victorious, and not be swayed by indifference, self-doubt or selfishness (all maladies associated with Amalek).

This determination will inspire our leaders to take risks and lead.

May all our enemies – both internal and external – be defeated.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

The blessing and the curse

Moshe places before the Jewish people a choice.  If we choose one way, we will be blessed and if we choose another way we will be cursed.

This choice is both on the individual level and on the communal level. The choices that each of us make and the choices that the community as a whole makes affects the entirety of the Jewish people. The choices that we make as a community or as individuals — those are the choices that Moshe spoke about, there on the banks of the Jordan, before we entered the land.

If we choose paths consistent with Jewish ideals and values —commitment to helping the needy, solving disputes amicably, education, and continuity – then the Jewish people will reap the fruits of their labors. Our communities will be blessed, and our offspring will be devoted to the Jewish people.  Our children and children’s children will not worship other gods, our land will be blessed with peace, rain, civic innovation.

If we choose paths that are in conflict with Jewish ideals and values – ignoring the needy, fomenting discord and disunity, ignoring the educational needs of our children and grandchildren, ignoring our commitments to the land of Israel, then the Jewish people will be cursed.  Our offspring will be devoted to other gods, our children will loose touch with the ideals and values of the Jewish people. We will not reap what we sow, the land will not be blessed with peace, nor rain, and will be mired in political divide.

It’s all there in the parsha.

Argue with Moshe if you don’t like it.