This week's Parsha opens with a command for Moshe to take a census of the Jewish people. This was to be done by having each Jew give half of a twenty-Geirah Shekel coin to represent him in the count, the proceeds of would then benefit the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Rabbeinu Bachaya wonders why the Torah refers to the required donation as being half of a twenty-Geirah coin. Why didn't the Torah say to bring a whole, ten-Geirah coin? What is the significance of using a half coin?
He explains that in this command, the Torah is hinting to us that we should weigh (the word "Shekel" is very similar to the Hebrew word "Yishkol" meaning "to weigh") our actions to be sure that both our bodies and our souls are allotted the attention that they need. For just as there are two parts to the Shekel - one given to the Mishkan and one kept for us - there are two parts to each of us, the spiritual and the physical. This necessitates a give and take. We must use our physical side to assist us in our spiritual accomplishments, and sometimes we must allow our spiritual side to be involved in necessary physical activities. We must therefore balance our time and efforts, stressing the spiritual, but allowing the physical the time that it needs. By doing this, the entire balancing process is deemed holy, because it enables us to most productively manage ourselves ultimately providing us with more opportunities to be involved in spiritual activities.
Why is our spirituality so important? In his fundamental treatise of Mussar, Messilat Yesharim, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains that the ultimate goal of all our striving is to form the splendor of Hashem's presence. This is absolutely the greatest and most meaningful pleasure one can possibly experience. This pleasure is the eternal reward that we will receive in the World to Come for all the Mitzvot we have done in the world. Hashem placed us in this world, to accomplish as many Mitzvot as we possibly can. Then, proportional to our achievements, we will receive our full and everlasting reward in the World to Come.
In this light, the sages in Pirkei Avot (4:21) compared the world to a corridor - a place of preparation before entering the palace that is the world to come. Our entire lifetime is a temporary stopover for us to acquire as many merits as we can, to apply later towards our permanent status in the World to Come. By understanding this fundamental concept, we will see that the main pursuit in our lives must be Torah study and Mitzva observance, our spiritual activities, because they are our ticket to the next world and the only reason we are placed here to begin with. Our physical pursuits are necessary, but they must be kept secondary, utilized to assist us in our spiritual endeavors, and never become our primary focus.
So, on one hand we realize that our true objectives lie in our spiritual pursuits, but on the other, the evil inclination strives to pull us toward over-involvement in the physical world. The only way we can effectively proceed is by weighing our actions. By honestly evaluating what we are doing and why we are here, we will be able to determine how much time and effort must be devoted to each pursuit. Then, we can maximize our output - accomplishing the most Mitzvot that we can, while simultaneously maintaining our physical side with the exact attention it needs. But, we first need to realize what our priorities must be and we must always be cognizant that there are forces trying to deter us from those priorities. Only then can we honestly evaluate how to proceed.
We were given a single lifetime to learn Torah, to pray three times a day, to observe Shabbat - to accomplish as many mitzvot as we possibly can. Of course, we need to involve ourselves in the physical world to a certain extent, but that involvement must be used to aid us in our spiritual pursuits, not to detract from them. The evil inclination strives to preoccupy us in our jobs, houses, cars and clothing so that we end up putting most of our efforts into enhancing them, while our spiritual side is left on hold. If we take a nonchalant attitude toward our relationship with Hashem, we risk becoming overly focused on money and materialism, which, although we may enjoy now we will regret later when our ultimate reward is diminished because our materialism prevented us from growing spiritually. Instead, we must apply the lesson of the half-Shekel and keep a steady active watch on our actions.
We know that the evil inclination causes us to lean more toward our physical side, so we must be careful and honest with ourselves to ensure that our spirituality is in no way overlooked. By working on this, may we all maximize our mitzvah performance, earning as many possible merits as we can, so that we will enjoy a spiritual existence in this world and tremendous eternal reward in the World to Come.