By Rabbi Yonah Burr
כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל וגו' זה יתנו כל העובר על הפקודים מחצית השקל
When you want to count the children of Israel, this you should give; anyone who passes before the count; a half shekel.
Rav Moshe Feinstein shares an insightful observation. The Torah combines the mitzvah of the half shekel with the mitzvah to count. In actuality, the two are not related at all.
There is a mitzvah to give a half shekel every year, year in, year out, in order to supply the Beis Hamikdash with the resources to purchase the Korbanos. In fact, even if there is a surplus of money, there is a mitzvah to make a new collection the following year, to have ‘fresh’ money for that years new korbanos. The ‘old’ money is then used for other purposes such as buying vessels, paying workers and building repairs.
The mitzvah to count was performed only a few times in the desert; and a few times throughout Tanach. In fact, one can use any item to count the Jewish People. It need not be done with the half shekel. In the days of King Shaul, the king counted the people by collecting pieces of pottery shards. Other times, it was done by counting sheep.
There is a mitzvah to contribute yearly a half shekel towards the Beis Hamikdash, and from time to time a mitzvah to count. Why did the Torah combine the two?
Rav Moshe explains that the Torah is teaching us the proper attitude we should have towards the fulfillment of mitzvos. On the one hand, we need to appreciate how special a mitzvah is, realizing that it is the will of Hashem, and the fact that we have the opportunity to perform them is a ‘big deal’.
On the other hand, our approach has to be that the mitzvos are equal for everyone. It is not something reserved for the exalted, that only the haughty get to perform. This could lead to a more reserved and mild-mannered person shying away from the mitzvah. He may think, ‘who am I to merit doing this mitzvah?’ Likewise, if we make the mitzvah too big a deal, our children might feel it is too difficult to perform, too much of a sacrifice: ‘indeed, my parents are righteous for performing all the mitzvos, but it is too much for me’. The parent will not serve as a model for the child.
Instead, our approach should be that it is simple, almost second nature; it is something we do, something expected of everyone. Something special indeed, but easy. No big deal, something we enjoy doing.
The Torah specifically ties the mitzvah of tzedaka, donating to the Beis Hamikdash, as the mitzva to ‘count everyone in’ when it comes to the performance of mitzvos. We are all equal, we give the same amount, and we are all counted in equally.
This, explains Rav Moshe, was the secret of Moshe Rabbeinu’s humility; true, he reached incredible heights, levels of Torah and prophecy, but it is not only his privilege; it is something that everyone could do, not reserved for an elite few.
May we all maximize our potential, humbly, naturally, together!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!