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Parshat Ki Tisa (5761)

This weeks portion begins with a strange commandment; G-d told Moshe that each Jew was to give a half-shekel coin to ‘atone for his soul’. At first glance this doesn’t make much sense.

How can giving a coin bring atonement?

One of the Talmudic commentaries (‘Tosefot’, Chulin 42a) explains that Moshe had this same question and G-d answered him by producing a ‘coin of fire from under His Throne’.

To understand all this here is a story.

Zalman was a successful businessman. He had made millions of rubles in his metal business, but now that same business was threatening to end his life.

Several months earlier he had landed an immense government contract to supply all the cooking utensils for the Czar’s army. The deal was worth a fortune, a real blessing from G-d... until he received a summons to appear in the federal court on charges of thievery and treason!

It seems that someone reported to the police that Zalman was making the pots a bit thinner than promised. He had received funds for 100,000 tons of iron, but really only using 90,000, thus cheating the government out of a pretty penny.

To make matters worse the report was true! He did it. But everyone did it, that’s how things were in Czarist Russia.

But that didn’t change anything. If he would be found guilty, which he almost certainly would be, it would be the end of him.

Zalman did not give up however; there was still a ray of hope. Being a follower of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, he would go to him and hope for a miracle.

But when he arrived he was told that the Rebbe wasn’t receiving visitors until further notice. This meant that the doors could open any minute, or it could take several days.

With no other choice Zalman sat in the waiting room, with about twenty other people that had come for help, and read T'hillim (Psalms).

The Rebbe had seven sons, and the youngest, Shmuel, who was seven years old at the time (and eventually would become the next Lubavitch Rebbe) was wandering around the room occasionally talking to the visitors. When he came to our businessman and asked him why he was there, the latter, hoping that maybe somehow it might help him get in to the Rebbe, told the child his entire story finishing with a sad word about how his only hope is the Rebbe, and now the Rebbe won’t see him.

The boy listened carefully, promised he would see what he could do, left the waiting room, and entered his father’s study.

Minutes later he returned, approached the businessman and told him quietly. “You see that man sitting near the door also reading T’hillim? He needs 100 rubles for his daughter’s wedding. Give him the money he needs and HaShem will take care of your upcoming trial.”

Of course our hero promptly gave the charity, and sure of victory, told the boy to thank his father for the blessing and left the premises a new man, full of optimism and hope.

One month later, Zalman was standing confidently in the courtroom before the Judge. He didn’t even bother hiring a lawyer; after all the Rebbe said that G-d would take care of everything, (and the best lawyer in the world couldn’t help anyway).

The judge examined all the papers, first those of the prosecution, then of the defendant, pausing several times to look up at the litigants. Finally he removed his glasses, held his head erect and declared, “Very severe accusations, very severe indeed. If the accused is guilty as charged, the punishment will be at
least 20 years, do you understand?” The prosecutor nodded his head, as did the defendant, who was beginning to worry.

The judge put his glasses on once more, silently read the briefs again, and again looked up, pushed his glasses up onto his forehead, thought for a while and announced: “The only way to settle this is to actually weigh all the pots and pans.”

“But, your honor,” exclaimed the prosecution, “that will take months, and at such expense to the country. Your Honor has before him the testimony of reliable witnesses….”

Our hero was really sweating now. If the pots were weighed he was finished.

“That is my decision!” Said the Judge. “Tomorrow the army will send one hundred wagons to bring all the vessels to the courtroom for weighing.” He raised his gavel, pounded it on the huge table before him and announced “Court adjourned!”

It took over a week to organize the wagons, travel to the factory and load them all up, and then another week or so to bring them to the court, weigh them and record the results. But when it was all finished and the results were brought to the courtroom, the tension was so thick you could almost cut the air. The word of the trial reached the newspapers and the courtroom was packed.

The judge entered after everyone was seated, took his place behind his huge desk, picked up the papers and read carefully. The courtroom was silent.

After several minutes he looked up at the defendant squinted his eyes in as though in sheer hatred and spoke almost theatrically.

“Mr. Zalman, you...you lied to the government!”

The Judge was holding the papers in both hands and leaning forward on his desk, peering over them at the accused, almost completely out of his chair. Zalman was swooning; he wiped his brow with his handkerchief and took a sip of water from the cup he was holding in his hand, he thought he was about to faint.

The guards moved a few steps closer to him. The prosecutors looked at each other from the corners of their eyes and faintly smiled.

“You declared to the Russian Government that you needed one hundred thousand tons of iron. You took funds for One Hundred Thousand Tons of Iron!!”

The judge was now standing, leaning with his entire body over the table holding the papers in one hand shaking them in the air as he spoke and almost whispering, hissing at poor Zalman… “And you really used....ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THOUSAND TONS!!! Those pots weighed MORE than necessary!!!!!

Mr. Zalman, you are a patriot!!”

Two days later our hero was waiting again in the Rebbe’s front room, this time to thank him for the miracle. But when he was finally sitting opposite the Rebbe and began thanking him, the Rebbe was surprised, he didn’t remember ever giving such a blessing!

“But your son, Shmuel told me….” Said the businessman.

It didn’t take long to call in his son, who immediately admitted that he had done the whole thing on his own.

“But how did you give him such a blessing? How could you have been sure that it would be all right?” His father asked.

“Simple” answered the boy. “I just saw in heaven all the weight of that charity jumping onto his pots on the scale. It was obvious that it would be more than a few thousand tons.”

Only a Rebbe can really know the effect of Charity.

The half-shekel was also charity. It was used in the Temple and benefited the entire world.

The secret of the half-shekel that G-d revealed to Moshe, is that charity is not just physical money, it’s really a coin of spiritual fire; just as fire warms and changes everything so does charity.

It even affects G-d!!

That’s what HaShem was hinting at when He took the coin from ‘under His throne’. A throne is where one lowers himself to sit.

Charity has the power to lower even HaShem Himself ‘down’ into the lowest parts of the world, (into the Temple or even into the courtroom as in our story).

This is also relevant to this week’s special Haftorah ‘PARA’ that speaks of the Red Heifer.

The Red Heifer was slaughtered, burned and reduced to ashes. Those ashes were sprinkled on anyone that had become defiled from a dead body, purifying him and enabling him to enter the Holy Temple.

It is hard to believe that a physical cow had such spiritual powers. But the red cow aroused and ‘drew down’ such high spiritual levels that, like the half-shekel, or like charity we give now (or like that of Mr. Zalman in our story), it has the power to purify even death, (see Prov. 10:2).

This was the novelty of Pesech; that the Jewish people left the defilement and imprisonment of Egypt by eating physical matzo, lamb meat, and bitter herbs. For the first time in history the physical actually became spiritual. (That is also the reason that G-d insisted that they take the Egyptian riches with them to similarly elevate it.)

But all of this: Charity, Purity from death, Freedom from Egypt, and the elevation of the Physical all hints at the coming of Moshaich.

The future redemption will be the greatest charity that G-d could possibly do to the world.

It will be similar to (and greater than) the redemption from Egypt (Micah 7:15). Physical things will be in plenty and eventually death will be removed. In other words; there will be a complete uniting of the physical and the spiritual. As we say in the Alenu prayer thrice daily. ‘On that day G-d and His Name will be ONE.’

Moshiach NOW!!

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