Parsha Ki Tisa
This week we read about the giving of the required half-shekel donations, which Rashi tells us was used for the silver bases of the walls of the Sanctuary. Every other part of the Sanctuary was made from the donations from “every person whose heart motivates him” (Sh’mot 25:2). R’ Yosef Zvi of Salant asks why the silver bases were singled out to be made of the mandatory half-shekel and not from the free-will donations.
“The Torah commentaries say that all the detailed instructions about the construction of the Sanctuary, if properly understood, are guidelines to proper living.” (R’ Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., Twerski on Chumash)
Another question we should ponder is why every Jew as asked to give a half-shekel, and not a whole shekel? The most common answer given by many, including the Chasam Sofer, is that this is because every Jew has to realize he is incomplete, and that he must participate in the community and join with his fellow Jews to be whole. While the call for unity is generally praiseworthy, it is very important that we always remain vigilant to make sure we are keeping company with the right people. I have seen first hand, too many times, how forming a relationship with the wrong people, has not only been counter-productive to someone’s spiritual growth, but has usually resulted in the exact opposite.
The following is based on R’ Shlomo Zalman Bregman’s wonderful Torah commentary, “Short and Sweet on the Parsha”:
Tosafos Ri HaZaken (Kiddushin 28a) says that proper, decent individuals should stay as far away from the wicked as is humanly possible. What constitutes “wicked”? Anything that distracts us or distances us from Hashem is “wicked”, especially for the one being negatively effected.
The first mishnah in Tractate Shekalim (1:1) says: “On the first of Adar, announcements are made regarding the donation of the shekalim and about kilayim.”
Why are these two, shekalim and kilayim, juxtaposed? (kilayim = improperly mixed crops). What’s the connection?
“It serves to remind us that not all mixtures, combinations, and instances of joining together are good at all!”
R’ Brergman goes on to explain that we see these two elements juxtaposed again in Vayiqra 19:
“Love your fellow as yourself: I am Hashem” (Vayiqra 19:18)
“You shall observe my laws. You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material.” (Vayiqra 19:19)
Despite the fact that we are told to love, we are also told to avoid mixing. That includes making efforts to guard ourselves from mixing with people who are a negative influence on us; who are likely to stand between us and our spiritual growth. Mixing with such people is akin to improperly mixing different species of animal, grain or fibers.
“For the good of the community, Hashem wants all of us, rich or poor, to have an equal portion in the community offerings that are brought during the year. He commands us to join together in the mitzvah and have an equal share in it, so that He can remember all of us for the good.” (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #105).
We cannot be a stumbling block for others to trip over, but we also need to guard ourselves from the stumbling blocks that would like to stand in our path. A true sense of community demands that I should have as much concern for your spiritual growth and progress, as I do for my own. We hear a lot of talk about unity and community, but it is sometimes difficult for people to understand just who our “community” is. Just who is it we are told to love? Who is truly our sister or brother? It takes some discernment, but it isn’t rocket science ladies! I have seen too many people wounded by the bad company they have kept, so I am going to offer some heartfelt advice. We don’t need to be suspicious of everyone, but we do need to be discerning. What do you do when in the company of your “friends”? Do you talk about Hashem or about non-sense? Does someone often get upset? Or is there always drama? Is there gossiping, slander and back-stabbing going on? Is there gluttony and drunkenness? These are signs you need new “friends”! I use the term “friend” here loosely, as, in this day and age, thanks to Facebook, that term has lost all meaning. A true friend is someone who is interested in your spiritual growth. A true friend will encourage you, and aid in your spiritual growth. A true friend definitely won’t leave you wounded and weary. Unfortunately, true friends are difficult to find these days!
If you do not find yourself growing spiritually in your current environment, it is time to find a new environment. If you are spending a lot of time with someone who drains your energy, it is a sign to make a distance between you and them. Often, my experience has been, that if I distance myself from someone who drains me or attempts to hinder my spiritual growth, their true colors are soon exposed. It’s a fact that there are a lot of fake people in this world, and I do not have the time or energy to waste on anyone who is not interested in growing spiritually. It is not my job to judge anyone, but it is my job to protect myself.
“The Torah’s method for conducting the census teaches us how to properly relate to others: not only must we relate to each individual as unique, we must also lift each and every one up and make him or her feel special and worthy of attention and love. This is the true meaning of the words, ‘when you lift up the heads'”. The realization that we are all “half-shekels” reigns in our egos, reducing our tendency to delude ourselves into thinking that we are somehow whole, while others are but halves.” (Orchard of Delights, R’ Trugman, on Ki Tisa).
Disunity brings destruction, but unity with the wrong people also brings destruction. Discernment is necessary. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Help others with their spiritual ascent, and expect those around you to help you with yours! Remember misery loves company. So does evil. When someone is miserable or rebellious, they love to take others down with them. Some people repeatedly leave a path of destruction wherever they go, and yet appear to be oblivious to their part in it. Do not subject yourselves or your family to destructive behaviors or environments. Don’t compromise. Time and again, I see people let their guard down, and make excuses for the bad behavior they witness, only to eventually find themselves the target of the bad behavior. And those who were instrumental in knocking them down are usually the ones laughing or gloating while souls lie wounded on the floor (so to speak).
So let’s go full circle back to our first question. R’ Yosef Zvi of Salant asks, why were the silver bases singled out? R’ Twerski explains that the Talmud says that Moses taught us 613 mitzvot. King David then narrowed it to eleven principles, which Yeshayahu then narrowed to six principles, Michah to three, and Habbakuk a single principle: “A righteous person lives by his emunah” (Makkos 24). If a person has a sincere faith in Hashem, this will lead him or her to accept the entire Torah. In other words, R’ Twerski says, “Emunah is the foundation of the entire Torah”.
He goes on to explain that there are varying levels or Torah knowledge between people, but that there cannot be any quantification of emunah. The least learned person is required to have as much emunah as a great, learned scholar.
“If a person says that he accepts all of the Torah except for one item, it is tantamount to rejecting the entire Torah (Sanhedrin 91a)
“It is for this reason, R’ Yosef Zvi says, that the silver for the bases of the Sanctuary was donated equally by all. This is to teach us that in regard to emunah, the foundation of Torah, there is no stratification. Both the “wealthiest” in knowledge and the most “destitute” have equal obligations in acceptance of the entire Torah.” (R’ Twerski, Twerski on Chumash)
Ladies, I cannot warn strongly enough the importance of choosing our friends wisely. We are so influenced by the people we keep company with! Striving to improve our proximity to our Creator is a difficult enough task, without subjecting ourselves to nonsense. We all need to develop perfect emunah, and we need to surround ourselves with people who encourage our climb, and are even willing to climb with us. It saddens me to see so many women discouraged and hurt by the bad behavior of others. And in hind sight they typically admit that they realized something wasn’t right, but they ignored the signs until it was too late. And once our souls are wounded it is so difficult to recover and healing the wound takes a lot of precious time and energy. If you suspect something isn’t right in a relationship or situation, step back and distance yourself for a while, and prayerfully ask Hashem to give you discernment. You might just save yourself from a difficult situation.
It is not impossible to find the right people to surround yourself with, but it is sometimes a challenge. You might have to make some sacrifices. But ultimately you must ask yourself the same questions you should ask about every aspect of your life: “Is this helping me to grow in my relationship with my Creator?”. If the answer is no, you have a choice to make. And yes, sometimes we have to give up things that we hold dear. We are all unique individuals, and we all have a unique role to play. But we also need to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure a healthy environment that is conducive to spiritual growth, both yours and others, together.
The half-shekel teaches us that we are incomplete without a community. I pray each of you are successful in finding a community that is instrumental in your growth, and in which you can contribute your own unique gifts and talents.
Be encouraged and be a encouragement,