Money Talks…Or Does It? By Eve Levy
Jerry Seinfeld has a really funny gig where he discusses the hilarious experiences of being on an airplane. He talks about that moment when the flight attendant is about to close the curtain to the first-class cabin. They seem to look at the coach passengers as if to say, “Perhaps if you had worked a little harder, maybe I wouldn’t have to do this!” and with that – swishhhhh – they close the curtain.
It is mind boggling how much of an effect money can have on society. We live in a world of buy this and buy that. We all have a limit to how much we can spend. Many of us are not able to afford certain luxuries, and some of us find it hard to find the money to send our kids to Jewish sleep-away camp. I’m totally with you! Financial capabilities seem to define classes within society. Politicians try to influence people’s political perspectives with money, and often manufacturers attempt to influence people’s morals with money.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Ki Tisa, Moses is commanded to take a census of the Jewish people. Each Jew had to give a half-shekel coin, and all of the coins were then counted. The rich were not allowed to give a more, nor were the poor to give less. Each and every Jew was to be represented by one half-shekel coin.
There are a number of beautiful ideas from the half-shekel census. First, the mere fact that God chose to count us. Does God not know how many we are so He needs to take a census?
I remember as a young girl collecting stickers, coins, and gems. I would spend so much time taking care of my collections, and yes, I knew exactly how many stickers, stamps, and gems I had at any given time. Each one was rare and unique. Each new addition was special to me, and even when my collections were in the thousands, I never got tired of counting them. We count things that are dear to us. In a similar vein, God chose to count us, not because He needed to know the number, but because we are precious to Him. Each and every one of us.
A full symphony orchestra has about 104 musicians. Each one brings something unique to the table, and if even one is missing, the music will be lacking. God wants us to know that we, the Jewish nation, are one large symphony. Every single one of us plays a unique instrument that only we know how to play. If one of us thinks we are not needed, we are very mistaken.
The Jewish perspective on marriage is that the husband and wife are two halves of one soul. Through marriage, we unite and become one. So, too, with the Jewish people. We are all part of one large soul known as Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel). God, therefore, tells us to donate only a half-shekel coin, and not the more dignified full-shekel coin. We, Am Yisrael, are never complete as individuals. It is only by uniting as a community that we can truly express our essence. As individuals, we are weak. When we stay segregated in our small sects of Judaism, we are not at our peak. We are always strongest when we are one. “K’eesh echad b’lev echad,” one body with one heart (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, aka Rashi, 1040-1105, France, on Exodus 19:2).
It is so sad that we are often brought together through tragedy. Who can forget the tremendous unity we all felt during those tense days of the 2014 kidnapping of the beloved boys Ayal, Gilad and Naftali? Our differences as Jews pale in comparison to what we have in common. We need to be a strong Jewish nation that acts as one body, pumps with one heart. We become more united by respecting each other’s perspectives and opinions. When we look for the similarities among us, rather than the differences, when we don’t look down on others because of financial capability, then we are able to truly be the Am Yisrael that God intended us to be.
One of the many things I love about JWRP trips, is that the organization gives every Jewish woman the gift of a free life-changing trip. You pay your airfare and the rest is a gift with no strings attached. "Here you go. We believe in you! You are a Jewish woman. You count. You are the future." Someone awesome is willing to raise lots of money because every Jewish woman is important.
Let us take the message of the half shekel and integrate it into our lives. Let us remember that we are all equal before God, that every single one of us is important, and has a big part to play within the Jewish people, and that it is only through our unity that truly Am Yisrael Chai (the nation of Israel lives).
Eve Levy is a JWRP City Leader from Portland, Oregon.