ל׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ד (January 31, 2014)
A heart-warming image made the rounds of the internet this week, originating in the city of Marivan, in Western Iran. It is of a school teacher with a clean shaven head, standing in a classroom filled with students also with shaven heads … what is going on?
The answer is all or any of the following: Empathy, caring, compassion, brotherhood and friendship.
The photograph was taken in a school where a young eight year old student, Mahan Rahimi, started losing his hair due to an undiagnosed condition. When the class teacher noticed him being bullied by other kids for the way he looked, he decided to help out … by shaving his own head in solidarity. Soon, not only did the bullying stop, but the entire class shaved their heads too. Now the whole school wants to get in on the act. Who knows, soon all 76 million citizens of Iran may decide to follow suit…
Humans are interesting. We can be the greatest friends and supporters, rallying round in a time of need with empathy, love and hot chicken soup, or we can be unpleasant, bullying, argumentative, bombastic, supercilious and cruel. Sometimes we can even be all of the above, depending on who we are talking to. Part of leading a good and fulfilling life is about improving our character traits, our middot, throughout our lifetime, so that we can be more like the former and less like the latter – a difficult task, and sometimes a lifelong struggle.
This week we read in the parsha about the Mishkan, the shul / temple / sanctuary which accompanied the Jewish people on their sojourn through the desert en route to the Holy Land, and then for over four hundred years in Israel. The Mishkan was G-d’s “home” or focal point on earth, and housed the Golden Ark containing the Tablets from Sinai (Luchot HaBrit), altars, a menorah, a table for showbread, and other holy items.
The walls of the Mishkan were cedar/acacia wood plated with gold, all supported on solid silver sockets. These silver sockets were made from something very specific – the molten half-shekel donations the Jewish people gave as part of the national census.
What is the significance of this, of half-shekels being melted down to create the silver sockets?
Giving only half a coin has a great symbolism. It reminds us that we need another person to be complete, to make the full shekel. The half-shekels remind us that none of us can go it alone, that we need to join with others, to share, to unite, to be a part of something bigger.
Once we have that unity, that sharing with others, then we can create a (silver) base for G-d’s home. The foundations for a building where the Divine presence (shechina) can rest has to be one of Ahavat Yisrael, of brotherhood, kindness and love. The Shechina cannot dwell in a place where there is conflict or strife.
This is a lesson not just for the Mishkan, but for our daily lives. If we want the foundations of everything we do to be rock solid, whether it is our marriage, our job, or raising our children, it must be built on a foundation of caring for another, on sharing and unity, on Ahavat Yisroel, on respect for the other, and on realising that we are each only half of a silver shekel – valuable, but not complete. When a teacher can inspire his students to shave their heads to make someone else feel part of the group, then you have the foundation for real education and friendship.
In Temple times the half shekel was an annual tax collected on the first of Nisan. Announcements about the collection would go up on Rosh Chodesh Adar, which is today. To commemorate this mitzva, every year on the Fast of Esther before Mincha we give to charity three half-coins in the local currency, 50c, 50p, etc. Let us hope that by remembering we are each incomplete, only a “half-shekel,” and that we need to unite in harmony with those around us to be complete, we will merit once again to give the annual half-shekels in a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash. Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Zalman Lent