Friday, March 8, 2024

Parshat Shekalim - Activating Joy


Reb Noson explores the significance of Shabbat Shekalim. He begins by explaining the nature of Shekalim—an obligatory tax, but essentially a form of charity. Every Jewish male over 20 was required to contribute a coin per head, termed beka la’gulgolet. These half-shekel coins were not just for a head count but served as a charity tax for the Temple. Proceeds were designated for communal sacrifices, including the daily communal sacrifices (korbanot) and the Ketoret, the Temple’s incense.

Reb Noson contends that Shabbat Shekalim marks the start of the preparation for Purim, Pesach, and eventually Shavuot. The timing in Adar, as explained by the Mishnah and Gemara, aligns with historical practices surrounding the census and money collection.

Delving deeper, however, Reb Noson suggests that this mandatory charity holds profound significance. He asserts that the key to our preparation for salvation, mirrored in Pesach and Shavuot, lies in joy. Citing Isaiah, “Ki Besimcha Teitzehu” (for with joy you will leave the exile), he emphasizes the centrality of joy in the redemption process.

The Holy Temple and its sacrifices aimed to bring atonement, light, and joy to the world. The Temple’s purpose was to illuminate the connection between people and Hashem, instilling a profound sense of purpose and meaning. The sacrifices, symbolized by the root word “L’Karev” (to draw close), aimed to bring people closer to Hashem, evoking unparalleled joy. The Ketoret, with its fragrances, symbolized the extraction of holiness from the forces of evil, working in tandem with sacrifices to draw all closer to holiness.

Now, the Tzedakah money, the Shekalim, constituted an obligatory contribution towards the Korbanot and Ketoret. Since these donations went into items fostering happiness in the world, Reb Noson asserts that this specific charity, Machatzit HaShekel, directed towards the Temple, inherently brings joy. The Machatzit HaShekel activates the concept of joy.

Expanding on this, Reb Noson takes a further step: the Torah stipulates that each male head over the age of 20 must contribute a coin, referred to as Beka L’Gulgolet. Beka denotes the coin currency, a half-shekel coin per gulgolet, with gulgolet literally translating to a skull. In Kabbalah, gulgolet refers to the highest level above the Sefirot, known as the Keter—the gateway to the Infinite Light.

When facing life’s challenges, frustrations, confusion, and lack of clarity, what is needed for assistance is a light from this gulgolet, the level of Keter. However, accessing the Keter is not a straightforward task; it requires breaking through to activate the Infinite Light that can provide assistance. Beka, while translating as a coin, also conveys the meaning of cutting, cracking, or making an incision—a Bekiah. Beka l’gulgolet implies that the Machatzit HaShekel charity functions as a means to crack open the Keter, enabling clarity in life.

On a practical level, this means that tapping into joy in life brings a significant gain—clarity. Clarity stands as life’s greatest gift, serving as consolation, healing, and remedy when faced with frustrations, confusions, and doubts. When joy is present, it brings forth Beka l’gulgolet, ushering in a clarification of light from beyond the Keter. Reb Noson’s insight emphasizes the profound connection between joy and the invaluable gift of clarity in life.

Now, what’s truly remarkable is that this tax, this charity, is not a voluntary act; the Torah imposes it as an obligation on the Jewish people. Unlike regular Tzedaka, where individuals can decide whether or not to give, this specific obligation carries significant weight. Failure to give Tzedaka comes with severe consequences. However, there’s a catch—a person doesn’t have to give to an unworthy cause. If there are doubts about the honesty or worthiness of the recipient or organization, one can refrain from giving. This cautious approach is a year-round consideration influencing our decisions to give or not.

However, in the case of the Shekalim, the Torah is unequivocal—there are no questions. Every Jewish male is obligated to give. But why does the Torah mandate this form of Tzedaka? The answer lies in the Torah’s understanding that this Tzedaka is not just any charity; it is what will bring joy into one’s life through the Korbanot and the Ketoret. The Torah recognizes the universal need for joy, especially as winter gives way to Adar, the month heralding joy and festivity.

Transitioning from the cold winter nights of Tevet and Shevat, marked by sadness and negativity, into the month of high Simcha doesn’t happen effortlessly. Recognizing this, the Torah foresaw the necessity for a joy boost. Hence, the obligation of the Tzedaka tax in the form of Shekalim. The Torah mandates it because, ultimately, every individual will benefit tremendously from the joy it activates. This underscores the unique purpose and importance of the Tzedaka tax of the Shekalim.

It’s intriguing how, in our leap year, the connection with Parshat VaYakhel becomes evident. This portion discusses the donations made by the Jewish people for the construction of the Mishkan as a rectification for the sin of the golden calf. One noteworthy aspect is that when Moshe informed the people about the need for donations—gold, silver, copper, various materials, and dyes—the collectors had to plead with him to stop because the people were giving too much. This scenario is unique, as typically, collecting charity for truly worthy causes requires considerable effort to convince people to contribute. Here, the Torah portrays the Jews eagerly rushing to give Tzedaka for the Mishkan, prompting Moshe to intervene and halt the influx of donations.

Interestingly, the parsha highlights a secret about fundraising. In the world, organizations invest significant effort in fundraising campaigns, using various strategies to encourage donations. However, the Torah, through the Mishkan and Shekalim, reveals a powerful insight: the key to successful fundraising lies in connecting the act of giving with joy.

The Jews understood that the Mishkan’s purpose was to bring joy and rectify the sorrow that led to the golden calf incident. The Mishkan, through its offerings and incense, was designed to infuse joy into the world. Recognizing this, the Jewish people eagerly donated.

Successful fundraisers today follow a similar principle. To encourage giving, they aim to create a joyful atmosphere—offering good food, music, and entertainment. By associating the act of giving with happiness, people are more inclined to contribute willingly. This timeless wisdom from the Torah, found in Parshat VaYakhel and the Shekalim, remains relevant in understanding the dynamics of successful fundraising.

Thus, both Parshat Shekalim and Vayakhel unfold an incredible point about the obligation of Shekalim and why the Jews gave so generously towards the Mishkan. It underscores how Simcha, joy, is the key in this situation—a win-win scenario benefiting both the Temple, as the receiver, and the giver, who gains tons of activated joy.

In our current times without the Temple, Rebbe Nachman advises giving charity to the Holy Land especially during Adar, mirroring the Shekalim’s essence. This act serves as a substitute, as close as possible, to supporting the Temple. Contributing to Eretz Yisrael, especially in Adar, becomes a means to activate joy, all in preparation for Purim.

Rebbe Nachman places significant emphasis on being happy on Purim as a pivotal element for the entire year. The joy of Purim sets the stage for Pesach, which, in turn, prepares for Shavuot, creating a spiritual progression. The Rebbe asserts that investing in Purim joy is a safeguard for Pesach, as this happiness spills over into spiritual growth throughout the year.

As we approach Purim, the Breslov tradition places great importance on praying for happiness during this period. Coupled with the Tzedakah of Shekalim, directed today towards the Holy Land, this practice aims to infuse joy into the upcoming festivities.

May this Shabbat Shekalim awaken us with a profound boost of joy, setting the stage for a joyous Purim, Pesach, and Shavuot ahead.

(This article also appears on the BRI website:

For a video presentation of this article:

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!
Meir Elkabas

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