Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ki Tissa- A Mitzvah for Everyone

Zeh yitnu kol ha’oveir al hap’kudim machatzit hashekel b’shekel hakodesh esrim geirah hashekel machatzit hashekel t’rumah LaShem... He’asher lo yarbeh v’hadal lo yam’it machatzit hashekel…
This is what everyone entered into the record shall give- a half-shekel according to the sanctuary weight- twenty gerah to the shekel- a half shekel as a gift to the Lord… The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel…

Everyone shall pay- The half-shekel offering that is set in Parashat Ki Tissa is set low enough that every person could have a part in the creation of Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting. This became the centre of the Israelite camp. It is an opportunity for everyone, no matter his/her economic standing to have an equal share in the support of the community. The mitzvot given to us are intended for all of us. Whether the mitzvah is Shabbat, kashrut, or machatzit hashekel, it must therefore be attainable by all of us.
This idea is carried into the rules of tzedakah. Each person, no matter his/her financial standing must give tzedakah. Unlike g’milut hasadim, which are specifically acts, tzedakah refers to a monetary gift. Even the poorest person, who him/herself receives sustenance, is supposed to give something back. It’s an incredibly empowering idea, that no matter how bad things seem, you too must give something to another, even if it is only half a shekel.

In fundraising, organizations often go after their big donors forgetting the smaller donors. When this happens, thousands of dollars are lost along with the connection these individuals have to the organization and the community. On the other hand, many charities are sustained by the almighty penny; the change that no one wants to bother with is dropped into the pushke. One congregation I know invited everyone to participate in their High Holyday appeal. Every person’s name who donated before start of Rosh Hashanah was printed on large posters hung in the synagogue lobby. More posters were added before Yom Kippur. It wasn’t the most beautiful collection of donor plaques, but the sheer number of participants was awe-inspiring. People who had never been able to afford to see their name hanging in the shul stopped to read the lists and find their names. Children pointed out their own names to their parents and their friends, and everyone who walked past those posters held their head a little higher that year.

Machatzit hashekel- it’s not a lot, but when we bring them all together they can build a community of which we can all be proud.

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