Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
"This they shall give - everyone who passes
through the census - a half-shekel." (30:13)
Moshe could not grasp the mitzvah of the half-
shekel. Hashem took a fiery coin from beneath
His holy throne and said to him, "This they
shall give..." (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Sisa 13)
Mefarshim (Torah commentators) find this Midrash perplexing: What
was so difficult to understand about the half-shekel? With regard to
the mitzvah of kiddush ha-chodesh (the determining of the new-
moon), and the construction of the menorah, we find similar
statements in Chazal (our Sages). Those mitzvos, however, are
indeed complex and intricate, and it comes as no surprise that Moshe
may have needed a little "Heavenly help" to grasp them. But what was
not to be understood about giving a half-shekel? Furthermore,
Hashem responded by showing Moshe a fiery-coin taken from
beneath His holy throne. Yet the Jews weren't giving "fiery coins," just
regular half-shekels. In what way did the fiery coin resolve Moshe's
[The following story is perhaps worthwhile for the chasanim (grooms)
of our times to hear.] Hagaon Rabbi Shimon Sofer [5581-5643
(1820-1883)], second son of the illustrious Chasam Sofer and Rav of
Cracow, married-off one of his sons to the daughter of a respectable
resident of the city, who had a good reputation in both Torah and
nobility of character. The bride's father was a young man - it was his
first daughter. All of the Torah giants of Cracow, along with many
renowned guests from the surrounding areas, were in attendance at
the simcha of the famous rav.
The kallah's father at some point found himself sitting side-by-side
with a prominent Chassidic rebbe. "Tell me," the rebbe said to him,
"what special merit did you possess, that you were deserving to marry
your daughter into the family of Maran Shel Yisrael, son of the
Chasam Sofer z"l?"
The mechutan replied, "I am indeed a simple man. Once, however,
I did something good, and its merit stands me in good stead to this
He continued. "I married the daughter of a poor man. He promised
to provide us with everything, in the customary manner, and he kept
his word. When my wife and I came to my in-laws' house the first
Shabbos after our marriage to eat the Shabbos meal with them, I
noticed that my mother-in-law had lit her Shabbos candles not with
silver candlesticks, nor even with copper ones, but rather in the very
simplest of candlesticks. My young wife, on the other hand, had
graced our Shabbos table with the most elegant silver candlesticks,
which we had received as a gift from her parents. I voiced my
curiosity as to the discrepancy. Tears welled up in my young wife's
eyes as she answered me. 'I lit with my mother's candlesticks - my
parents couldn't afford to buy us new ones, so they gave us theirs
"As time went on I noticed other discrepancies. For example, while we
slept with the most luxurious of bedspreads, my in-laws slept with
threadbare blankets that most surely left them cold at night. At that
point, I made up my mind: We would return everything!
"I borrowed ten-thousand silver pieces from a number of merchants,
and purchased everything we needed. Then, I gathered all my in-laws'
possessions, and returned them. To my father-in-law's protests, I
replied that the deed had been done, and that Hashem would help
us repay our debt.
"So it was. On that very day, I entered the beis ha-midrash, and a
Jew came over to me. 'Young man,' he said, 'I have a very good
business deal for you. I believe you'll agree it's well worth your while
to borrow the money for the initial investment.'
"I went over the deal, and his words indeed seemed true. I went and
borrowed another ten-thousand silver pieces and invested them. They
were promptly doubled. Ever since then, the rays of success have
shone brightly upon me. Baruch Hashem, I have also been blessed
with good and righteous sons and daughters. Nor did I ever neglect
to study Torah. And now Hashem has bestowed upon me the great
honour of marrying my daughter to the son of the rav of our city!"
[Mishnas Yosef, vol. 1 pp. 24, quoted by A. Perlow, HaModia]
K'sav Sofer (the eldest son of the Chasam Sofer) explains that Moshe
was perplexed by the commandment to take a half-shekel: Why a
half? Doesn't the Mesilas Yesharim write (introduction) that there is
no goal greater than the achievement of shleimus, completeness, and
no greater evil than the lack thereof? Taking a mere half-shekel
seems to be the antithesis of everything we strive towards!
Hashem responded by showing him a fiery coin from beneath His
holy throne. This, says Hashem, is the other half. Without this half,
which I alone hold, goals remain unreachable, dreams unattainable.
Our drive for self-perfection must be constantly mitigated with the
realization that alone, we don't stand a chance. With Hashem's help,
conversely, we can attain heights and accomplish things we never
even imagined possible.
Life is full of doubts and uncertainty. At times, however, the right path
stands clearly before us, yet we find ourselves unable to take it,
because we are intimidated - it seems beyond our reach. How can we
overcome our fears and reservations, especially when "the right path"
seems so distant and fraught with difficulties?
At these times, we must remind ourselves that we are only half of the
puzzle. At the time, the bride's father had no idea how he could ever
repay his debt. Yet he knew he was doing the right thing. He ignored
the practicalities, and took upon himself a deed so noble that for the
rest of his life, he ate its fruits. He took out his half-shekel - ten
thousand of them - and Hashem promptly took out His. We may not
always merit witnessing Hashem's response with such clarity, yet it is
there. To the degree we are willing to go out on a line for Torah and
Yiddishkeit, Hashem stands there waiting to help us, providing us
with the wherewithal we alone could never muster.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.