As Rosh Chodesh Adar approaches in the coming week, we read a special section after the weekly Parashah. Rather than repeating the end of the Parashah as we normally do for Maftir, we read a portion from Parashat Ki Tisa, Parashat Shekalim. Parashat Shekalim talks about the Machatzit HaShekel (half-Shekel), that every Jew must donate to the Mishkan. This portion is always read the week before Rosh Chodesh Adar, but why is this the case? On a simple level, it is because Rosh Chodesh Adar marked the beginning of the collection of the Machatzit HaShekel in the days of the Beit HaMikdash (Shekalim 1:1). On Rosh Chodesh Adar, the Kohanim began to collect the tithe that every Jew had to give in order to buy the Korbanot Tzibur of the following year, and reading this portion is a reminder to us of the tradition that we are no longer able to do. However, there is a deeper meaning as to why this is always read on this Shabbat.
To answer this question, we must first ask another question: Why is a half-Shekel given, and not a full Shekel? The Torah commands, “HeAshir Lo Yarbeh VeHadal Lo Yam’it MiMachatzit HaShakel,” “The rich shall give no more, and the poor no less, than a half-Shekel” (30:15). Every Jew gives the exact same amount, showing a sense of unity. Furthering this concept, giving a half-Shekel shows that no Jew is complete on their own; he alone is not whole, but a half, and only when there is unity between the nation can a Jew be considered full.
But why does this Mitzvah begin at the start of Adar? In a few weeks we will be celebrating the holiday of Purim, the centerpiece and focus of the entire month of Adar. In the story of Purim, Haman gives 10,000 Shekalim to pay for the murder all of Bnei Yisrael. Haman further says, “Yeshno Am Echad Mefuzar UMeforad Bein HaAmim,” “There is one nation (the Jews) scattered and spread out among the nations” (Esther 3:8). Haman is saying that our nation is not a united nation, and everyone is fighting for himself, and that he wishes to capitalize on that weakness. Indeed, Haman almost succeeded in his plan of destroying Bnei Yisrael, until the Jews came together as one to Daven to Hashem, and ask for His mercy. It is for this reason that Bnei Yisrael’s giving of the half-Shekel precedes Purim and Haman’s giving of the Shekalim. Every Jew willingly gives the same amount, a half-Shekel which shows our unity, and how we care for each other and need each other to be complete. This Shekel is a powerful antidote for Haman’s Shekel—it shows that we are strong and will not open ourselves to weakness by being disjointed—and therefore its reading in Ki Tisa serves as an apt reminder as we greet the month of Adar.