At a recent community discussion with other local rabbis about the future of the Jewish people, I remarked that just as people buy OtterBoxes for their iPhones to protect the valuable interior electronics, it is up to us to create our own metaphoric Jewish OtterBoxes. This will help us keep our Judaism from becoming too battered to effectively and purposefully function.
The special reading for this week’s Shabbat Shekalim presents a commandment that at face value appears somewhat irrelevant to our 21st century societal and sanctuary structure: the Biblical obligation of a half shekel annual tax which males over the age of 20 are required to give to the construction of the Tabernacle. This portion is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar so that every adult man would have a month’s notice to prepare the money, which due on the first of Nissan during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The question is, without the Temple, how can we practically fulfill this mitzvah today? Even the Mishnah Berurah (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) ruled that the only way we can perform this mitzvah is through the reading of Parashat Shekalim during this Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar.
Perhaps, however, we can perform this mitzvah using an “OtterBox approach” of preserving its spirit, by both accounting for the community and contributing to the community’s welfare.
In an important disagreement with the halachic decisor Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema), the Magen Avraham disputes the Rema’s assertion based directly on the Torah that this mitzvah was intended for men over the age of 20. He writes in concurrence with the Rambam and the Ramban that the Biblical mitzvah to contribute a half-shekel to the Temple applies to all those who have reached the age of bnai mitzvah.
There are still many people for whom a divine presence needs to be nurtured through communal giving. That’s why this time of year (Shabbat Shekalim) should be a time to help inspire our children to contribute the equivalent “half-shekel” to our greater community. After all, children are among those in the Torah who are not commanded to contribute. When Parashat Shekalim is read, many of our children also celebrate the 100th day of school. What if, on the 100th day of school, all of our schools, private and public, collect a quantity of 100 of household items (toiletries, food, and clothing) and give them to 100 area families in need?
In the spirit of the Magen Avraham and full disclosure, that is exactly what one of our students at Solomon Schechter did. He has successfully galvanized our entire school community to give their “half-shekel” in the form of shampoo, toilet paper, and other personal-care items to 100 area families. For more information about this inspiring project, please go to our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/ssdsbergen.
In explaining Rav Kook’s discussion of this special parasha, Rabbi Chanan Morrison writes that through the giving of the half-shekel, “a society may be unified in two ways: in deed and in thought. ‘Unity in deed’ refers to practical actions to assist one’s neighbors or to contribute to the nation as a whole. ‘Unity in thought’ means concern for fellow citizens and love for one’s people. For Israel, ‘unity in thought’ is the ultimate goal, while ‘unity in deed’ is a means to bolster and strengthen it.”
Let our commandment to each contribute our individual “half-shekel” unify us in thought and let the actions of our youth inspire us to be united in deed regardless of our affiliation. That is an unbreakable OtterBox.