Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Talk About Counting The People NOW?

This week's parsha, Ki Sisa, starts off with a, seemingly, off topic discussion. The past two Parshios of Terumah and Tetzaveh were talking about all the different vessels of the Mishkan and the services. Why does the Torah feel that it is NOW the appropriate time to talk about taking a census?

Actually, this is the PERFECT time to talk about taking a census. If we recall what the Torah says in the beginning of Parshas Terumah (Shemos 25:2-8), I think we will be able to answer why this commandment (how to take a census) is brought up now. I actually discussed the relevant topic in Parshas Terumah two weeks ago, found here. For the sake of being complete, I will briefly mention what was discussed over there. Simply put, at the beginning of Parshas Terumah the Torah tells us that "whoever's heart make him willing" is commanded to give Terumah (tithes) over there. Apparently, only some Jews were commanded to give tithes for the erection of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), but not everyone.

Like most things in the world, one would think that only those involved in building the Mishkan or those who donated money to the building of the Mishkan would feel connected to the Mishkan. Also, people who donate more money would feel they have a greater connection than those who donated less money. This is simple human nature. People who did not donate, or donated less, would not just feel disconnected from the Mishkan, but they would feel like it has little to do with them. Therefore, it is essential that once the description of the Mishkan and its services is completed that the Torah discuss how people who did not donate, or donated less, to the building of the Mishkan still have a strong connection to the Mishkan. This is why the Torah immediately discusses the commandment of how to take a census.

How does the commandment of taking a census make everyone feel connected to the Mishkan? It is found in the simple reading of the Torah (Shemos 30:12-16):

יב  כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם, וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהוָה, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה בָהֶם נֶגֶף, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם.12 'When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
יג  זֶה יִתְּנוּ, כָּל-הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ:  עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה, הַשֶּׁקֶל--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, תְּרוּמָה לַיהוָה.13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary--the shekel is twenty gerahs--half a shekel for an offering to the LORD.
יד  כֹּל, הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וָמָעְלָה--יִתֵּן, תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה.14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the offering of the LORD.
טו  הֶעָשִׁיר לֹא-יַרְבֶּה, וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט, מִמַּחֲצִית, הַשָּׁקֶל--לָתֵת אֶת-תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עַל-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם.15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering of the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.
טז  וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת-כֶּסֶף הַכִּפֻּרִים, מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנָתַתָּ אֹתוֹ, עַל-עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וְהָיָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְזִכָּרוֹן לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עַל-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם.  {פ}16 And thou shalt take the atonement money from the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.'{P}

Whether a Jew is rich or poor, he or she has the same share in the atonement offering that is offered for the sake of the entire community. This tells us that whether a person contributed a massive amount to the building of the Mishkan or absolutely nothing, they still have the same claim to the Mishkan and its purpose (connecting to G-D). A poor person may feel that they have no share in the Mishkan because they do not have the ability to donate money. However, G-D immediately dispels that feeling by telling us, immediately, that whether or not you had the money to donate, you are still included, with an equal portion, in the communal sacrifices. Whether a Jew is rich or poor, whether they were involved with the building of the Mishkan or not, they still have a right and an obligation to participate in the future.

This idea is not just towards the Mishkan, but every aspect of Jewish life. A person might miss out on an opportunity to be part of anything in Judaism, whether it be Shachris (morning prayer) or Neila of Yom Kippur (the final prayer before the "gates close). However, the message of the Torah is clear, you have not missed your chance. You are part of the Jewish people and, therefore, it is your right and obligation to be part of the community even if you have not contributed until this point.

There is one catch. The poor person or rich person who has not yet contributed can only be part of the community once THEY START TO CONTRIBUTE. A person can not just feed off of the community without any contributions and take part in the community. That is the second lesson that this commandment of taking the census teaches us. Yes, you can become a part of the community at any time. However, you can only be a part of the community once you start to contribute to the cause of the community. This is why even a poor person that can not afford anything else is only included in the census if he or she donates the half-a-shekel (Machtzis Hashekel).

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