Sometimes we wonder whether we puny individuals can make an impact on world events, whether we can make a real difference in G-d`s universe.
Most of us would give a negative response to such questions. Parshas Ki Tisa however, comes to challenge that view. This week`s parsha impresses upon us that not only is it possible for us to make a difference, but it is our imperative to do so. The portion opens with the words “Ki Tisa…”–”When you shall take a census of the children of Israel… every man shall give–‘v`nosnu` G-d an atonement for his soul… this shall they give…all who pass through the census, half a shekel…” (Exodus 30:11-13)
At first glance, this commandment to count the Jewish people appears puzzling. Surely the Almighty G-d knew our numbers, so what purpose was there in a census? Moreover, why should the people be counted through a “half shekel”?
Herein is to be found a profound teaching, which, if absorbed properly, can be a life-transforming experience through which we can make that difference. Ki Tisa–the words with which the Torah commands the census does not literally mean “counting,” but rather “the elevation of one`s head”, impressing upon us that when we realize that we count, our heads are lifted up and we are elevated, That realization, that we can impact on the destiny of the world, that our words and deeds have significance, charges us with responsibility and allows us to grow and become better people..
Our sages offer many explanations as to how we may best achieve this elevation. When we make a spiritual accounting by carefully scrutinizing our lives, then we transcend ourselves and grow spiritually. By having to contribute half a shekel to the census, we are challenged to realize that we are all only halves and that our nation is only as strong as its individual parts. It follows then that when we make a decision to pray with greater intensity and devote more time to torah study, to be more scrupulous about the observance of Shabbos and Kashruth, to make an effort to control our tempers and to desist from loshen hora (gossip and slander), to reach out with chesed (loving-kindness and patience), then we are not only elevating our individual selves, but we are actually tipping the scales in favor of our people and the world.
The half a shekel that we are called upon to donate is also symbolic of a heart broken in half which results from the awareness that we have failed in our mission of fulfilling G-d`s command- ments. That realization is in and of itself an atonement for our soul.. As King David proclaimed in his psalm: “G-d is close to the broken hearted…” (Psalm 34:19)
Finally, the word v`nosnu–and they shall give” is a palindrome–a word or phrase that reads the same backwards and forwards. reminding us that that which we give always comes back to us. In these tumultuous times, when we are all concerned about our personal safety and security, let us be aware that our most powerful protection is to be found in giving. We are all only halves, and to create that whole and to bring blessing to ourselves and to our people, we must learn to give.
By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis