The portion begins with the idea of taxing each person for half a shekel a year which went towards the upkeep of the Temple. There are two things I love immediately about this commandment. Firstly, that everyone gives the same, as the Torah says, ‘the rich shall not give more; the poor shall not give less’. All are equal in the service of God. But also, the fact that it is half a shekel, not a full shekel. The service of any individual is incomplete without others.
Along these lines, a beautiful story is told about a king who had two sons who were very close to each other, but one of whom was estranged from his father. It was the king’s Golden Jubilee and he desperately wanted both princes to attend. He sent a message to them saying that anything spent in honour of the king for the party, would be reimbursed. The prince, who was close to the king, immediately went out and bought the finest clothes, hired a limousine to pick him and his family up from the airport, after flights in first class, and booked the presidential suite at the local hotel for the full week of celebrations. Knowing that his brother would not attend, he figured that double the budget was available.
At the end of the week, as he was leaving, the prince handed his father receipts for all that he had spent. The king said to him that he was not reimbursing a penny. The prince remonstrated that he could not afford to pay by himself and that his father had promised.
‘I promised,’ said his father, ‘to reimburse what was spent in my honour’.
The prince responded that all of this had indeed been spent in honour of the king’s party.
‘This was not spent in my honour,’ replied the king, ‘it was spent in your own honour’.
The son said that was ridiculous. How could the king know?
To which the king answered. ‘If you genuinely wished to honour me, you would have brought your brother.’
I find sometimes, and I can only speak for myself if not for others, that self-righteousness can be a serious stumbling block. I want to be the one serving God, the one who does the good deed, who helps others, who is being holy and righteous. And whether others do that or not is their own business. But the rabbis, wisely, tell us that greater than the one who gives charity, is the one who encourages others to give.
Being of service is not just my deepest and greatest pleasure; it is every human being’s deepest and greatest pleasure. And whoever is not doing so is missing out. God does not want any of his children to miss out on having a deep and meaningful connection with Truth; to be in harmony with the oneness of life and the Universe. For me to feel that beautiful feeling and not look to help others find it also is to care about my own honour, not humanity’s honour and certainly not God’s honour. For in the context of service to a greater good, we are all God’s children and the success of each and every one of us should be as precious to us as our own.
Parsha in a Nutshell
This week, we begin with a census of the Jewish nation. Each person, rich or poor, had to give a half shekel for upkeep of the Tabernacle.
The portion includes the building of the washstand in the Tabernacle, the making of the incense and anointing oil and the appointment of craftsmen and architects. But all this is only a prelude to the feature presentation: the story of The Golden Calf. The Jewish people, having heard God speak to them at Mt. Sinai only 40 days previously, decide to build an idol!! How this could be possible is a difficult question that I have dealt with in previous years. I’m happy to send you something if you are interested.