One of the many attributes which we emphasize as the Jewish People is unity. But unity can be defined in multiple ways. A basic definition would suggest that a group of people who exist together in relative peace and harmony possess unity. If individuals can live with each other, respect each other’s views, and avoid hostile confrontations, then they have achieved a state of unity. However, if we take a close look at the Torah, we may discover that this definition of unity is incredibly superficial and does not convey an accurate illustration of what genuine and authentic unity truly is.
This week we read the first of the Four Parashiyot, Parashat Shekalim, in which we are commanded to perform the Mitzvah of Machatzit HaShekel. This was the annual collection which would be used towards the purchase of communal sacrifices. One aspect of the Mitzvah of Machatzit HaShekel which is quite unusual is the fact that the Torah insists on a donation of only a half Shekel, a fraction of the basic unit of currency. This seems quite odd, not to mention impractical. (After all, try to imagine hundreds of thousands of Jews walking around, everyone asking the same question: “Excuse me, do you have change for a Shekel?”) Why does the Torah insist that everyone give a half Shekel – rich and poor alike? What is the significance of the ‘Machatzit’ HaShekel as opposed to the whole Shekel?
It is a well-known fact that there are 613 Mitzvot in the Torah. However, the fact that is less discussed is that no single Jew has ever been capable of performing all of the Mitzvot by himself. As the Meshech Chochmah teaches (Shemot 19:8), there are certain Mitzvot that can be performed only by a Kohein and not everyone is a Kohein. There are other obligations that apply only to a Kohein Gadol, a Leivi, a Melech, or the Sanhedrin. Some Mitzvot can be performed only by men and others may be performed only by women. In the end, no single individual can possibly perform them all. No one can ever stand alone and declare, “Taryag Mitzvot Shamarti,” “I kept all 613 Mitzvot.” Rather, explains the Meshech Chochmah, we are to view our entire nation as one complete being, each individual representing a different organ, reflecting his or her unique self. Only together can we indeed fulfill 613 Mitzvot.
This background offers us a refreshing perspective on Jewish unity. When asked to define the ideal state of Jewish unity – Achdut – we cannot simply resort to the basic definition. For although it is no doubt essential that we get along and live in peace and harmony, with that alone we have not yet fulfilled the ultimate state of unity. In addition, one must understand his true role as a member of the Jewish nation. In reality, a Jew is not to view him or herself as a whole, a separate entity, who happens to live and exist among other individuals. Rather, a Jew’s perspective should be that he is only apart of a greater whole. As an individual, no Jew is complete. As an individual, a Jew cannot possibly fulfill his/her mission or purpose in life. With all of his/her talents, abilities, and resources, he/she is still only a “Machatzit.” It is through this realization that true Achdut may then emerge. Each Jew must realize that all Jews are necessary, because each and every one of them were created with one common purpose and one shared destiny which can be achieved only if and when we serve our God together, as one.
The words “Sim Shalom” which a Jew recites each and every day do not represent a mere plea for calm and stability within the Jewish community. Rather, ‘Shalom’ is a derivative of the word ‘Shaleim,’ which means complete. When all of the parts fit and work together in absolute harmony, balancing and complementing each other, that is Shalom. Just as one missing piece is all it takes to ruin the effect of a one thousand piece puzzle, we need every single Jew to join us in our quest for Sheleimut. This is the message of the Machatzit HaShekel.
We know that this is the season of the Ge’ulah. As we celebrate Purim and then prepare to herald in the glorious month of Nisan, we must remind ourselves that unity is the prerequisite for the final Ge’ulah. Let us take the message of the Machatzit HaShekel and begin to view ourselves as a Machatzit, only a part of a much greater whole. Hopefully, if we take this message and implement it into our lives, we will witness Shalom within all of Klal Yisrael and indeed the entire world.