Parashat Ki Tisa begins with the Mitzvah to count Bnei Yisrael. The Torah states, “Zeh Yitenu Kol HaOveir Al HaPekudim Machatzit HaShekel BeShekel HaKodesh,” “This is what everyone who will be counted should give: a half shekel of the holy shekel” (Shemot 30:13). Why were Bnei Yisrael commanded to give specifically a half shekel? The Torah explains that this census was to serve as an atonement, but what did this atone for?
Parashat VaYeishev records that Yosef was sold by nine of his brothers for twenty Dinars, which is equivalent to five Shekalim HaKodesh. Although only nine of his brothers sold him, according to Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat VaYeishev, number 3), ten brothers received the money of his sale, with each one receiving a Machatzit HaShekel. However, how is Mechirat Yosef related to the Mitzvah to take a census of Bnei Yisrael? In Parashat BeMidbar (3:44-51), the Pasuk states that the Leviim were to assume the Bechorim’s positions of honor, and the residual Bechorim, who didn’t have their Kedushah transferred to a Levi, would need to donate five Shekalim to the Mishkan. According to Rashi, this amount was to atone for the sale of Yosef, who was the Bechor of Rachel Imeinu. These Bechorim have a connection to the census of all of Bnei Yisrael, as they too were counted prior to the transferring of their Kedushah. Since both these Bechorim and Bnei Yisrael in the census mentioned in Ki Tisa donated Shekalim for use in the Mishkan and were counted, there is an indirect connection between the census of Bnei Yisrael and Mechirat Yosef. This illustrates how the census can be interpreted as a Kapparah for the Mechirah. May this time of year be a time of atonement for all of Bnei Yisrael, and may we all be Zocheh to be forgiven and to merit the coming of the Mashiach, BeMeheirah BeYameinu.