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Eli Yoggev

Every Bit Counts!

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:0.5-Shekel-hatasham-RJP.jpg

Parsha Ki Tisa opens up mandating a contribution of machatzit hashekel, a half-shekel, toward the construction of the Mishkan (Ex. 30:13). The commentators ask why the Torah demands a half-shekel and no more. Doesn’t Hashem want our full commitment, our whole contribution? 

Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (16th century) explains that, indeed, Hashem wants our full heart. However, the machatzit hashekel points to another desire of Hashem. Hashem wants to build community. Community is built through everyone contributing their share. You give a half and I give a half, and together, as a community, we’re able to serve Hashem in the most optimal manner. 

Another way to explain this, however, points to the fact that there are times when we simply don’t have the full intentionality, presence, or energy to offer to Hashem and to our loved ones. In those moments, Hashem tells us to keep giving, whatever we can, even a “half” of what we may regularly give, and that will be favorable in Hashem’s eyes.

I recently learned this first-hand with a woman with whom I am in touch whose physical health is very unstable. In general, I try to speak with her weekly so she knows somebody is there who cares and wants to listen to what she is going through. I hadn’t spoken with her for a good while and I already was feeling embarrassed to reach out. It was just a very tough stretch for me. I was very busy at work and I simply didn’t have the presence and time I usually have to offer to her.

At this point, I had a choice. I would either wait until I had full energy and full presence, or I would give what I could in the moment. I chose the latter. All I could give was a text. So I texted that I was just checking in to see how she was doing. She immediately wrote back, “Thanks for reaching out. I am really quite sick. I am having trouble with my breathing and it feels like nothing can be done to make it better.” I texted back, “Sorry to hear. Any way to get an appointment with a doctor?” Twenty minutes later, I received a text back from her that she was on the way to the emergency room. 

It turns out that there was a problem with her breathing apparatus and “a slew of problems” she had been “letting slide,” according to her texts, that the doctors were tending to. In the end they were able to restore her health. Eventually she texted me back saying she was being discharged from the hospital and was feeling much better.

I learned from this that you just have to give what you can. Sometimes you have a “full shekel” to give. That’s the best! However, the reality is that there are times when you only have a “half-shekel.” And sometimes you only have a text to contribute, or a word, a smile, or a kind pat on the shoulder. In these cases, if you are able, put out the energy and intention nevertheless. It can really change somebody’s life, as was evidenced in this story. And it can lift their spirits as well!

Shabbat Shalom.

This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev serves as the Associate Rabbi of Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish congregations in North America. In addition to Orthodox rabbinic ordination, Rabbi Yoggev received his Ph.D. in Jewish mysticism and Chasidism at Bar-Ilan University.
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