middot adaptability torah two sides of the same coin

two sides of the same coin

Written by  rachmiel lev

art-halfshekelDuring the first few months, when Barbara and I first began attending Beit HaShofar, I was told by a very smart congregant that mules and donkeys were very intelligent. I poopooed them, emphasizing the intelligence of horses. Well … I was wrong.


From Horse Illustrated, April edition:

… mules have a long-standing – but unwarranted – reputation for being stubborn. On the contrary, when a mule is reluctant to do something, it’s because he’s unsure of it or senses that something isn’t safe. A mule wants to know you’re not going to hurt him. As a general rule, a mule will bond with you and trust you and prefer to work with you as a team.

Mules are both community oriented and individualistic.

who's in charge

I remember a story that bears repeating in regards to the parasha of Ki Tisa:

All the organs of the body were having a meeting, trying to decide who was in charge. The brain said: "I should be in charge, because I run all the body's systems, so without me nothing would happen."

"I should be in charge," said the heart, "because I pump the blood and circulate oxygen all over the body, so without me you'd all waste away."

"I should be in charge," said the stomach, "because I process food and give all of you energy."  "I should be in charge," said the tuchus, "because I'm responsible for waste removal."

All the other body parts laughed at the tuchus and insulted him, so he shut down tight.

Within a few days, the brain had a terrible headache, the stomach was bloated, and the blood was toxic. Eventually the other organs gave in. They all agreed that the tuchus should be in charge."

Every individual is important and counts; but the Body MUST work together. No one individual in themselves are essential, but ALL working together, are. The Torah concept of the individual is tempered with a strong sense of community. The Sages consider each individual person a world unto himself, of such importance that the entire universe could have been created for his sake alone. And yet, the individual is not an island apart. He is part of the entire community to which he belongs.  Both the individual and community must adapt and complimento each other.

it's more than just about you

When the census-taker made his rounds, he didn’t bring a calculator on which to record the number of persons in each household. Instead, he collected a half-shekel from every Jew, and by counting the coins, he arrived at the correct figure.

In parasha Ki Tisa, we are told that this indirect method of census-taking was employed because an actual headcount might cause harm to the people. What difference could there possibly be between counting people directly or indirectly? Doesn’t God know how many people there are? And if a collection of coins was required to determine the population figures, why did the Torah specify the half-shekel in particular?

Today’s Western culture places great emphasis on the overriding importance of the individual. Collective society here attempts to accommodate all its individuals, to safeguard individual rights and privileges. The responsibilities of the individual to society are largely ignored. The result is a society that endeavors to protect the life and liberty of each individual but encourages him to live in self-centered spiritual isolation.

Had the census process taken the form of a headcount it would have set each individual squarely on the stage by himself—if only for a brief moment—and drawn attention to both his flaws and virtues.

When the census taker counted the coins he had collected, there was no longer an identifiable connection between the coins and the people they represented. In effect the collective population was determined without ever highlighting the individual. The half-shekel underscores this symbolism. Each of us is only a “half,” and we only become a “whole” by connecting with the broader community.

During the time of Ki Tisa, the smallest denomination of coin was the half-shekel. During the time of Yeshua, the smallest denomination was the Greek lepton, equivalent to about 6 minutes of the lowest daily wage; there were no actual coins called mites. However, at the time of the King James translation, the smallest coin was referred to as the “widow’s mite.” Today, in the U.S., it would be the penny.

It is customary on the thirteenth of Adar to give three of the smallest coins in use. This money is given to the poor. This contribution is made in memory of the half shekel given by Israel when the Temple still stood.

The reason for the custom of giving three half-shekels is that the Hebrew word terumah or “donation” and the words "half a shekel" are mentioned three times in Ki Tisa, where the mitzvah of the half shekel is recorded.

Luke records,

Then Yeshua looked up, and as he watched the rich placing their gifts into the Temple offering-boxes, he also saw a poor widow put in two small coins. He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. For they, out of their wealth, have contributed money they could easily spare; but she, out of her poverty, has given all she had to live on."

Almost everyone had this minimum. Some needed it for their subsistence however. Whereas in the wilderness we existed and knew we existed on God’s providence, by the time of Yeshua, we had come to depend more upon ourselves than upon him. The widow put in from her minimum subsistence, harkening back to the days when we were solely, and more importantly, more aware that we were dependent upon him.

kol echad

It’s all a matter of viewpoint: two sides of the same coin. When the Jews are divided, they represent only individuals—not a communal entity. When that happens we have lost our strength. During the time of Purim, that was the one of the strengths that saved the Jewish people. Because of the terrible calamity that was hanging over them as a result of Haman's decree, they decided to put away those 'dispersions and divisions in the nation' and came together as a unit and as a whole.

In the Torah, it’s always fascinated me how it records exact numbers when they count the various tribes, or specific groups of people. Rarely is it a general or rounded off number.  Some people find these lists of numbers to be boring. But it reminds us that each person is counted both as an individual by God AND as a group as a whole.

Matthew records,

Aren’t sparrows sold for next to nothing, two for an assarion? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s consent.  As for you, every hair on your head has been counted. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.

We are counted both as a communal whole and as actual individuals. God keeps track of each and every one of us. "Wait a minute", you’re saying, “I couldn’t do that.” And I’ll tell you that I couldn’t do that either. And we’d be right. It would take being a God. In fact, it took God.

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