A certain stringency (Daf Yomi Shekalim 19)

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“If one diverted his attention.”

I asked a few days ago in my blog what you would do if you found five dollars (see https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me/shekalim/shekalim-4), which is the approximate current value of the half-shekel that each male over twenty was obligated to contribute at the time of the Temple. Today’s Daf Yomi considers the intricacies of funds that are found on the Temple floor. If you were a priest, would you quietly put the found money in the nearest collection horn, allocate it to the fund that was dearest to your heart or that needed the most assistance? Or would you allocate it to the horn that had the most coins?

We are told that the Priest should place the found money in the collection horn that was closest to where it was found. But it’s more complicated than that. In some cases, the money might be equal distance between two collection receptables, such as one marked “shekels” and one marked “free-will offerings.” If the found money is equal distance from two collection horns, it is allocated to the one that is most stringent.

But how is stringency determined? We are told that in the case of money that is found equal distance between a horn marked shekels and one marked free-will offerings, it is allocated to the former. The money in the horn marked shekels is more stringent, because “regular communal offerings are bought with that money.” The money in the horn marked free-will offerings is considered less stringent, because it is used to buy offerings on special occasions and is deployed less frequency.

The Gemara questions if the more stringent fund is the one used for the purchase of offerings rather than the one used for infrastructure purposes, such as repairing the walls and towers of Jerusalem. We are told that according to this authority, “it is consequently preferable that the money be allocated to free-will offerings, and therefore be used for offerings. And am I the only one who sees some relevancy to the debate in the US congress over the infrastructure bill?

We are told that the found money could be viewed as the equivalent of “money that has no owner” such as one that belongs to the deceased, and as a result be allocated to the free-will offering fund. A story is relayed from Rabbi Yesa who heard the voice of Shmuel when he was in Jerusalem. If we are to believe Rabbi Yasa, Shmuel was asked what should be done with money that was set aside by someone who died and responded that it should be allocated to free-will offerings.

It is also suggested that if a Priest set aside money to purchase flour for an offering, and died, the money should be cast into the Dead Sea. Rabbi Elazar stepped in and suggested that the money be put to more practical use and allocated to free-will offerings.

In the end, when all the perspectives are considered about found money, we are presented with a overriding principle: “In cases of doubt, the ruling follows whichever is closer, even if this involves being lenient; but if the money was found equidistant from both, the ruling follows whichever attribution involves being stringent.” The age-old discussion of what defines a certain stringency and with it, how to determine what is the right thing to do in ambivalent situations, continues.

My grandfather taught me to be observant and look downwards for lost change. It was remarkable when I started paying attention how many quarters I found on the ground. And sometimes, it was more than a quarter – sometimes it was a dollar bill or five. I once found a ring with a golden glass stone that I wore with the pride of having found something valuable. I thought I had found a missing gem that would bring me good luck until it fell apart.

There is not much loose change floating around the streets these days with less cash and especially coins in circulation. It has been ages since I last held a quarter in the palm of my hand and felt the weight of its amalgamated metals. But still, the lesson to pay attention, to sometimes look downwards and connect with the ground beneath me, has stayed with me after all these years.

I asked a few days ago what you would do if someone gave you five dollars. What if you found it on the floor when you are standing in a bank line between socially distanced two people? One is well-dressed and appears to be well-off, while the other’s clothes appear worn and covered in dirt. What would you do with the five dollars? Would you offer it to the person who appeared to need it the most? Or would you turn it into the teller? Or would you quietly slip it into your pocket? What is the stringency in this case?


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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