The mandatory tax in support of the Tabernacle was half a shekel from each person. It’s strange that it was half a shekel and not a full shekel. Especially as it was used as a census also, it would have been simpler to require a shekel from everyone and the number of shekels was the number of people.
There is a clear message, however, in the half. We are talking here about a contribution towards the service of God. And God cannot be served by individuals. You cannot serve God without other human beings. Go to a mountain and live as a hermit, albeit a holy hermit and you are only a half person in the service of God. Because the service of God requires community. It requires human beings working together to build a better world. Just like no single one of us can survive physically in our world without the assistance of others, so too no single one of us can climb the mountain of spiritual achievement without the involvement of others. Let me share two aspects of this idea.
Firstly, one of the first things we teach our kids is to share. In a world in which there was no one to share with, we human beings would be compelled to be selfish. Living in a world with others means we can learn to be selfless, to give to others and to share what we have. Service of God requires selflessness and humility and others allow us to be so.
But secondly, there is a big wide world out there with many problems to tackle. People can change those around them; organisations can change communities; but to affect the type of change that will ultimately perfect God’s world – our task as human beings – requires nations and their governments. The task is just too big for one person alone. We are each only ‘halves’ in the service of God in that no single one of us can finish the task alone.
The half shekel was a reminder of this. No person is an island. Sharing with others is part of our service in this world and we need others to help us develop and perfect our world. Other human beings are one of God’s greatest gifts to each and every one of us. They may annoy and frustrate us at times, but our purpose in this world is impossible without their contribution.
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. And they counted how much money they had received and multiplied by two.
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.