THE HALF-SHEKEL OFFERING: PARTNERSHIP IN THE HOLY TEMPLE!
THE HALF-SHEKEL OFFERING: PARTNERSHIP IN THE HOLY TEMPLE!
Every year, on the first Shabbat of the month of Adar, or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Adar, (This Shabbat - February 18th!), Jews in synagogues around the world read, in addition to the weekly Torah reading, the following six verses from Exodus 30:11-16. This is known as Parashat Shekalim:
"HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: 'When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to HaShem an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted. This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of such a shekel shall be an offering to HaShem. Everyone who goes through the counting, from the age of twenty and upward, shall give an offering to HaShem. The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel, with which to give the offering to HaShem, to atone for your souls. You shall take the silver of the atonements from the children of Israel and use it for the work of the Tent of Meeting; it shall be a remembrance for the children of Israel before HaShem, to atone for your souls.'"
It is read as a remembrance of the days of the Holy Temple, in which officials were sent from the offices of the Holy Temple to every city and village throughout the land of Israel. There they would set themselves up in the central plazas and collect the half shekel (machatzit hashekel) donation for the funding of the public offerings throughout the upcoming year. It was obligatory for every soul in Israel (over the age of twenty) to make the half shekel contribution. To this day it is customary for Jews to make charitable donations throughout the month of Adar in the name of the half shekel donation.
In these prophetic times when the building of the Holy Temple is nearer than ever, the Half Shekel offering is an unprecedented opportunity to be a partner in the building of the Temple, “a house of prayer for all nations!” (Isaiah 567:7).
As stated in the Torah, "there will be no plague among them when they are counted!" The half shekel donation is a guard against pestilence and pandemic!
Why half a shekel and not a whole shekel? To teach us that none of us are complete without the other. Only together can we complete one another and make positive change in the world! Only together can we rebuild the Holy Temple!
The current value of the biblical half shekel is $10.00. All half shekel donations made to the Temple Institute will go toward the physical, spiritual and educational preparations necessary for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple!
THE HALF SHEKEL DONATION
The half shekel donation is a coin which is submitted to the Temple Treasury for the purpose of funding the building of the Holy Temple, the purchase of communal offerings and for the funding of the Temple service.
It is a positive commandment of the Torah to give a Half Shekel donation each year, as it is written, (Exodus 30:13): “This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: Half a shekel according to the holy shekel.”
The money that was left over after the funding of the yearly budget would be used for the funding of other things needed for the upkeep of the Holy Temple and its vessels.
A half shekel coin minted during the latter days of the second Holy Temple.
The Shekel is the currency which is used for the fulfillment of several commandments of the Torah, such as: When consecrating to the Holy Temple treasury the monetary equivalent of a human being or the value of property, or for the payment of fines (Deuteronomy 22:19,29), and more.
This coin was made of silver and the Sages estimated its weight to be the equivalent to the weight of 160 grains of barley.
The law is that the half shekel donation must be given in one payment.
THOSE OBLIGATED TO PERFORM THIS COMMANDMENT
The people who are obligated to give a half-shekel donation are: Jewish men, whether they be Kohanim (priests), Levites or Israelites. Additionally, proselytes and freed indentured servants are also obligated to donate. However, women are exempt from this commandment, as it is written in the Torah (Exodus 30:11): “every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them.” The reference is to men and not to women.
Additionally, it is written in the Torah: “from age twenty and up”, although there are those that say that the obligation is actually from age thirteen and upwards, as the minimum age of twenty was in reference only to the men of army-age for the generation of the people of Israel in the desert. There are those who are of the opinion that the giving of a half-shekel donation from the age of thirteen is a rabbinical obligation.
Even those, from among the Jewish people, who are exempt from this commandment are permitted to voluntarily give the half-shekel donation. In the event that they began to give the half-shekel donation, they are obligated to continue doing so yearly, as with a vow in relation to performing a commandment. Since their donation is voluntary, they must declare that it is dedicated to the communal funds of the Temple Treasury, since the communal offerings must be purchased with public funding.
A poor man is committed to perform this commandment, even if he must take a loan or sell his garment in order to do so, as it is written (Exodus 30:15): “the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel”.
THE TIME-FRAME OF THIS COMMANDMENT
The preparations for the collection of the half-shekel donation were done in several stages during the Hebrew month of Adar. On the first day of the month of Adar the messengers of the court would go to every city and village and remind the inhabitants of this commandment, so that everyone should prepare the money necessary to fulfill this commandment. This date was chosen, as it is one month prior to the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan; the new year for the shekels; meaning, the first of Nisan begins a new economic year in the Holy Temple and staring from this date, the purchases are made from the new donations of that year.
From the fifteenth of the month of Adar, booths are set up throughout the country where people may convert their currency to the silver half-shekel coin and submit their donation. At each booth two collection boxes were set up. Their shape was narrow on top and wide on the bottom. One box was for the collection of this year’s coins, whereas the other box was for the collection of debts of previous years’ donations - for those who failed to give it on time.
On the twenty-fifth of the month of Adar the collector’s booth was moved to the Holy Temple. From this day the Levites and Israelites who had not yet submitted their donation, an item of property would be taken as a pledge. Items were collected from the debtor in order to pay off his debt. In certain cases, even his garment was taken as collateral, if necessary.
In the case of a person who was not required, yet volunteered to give the half-shekel donation year after year, and on a certain year did not submit his donation – property is not taken as a pledge.
THE NEW YEAR FOR THE HALF-SHEKEL DONATION
The collection of the half-shekel donations would be completed by the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. The collectors could exchange the coins for gold in order to lighten the weight on their mission of bringing the coins to Jerusalem.
Upon arrival to Jerusalem the donations were kept in the ‘Chamber of the Shekels’ in the Holy Temple. The Talmud explains that “the new year for the shekel donations” refers to the fact that the communal offerings were funded from the new donations: “The Torah is saying here: Renew the year and bring an offering from the new collection of the shekels.’”
The Torah scholars of the middle ages explained that from the first day of the month of Nisan, the ‘Tamid’ - the Daily Offerings were funded from the new shekel donations. This is in continuation to what the children of Israel did in the desert (after the exodus from Egypt); the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the first of the ‘Tamid’ - Daily Offerings were brought on this date. The obligation to purchase the offerings from the first of Nisan from the new donations is learned from the verse (Numbers 28:14): “this is the Elevation Offering of each new month in its month, throughout the months of the year.”