The (W)holy Half by Dr. Joel M. Berman


Parashat Ki Tisa opens by discussing how Bnei Yisrael were to be counted.  Each man was required to give “Machatzit HaShekel BeShekel HaKodesh,” “A half-Shekel of the holy Shekel” (Shemot 30:13).  The half-Shekalim then were counted by Moshe.  The Midrash explains how Moshe Rabbeinu had difficulties understanding a deeper significance to both the Mitzvah of the half-Shekel and the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh.  Rabi Meir asserts that Hashem finally explained the Mitzvah of the half-Shekel by showing Moshe a fiery coin that He removed from His throne.  Similarly, Hashem showed Moshe the new moon that was to be the indicator of Rosh Chodesh.  On our levels, these Mitzvot seem quite understandable.  The half-Shekel was for the purposes of a census, since Klal Yisrael cannot be counted by direct means, and Kiddush HaChodesh fixes our calendar and symbolizes the waxing and waning of nations and ideas.  What was Moshe’s difficulty?

A few summers ago, I was learning in a local Beit Midrash in Monsey.  It’s a hard feeling to describe, but I felt two holes being “drilled” in my back.  I turned around to see a former TABC student.  I hadn’t seen him in years.  I’ll be generous and say that he had a “colorful” four years at TABC, and both parties were relieved for the same reason upon his graduation.  Now, however, he was a Mentch.  He dressed, talked, acted, and lived like a Mentch.  I was thrilled!  What had happened? 

That same summer, a parlor meeting was called to raise funds for SHUVU, the outstanding Israeli Kiruv organization.  Rav Pam was the speaker.  The room where Rav Pam was to speak was decorated with a series of SHUVU success stories, “before and after” pictures of some of their students.  Side by side, there would be a picture of “Nikki” before, a pony-tailed hippy adorned with earrings, and of “Nachum” after, a frum accountant dressed like a Mentch with a growing family living in Holon.  There must have been twenty such “before and after” pictures.  Rav Pam entered the room, carefully stopping to look at the “before” pictures and totally ignoring the “after” pictures as he approached the podium to speak.  What explains Rav Pam’s behavior?

Moshe Rabbeinu is described as the humblest of men.  He was “Tocho KeVaro” – his insides and outsides mirrored each other.  He said what he meant and he meant what he said.  One of my Rebbeim once wondered out loud that perhaps Moshe found it difficult to understand how people or Mitzvot could have many contradicting facets.  In other words, he found it puzzling that for this Mitzvah, a half-Shekel could be so different from a whole Shekel, and that one side of the moon was different from the other.

What had happened to change the young man I saw in the Beit Midrash that Summer afternoon?  Why did Rav Pam look only at the “before” pictures?  Rav Pam explained that he was trying to see the “after” that was always in the “before.”  The Mentch was always there!  The young man in the Beit Midrash always had it in him!  It is our job as teachers, mentors, and friends to see the “other half” of this coin, the “other half” of this moon, and encourage it to emerge and flourish.

The Accessibility of Torah by Gilad Barach

Where's Moshe? by Jesse Nowlin