Fulfilling All 613 Mitzvos and Its Relation to the Half-Shekel
Toward the end of this week’s parsha, the Torah returns to its narrative of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah). The pasuk says (Shemos 24:7), ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע – and they said ‘All that Hashem has spoken we will do and we will hear In last week’s parsha where the description of receiving the Torah is discussed, the Torah reads (Ibid 19:8) ויענו כל העם יחדיו ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה – and all the people answered together and said all that Hashem has spoken we will do (without reference to “we will hear”).
Our Rabbis understood that both of these readings were actually one single event but the Torah elaborated on a different point in each recounting. In last week’s parsha, the Torah mentions the unity with which the Children of Israel accepted the Torah. In this parsha, it mentions the lofty spiritual height they had at the moment when they said, “we will do, and we will hear.” The implication was that they accepted upon themselves to do even though they do not yet know what burden would be put on them.
The Meshach Chochma (Reb Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, 1843-1926) explains that these unique traits are two essential tools given to us to fulfill the entire body of the Torah. Although Hashem commanded us to do 613 mitzvos, not every Jew can perform them all. For instance, one who is not a Kohen cannot fulfill the particular mitzvos allotted to the Kohanim. One who is not living in the Land of Israel cannot perform all the distinctive mitzvos of Eretz Yisroel. Some mitzvos apply only to those who have more than one son, while other mitzvos apply only to a first born son. These are but a few examples of the many mitzvos that cannot be performed by every Jew. So, how can every Jew acquire the spiritual sustenance of the entire Torah in order to develop his soul to the fullest extent?
An answer given to this is that there is the concept (See Tractate Shevuos 39A) of כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה – all of Bnei Yisroel are responsible for one another – and are thus considered as if they are one single body and soul. When one connects himself to the rest of the nation, it is as if he performed the mitzvos by being jointly responsible for the others who actually performed them.
Another solution to completing all 613 mitzvos is through Torah study. The Gemarah (Menachos 110A) teaches us that when one studies a portion of the Torah it is as if he actually performed the mitzvah dealt with in that particular segment. One who is not capable of Torah study need not despair because he can attain the merit of Torah learning by giving financial support to Torah scholars.
Now we can understand that this is the difference between the pasuk in this week’s parsha and last week’s. Each pasuk is revealing to us a different solution to attaininng completeness in the fulfillment of all the mitzvos. The pasuk in Yisro says, “and all the people answered together,” giving us the method of performing all the mitzvos through achdus (unity). The pasuk in this week’s parsha says, “all that Hashem has spoken we will do and we will hear.” The words and ‘we will hear’ allude to the fact that we will strive to better comprehend them. Thus the Torah is giving us the solution of performing mitzvos through Torah learning.
The reading of Parashas Shekalim this week contains the mitzvah to donate the half-shekel coin: זה יתנו כל העבר על הפקדים מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש עשרים גרה השקל מחצית השקל תרומה לה – this shall be given by everyone who passes through the counting, from twenty years old and up, a half shekel from the holy shekel coin, the shekel weighing twenty geirah, a half shekel as a gift to Hashem (Shemos 30:13).” Rashi cites a Medrash (Medrash Tanchuma, Ki Sisa 13) that Hashem showed Moshe the appearance of a coin made from fire weighing a half shekel and told him, “This is what they shall give.”
Rashi actually abbreviates the Medrash. The Medrash itself mentions that Moshe had difficulty envisioning what exactly the half-shekel coin looked like. Hashem therefore showed him a heavenly vision of a fiery coin that represented the earthly appearance of the half-shekel coin.
The commentators are troubled by this Medrash. Why was it so difficult for Moshe to comprehend what a half-shekel was? Why did he require a visual-aid in order to understand what donation was being asked of Bnei Yisroel?
An answer given is that Moshe did not understand why Hashem commanded us to give a half-Shekel as opposed to a full Shekel.
Hashem showed Moshe a coin made out of fire. Fire can be extremely destructive. It can take life and devastate. On the other hand, where would we be without fire? We need fire for warmth, to cook food, and to promote the processes that are necessary for productive, civilized life.
There are forces in this world that can bring immeasurable good and at the same time can bring tremendous evil. They can cause tremendous improvement or tremendous destruction. The point of showing Moshe the coin made out of fire was to equate money with fire. Money, too, can be detrimental or constructive depending upon how it is utilized.
Our Rabbis teach us (Shabbos 88B) that the Holy Torah can be a potion of life to one, and to another it can actually be toxic. It all depends on what the person studying it wants to achieve. If one humbles himself to the words of the Torah, it serves as a liquid remedy of life. If, Heaven forbid, one learns it with ill intent, it has the opposite effect.
So the Torah is analogous to fire as the prophet says (Yirmiyahu 23:29) הלא כה דברי כאש נאם ה – “Is not my word like fire? declares Hashem.”
This can be the reason that Hashem showed Moshe a half of a Shekel made of fire, illustrating the two ways in which it is possible to fulfill all 613 mitzvos. First, each person was to contribute only one half-shekel, demonstrating that just as only through joining with another Jew can a complete shekel be formed so too only together with the rest of Klal Yisroel is it possible to achieve our heavenly directive (See Alshich Hakadosh, Rabbi Moshe Alshich, 1522-1570, was the author of many works, including important analytical explanations of Scriptures on parshas Ki Sisa). Secondly, Moshe was shown the half-shekel as a fiery coin to allude to the fact that through the study of Torah, which is analogous to fire, one can also fulfill all of the 613 mitzvos.
The name of Hashem is often written in the siddur as two Yuds. The double yud is actually not one of the names of Hashem and as such has no sanctity. It is simply an abbreviation of the name of Hashem, and it appears randomly in various versions of the siddur.
The reason the two yuds represent Hashem’s name is because the Name of Hashem is written one way and pronounced a totally different way. It’s written with a “yud”, a “heh”, a “vav” and another “heh.” However, we pronounce it as if it were spelled “aleph”, “daled”, “nun” and “yud.” As you can see, the letter “yud” appears twice – once in the beginning of the written Name and once at the end of the Name as pronounced. Hence, there are two yuds).
The Yid Hakadosh of Pshischa (Literally, The “Holy Jew” of Pshischa – Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchock Rabinowitz, 1766-1813) explained homiletically that when you have two Jews (or “Yidin” – another pronunciation of the plural of “yud”) who get together on an equal level, neither of them putting themselves higher than the other, then Hashem’s presence is there.
The whole shekel weighed twenty geirah. If so, then the half Shekel weighed ten geirah. In Hebrew the numerical value of the letter “yud” is ten. By decreeing that everyone bring the same half Shekel we are sanctifying Hashem’s name which is the ultimate purpose of Torah and mitzvos.