Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Purim #5

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:5
“The custom is to use a half-coin of whatever currency is customary in one’s area. This is to commemorate the half-shekel that was donated for the communal sacrifices in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. The custom is to give three such half-coins since the offering is mentioned three times in parshas Ki Tisa.”
The Arizal taught that, at first, only G-dliness was revealed, but since Hashem wanted to create the world so that we would have free choice, He constricted the revelation of Himself. The Ramchal writes that this means that Hashem “veiled” the revelation of Himself so we would not be overwhelmed. If there was too much revealed G-dliness, we would not have any free choice at all. Everything would be clear to us and doing something evil would be like doing something truly destructive to ourselves. If we knew what sin does to us and how it prevents us from ascending to Hashem, we would never sin. It is only because of the fact that G-dliness is hidden that we have a choice to pay no attention to what we intuitively know is right and do evil. This veiling can be compared to a candle which is in front of a person. No matter how many veils are placed between the person and the candle, it still gives off the same light. It is just very well hidden from the person.
If G-dliness was veiled too much, however, we would not be able to act properly. Our instincts would rule us so strongly that we would have no choice but to act in an animalistic way.
In Likutei Moharan, Rebbe Nachman zt”l, cites a Talmudic teaching that every person is a whole world. This means that every aspect revealed about the creation of the world relates to each person individually. In that lesson, he discusses the fact that every Jew has burning desire for G-d in his heart that is endless—literally, “to the Ein Sof.” However, this burning desire to join one’s Source is so powerful sometimes that it is paralyzing. Sometimes this fire then burns the other way, and one feels a fervent longing for some material thing or experience. This is the reflection of the Divine Endless Illumination (אור אין סוף) in each of us. It is our job to constrict this fire and create vessels to contain it and work with it so that we can accomplish what we need to. We have to learn to sit down and focus on what needs to be done and can be done right now. That might mean learning something, or praying, or performing an act of kindness. However, constricting one’s inner fire and longing for Hashem even for good purposes can result in the generation of distracting thoughts and feelings. If that happens, one must use the tools that Rebbe Nachman taught about to re-direct one’s thoughts. (This has been discussed at length in other postings.)
This is how Reb Nosson, zt”l, explains the concept of the machatzis hashekel, the half-shekel offering. We give a half-shekel to represent that building the Mishkan (the original reason why we gave the offering) or donating money for a communal sacrifice (our prayers and Torah study are both compared to communal sacrifices, as chazal tell us). When building holiness, we need to “halve” our burning desire to serve Hashem, to constrict our endless yearning so that we can serve Hashem, each one according to his level.
We give three half-shekalim because this is the amount of times that the offering is mentioned in the parshah. Of course, doing this once is not enough. We must keep on doing this until it is second nature and we are not allowing our fiery desire for our Source to hinder us in our journey to Hashem. Most spiritual backsliding happens to those who, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, take on more than they can handle. “Take hold of too much and you have taken hold of nothing.” Doing a little at a time is the way to go.
Once, a certain chassid was sitting with a group of chassidim and their Rebbe, the Imrei Menachem of Alexander, zt”l. The chassid told the group, “I was always very busy and I didn’t have a lot of time to learn. However, every day after the morning prayers, I would learn ten minutes of Orach Chaim. After a period of time, I found that I had accumulated a huge reserve of important facts in this vital area of study. I couldn’t believe it! In ten minutes a day I became a talmid chacham!”
This is also a way for us to understand the purpose of Parshas Shekalim and why

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