The first lines of this Parsha illuminated for me the possible connection between physically counting people (forbidden by the Torah), the plague, and social media.
“When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers…then there will be no plague among them.” (Shmot 30:12)
Rashi: “Do not count their heads but each will give a half-shekel, and by counting the shekels you will know their number.”
God instructs Moshe to count the adults of Am Yisrael by the counting the half-shekel that each will contribute to the service of the Mishkan. “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less…”
The point here is that what each person gives of themselves is more important than their lineage or personal “profile.”
In our tradition, there is a healthy tension between the uniqueness and importance of each individual and the centrality of the community. We are not meant to focus solely on ourselves.
The half-shekel reminds us that we become whole only by joining with others.
Corona landed upon us in the height of Selfie/FB/Instagram culture, ironically covering half of our faces with masks.
When we spend our days filming ourselves and writing about what we are doing, eating, wearing, and who we are annoyed at, we increase divisiveness, loneliness, jealousy, dissatisfaction, and other plagues of modern life.
On the other hand if we use social media as a tool to promote good causes and share inspiring thoughts, humor, photos – with the goal of uplifting others and building community – we shift the focus from ourselves and perhaps mitigate some these damages. If we must post, let our posts be our “half-shekels” to our friends online.
I am of course most inspired by those who dedicate their lives to the larger good, while avoiding publicity like the plague.
Moshe “Moshko” Moskowitz z”l, who passed away recently at the age of 96, was one of those people.
I was amazed to read that Moshko helped found 27 institutions and communities in Israel, including Yeshivat Har Etzion, Allon Shvut, the city of Efrat, Bar Ilan University, Heichal Shlomo, the Shaarei Mishpat Law Institute, two high schools for youth at risk and numerous additional life-giving initiatives, but sent others to make the speeches and cut the ribbons.
Even the greatest beneficiaries of his works – including tens of thousands of residents of our reborn Gush Etzion – knew little of his tremendous achievements until after he passed.
Every year Moshko would start a new personal calendar with the words: “Believe! Dream! Achieve!”
This he did until his last breath, with great humility and minimal PR, leaving behind about 60 great grandchildren, one great-great grandchild, and all of us to follow in his footsteps.
We do not build monuments for the departed. Their deeds are their monuments, says the Talmud.
A reminder to focus more on our half-shekels, and less on our personal profiles, visibility, and fame.