This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Ki Tisa (5768)
This week's Torah portion begins with the commandment of giving a 'Half Shekel' coin to the Holy Temple. And afterward it describes the sin of the Golden Calf.
The Golden Calf sin was the most disastrous transgression of all time; it's the only reason that people die today.
Strange but true! When G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai He revealed His essence i.e. the eternal essence of all being and life. And death ceased to exist! (As it was supposed to be before Adam sinned!).
But then when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf THEY BROUGHT DEATH BACK till this VERY DAY!!
But the antidote to this sin was…. The Half-Shekel!
The Medrash tells us that Moses was perplexed by this and even asked G-d how could a physical coin erase death. So G-d answered him by taking a Half-Shekel made of fire from under 'His Throne of Glory" and showing it to him and Moses was satisfied.
This seemingly makes no sense what-so-ever.
First, how did this answer Moses' question?
Second, why a HALF shekel coin? Why not a complete one?
Third, what did G-d mean by a coin of fire? And why 'from under His throne?"
And finally, we don't even have a Temple today and don't give the Half Shekel… so what does all this mean to us?
To understand this … here is a story. (Sichot L'noar Nissan 5766)
The year was 1848. The spirit of revolution in Europe brought confusion and disorder everywhere and the thin distinction between freedom fighters and bandits dissolved. Gangs of armed hoodlums, hungry for blood and loot were on highways everywhere robbing and pillaging and the ones that especially suffered were… who else… the Jews.
They were rarely armed, were never protected by the police or army and were considered by all the warring sides as siding with the enemy.
Passover was approaching but in the Jewish quarter in the area of Alces (sp?) there was fear and weeping.
It seems that a caravan of Jewish wagons, on their way there to spend the Holiday at home with their families had been robbed by an army of two hundred bandits who first stole all their belongings and were about to kill them all until they discovered …… the wine.
It seems that as well as money their wagons were laden with all the necessities of Passover: presents for the family, food and matzoth for the festive meal and, most important, fifty barrels of fine wine for the ceremonial cups of redemption.
When the bandits realized what a treasure they had stumbled upon they went berserk and immediately began fulfilling their life's goal; getting drunk! And as soon as the wine started taking effect they actually untied their prisoners and scoffing out loud told them to run home saying,
"In any case we're going to take over your entire miserable town tomorrow and you don't stand a chance. So go kiss your families good bye!! Ha Ha Haaaa!!"
So when the Jews made it to their homes the next morning and told everyone what had happened there was mourning and wailing. Passover would begin in nine hours, Jews would be celebrating the Holiday of Freedom all over the world …… but not them. Their lives were in danger! They had no time!!
The first instinct was to run… but where? The bandits were sure to catch them. Maybe they could pay them off; somehow appease them? But that was also out of the question. Indeed, the Rabbi pointed out that it was forbidden. It would only encourage their enemies when they saw how afraid the Jews were.
They decided that the only chance they had was to fight.
The richest man in the community, a born leader by the name of Shmuel Leib took command.
"Listen, everyone run home, hide your valuables, arm yourselves with anything that could be used as weapons and come to my house with your families. If we're together we have a chance! Bring knives, meat cleavers, anything metal. My house is the second one after the gate and they have to pass it to get into the town. We'll put the families in the basement and give them a fight they'll never forget."
"What about the first house? The house of Aaron Nir the butcher?" Someone asked.
"I'm sure that my house will attract them." Shmuel answered. "His is first, but it's small and what they are after is money. The butcher and his family will come to my house with everyone else… here is where they will attack first. I'm sure of it! And here we'll surprise them."
In no time all the men ran home and just hours before nightfall they were all gathered in Shmuel's formidable house arranging their makeshift weapons. They even sent out a few younger boys dressed in dark clothes to spread out, spy on the enemy and report back.
The sun set and the eerie full moon made the dark empty streets glow ominously. The air in Shmuel's house was tense with fear. All they had were kitchen knives against swords and battle axes. They didn't light any candles or torches to add to the element of surprise. As soon as the enemy came near they would all stream out of the house and attack and pray for a miracle. They waited for the 'spies' to return.
Suddenly they heard a pre-arranged knock on the door and opened up; it was the spies out of breath.
"They're coming! They're almost at the gate. But Aaron the butcher… he's in his home…he's not here!"
"What do you mean?" Shmuel whispered as loud as possible "He isn't here?! What's he doing at home? Has he gone crazy!? He doesn't stand a chance!"
"He said that tonight is Pesach" the boy answered. "He said it's the night when G-d protects us and that he's not afraid. So he's going to make the Passover 'Seder' and trust in HaShem!"
Someone in Shmuel's house lifted up a window shade and sure enough… there was Aaron the butcher's house lit up as bright as a candle.
"They're coming!" Another of the spies entered and whispered almost hysterically.
The band of thieves silently entered the gate of the Jewish quarter like a pack of human wolves with their weapons in hand and smiled at each other as they saw the lights coming from Aaron's home. The Jews weren't even expecting them!
Their leader told them to wait and signaled two of his men to accompany him to the back of the house where he told them to lift him so he could see if it was a trap.
His men cupped their hands, he stepped in and they lifted him so he could peak into the window.
Hey! It was the butcher! He recognized him! He came to buy a cow from him once. Now he looks like a king! And his wife like a queen! And the children like little angels! The entire house was brightly lit and the family was sitting around a festive table with silver vessels on it glistening in the light of the candles and they were …. Singing! He couldn't believe his eyes! They were glowing!"
He motioned for his men to let him down and then to return to the impatient group who were straining like hungry dogs at the leash for the word to attack.
"We're getting out of here! NOW!" He said in a loud urgent voice. "These Jews are doing witchcraft! magicians!! I knew it!! If we don't get out of here now we'll be destroyed forever!!!"
The words had an immediate effect. The robbers ran in terror as fast as their legs would take them and in minutes the streets were empty.
From Shmuel's house the men saw the miracle and in just moments streamed to Aaron's door to bless and thank him and to get fire in order to cook their Holiday meals and illuminate their homes.
But the butcher was as surprised as they were. He had been so involved in doing what G-d wants that he and his family totally forgot the danger and were unaware of the miracle.
"I just did what Jews have been doing for over 3,000 years. Made the Passover Seder and relied on HaShem for Freedom."
This explains our questions. Death is really an illusion. True, it will be here until the Moshiach brings the Raising of the Dead (two of the 13 principles of Jewish faith). But then we will simply see what Aaron the Butcher in our story saw… that there really was no need to worry about the future; if we do our half G-d will do His.
Indeed, the reason the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf is because they thought that Moses was gone, stopped trusting in G-d and became cold (and dead) with fear and worry.
That is the meaning of the "fiery Half-Shekel.
The antidote to death is remembering that we are only HALF of the picture. With the other half, namely G-d, we are warm and alive.
And the place to derive this fire and faith is from "Under G-d's throne" which according to Kabala is the source of the Jewish souls.
We have to do all we can to follow the teachings of Moshiach: Chassidut Chabad, link up to our other Half and become alive, warm and whole with....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.