Torah for this Hour | February 29, 2024

A half-shekel donation on Purim, reading Parashat Shekalim just before Rosh Ḥodesh Adar—these practices recall the annual gift to the Tabernacle/Temple. Its origin is in the census ordered in Parashat Ki Tissa, where everyone was counted by giving a half-shekel. Why? This is not a donation but a “ransom” intended to save the donor from harm, since at the time, the accepted wisdom held that people counted in a census were exposed to potential harm.

And who was in such danger? Those going out to battle. Note: the payment was uniform—a half-shekel, whether the person was 50 years old or 20, whether rich or poor. Everyone was counted; everyone was drafted. No exemptions. And no one’s life was valued more highly than another’s.

At present, all sectors of Israel’s Jewish society, at least, are called upon to take part in the defense of our country. That is the Torah’s way when it comes to defense: the same responsibility is incumbent on everyone.