Parashah of the week: Ki Tissa

“Each man shall give a pledge of atonement for his soul… this he shall give… a half-shekel coin” Exodus 30:11-13


In this week’s parashah, we read of the first ever poll tax, imposed on the Children of Israel as a means of taking a head count for a census, as well as a way of raising money for the Temple Treasury.

God tells Moses “Zeh” - “This he shall give” - and Rashi comments that God showed Moses a fiery coin weighing half a shekel and said to him, “Like this shall they give”.

Another place where we find a similar phrase for God showing Moses something is when he is commanded to construct the menorah. There also God says “Zeh” – “This is the construction of the menorah” - and Rashi explains that there also Hashem “showed Moses an image with His finger”. The Talmud suggests that God showed Moses a menorah bathed in fire.

When it came to the menorah, the specification was very precise and would take a lot of skill to construct, so it made sense that Moses would have struggled.

What about the half-shekel coin? What is so challenging about a coin? Until relatively recently, everyone used cash, knew what a coin looked like! So why the confusion?

The answer lies in the way Hashem shows Moses the coin, the medium of fire.

Moses had no issue with the coin; his question was, how can a small coin effect atonement for sin, as promised by God? It is a mere coin, a small gesture, hardly earth-shattering.

To answer Moses’s query, God shows him a coin of fire. Fire represents heat, passion, energy, warmth, excitement and zeal.

The message is that it is not the coin itself that has such an impact beyond its face value, but the manner in which it is given. If done with fire - with excitement, with devotion, the passion for a mitzvah - then even this seemingly insignificant gesture can have a huge impact.

If this is true of a simple coin, it is certainly true of every mitzvah, a word which besides for commandment also derives from the root of “tzavta” meaning to “connect” or “join together”.

The mystics teach that every mitzvah connects the limited physical world to the unlimited spiritual world. Especially when performed with fire, with passion and energy, even the smallest mitzvah can impact way beyond its actual value and be truly transformative.

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