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The Torah calendar never stops giving us Chizuk. The winter winds blow, and suddenly our Shabbosim receive extra import. This Shabbos has one of these special additions, called Shabbos Shekalim, it brings yet another reminder of what it means to be a Yied. Let me share some thoughts on this unique message, and let us all work on this ‘Shabbesdika’ extra.

Is the glass half full or half empty? Those who believe themselves to be deep thinkers will have read this question and pondered its meaning. There are those who go through life with a pessimistic outlook.  For them the glass will always seem half empty. Then there are the others, the positive thinkers, who see the glass as halfway full. Which is the correct answer? That may seem a bit difficult to answer, especially in the space of one article, but I believe that an answer can be found in this special Torah reading.

The Jewish nation was told to give a half shekel as a sort of census and tax. The monies were used for communal offerings and originally for the foundation joints of the Sanctuary. Much is said about the reason why only a half shekel was given, and that every Jew was called upon to contribute, no matter what his financial situation was.

Gutte Yidden explain that each person is made of two parts – our roots, which are Heavenly and the source of our neshoma, and our branches, which are the actions we do whilst here on earth. Any defects man causes by sinning only affects the branches by separating them from their heavenly roots. When we repent of our sins, we reconnect our branches to those holy roots in our souls and elevate our actions, bringing them closer to that which our neshoma yearns.

In the portion of Shekalim the verse states: “When you will count the heads of the children of Israel.” The word “sisa” can connote “count” as well as “raising up.” Chazal explained that the Torah exhorts us to raise our deeds so that they reconnect to the roots of our souls thereby once again becoming whole.

There is no need for man to be recreated after having sinned, for a part of him, the supernal roots, continues to live in purity at all times.  There is therefore no reason for us to give more than half a shekel as a means of atonement. With this half shekel that is brought to atone for our missteps, the shekel that we are weighed by is now whole.

What an inspirational idea!  Every Yid that seeks to start again can take comfort and strength from this wondrous message. The Torah says to us:

Understand that your neshoma is forever bound to pure merit, and sin can cause a defect in only part of you. Rectify this part and you will be totally without blemish.

This is the key to how it is that we see so many Yidden coming to the Torah path. Although they may have lived in a completely alien environment, the neshoma is awake to its needs and can find strength in overcoming all difficulties.

The same is true with every Yid, for none of us is totally pure and without self-inflicted blemish. The glass is half full, and this is our hope and promise.

The haftora speaks of a time when the Jews were coming out of a difficult time. They had been ruled by a wicked queen who had stooped to murder so as to keep herself in power. Through the grace of Hashem, one grandson survived and at a young age he was crowned as the king. After years of turbulence our people once again lived in tranquillity.

How could a nation that had been so deprived of spirituality return to its former self? It was because of the half shekel and its message, He returned the Temple to its previous glory and saw to it that the half shekel donation was used in a proper fashion and with dignity.

The essence of this transformation lay in the hands of one special soul. The Kohen Gadol, Yehoyada, took the young surviving royal child and set the kernel of purity aflame. The shekel that is the human became whole, and facilitated a change in the entire nation.

Things can change, because every one of us has a pure core. Let me tell you of Yaakov, or Jack, as he once liked to be called. As a teenager this youngster was the paragon of teenage angst. He took rebellion to new heights, doing things that caused utter chaos in his family. He rode a motorcycle, wore his hair long and sported a jacket of leather and zippers. Others despaired of Jack and told their children that “if you don’t behave you will end up a Jack!”

Then one day Jack found himself at a meeting where a young rabbi spoke of children in need. The rabbi was talking of learning disabled youngsters and it struck Jack as a worthy project. Soon Jack was working with the rabbi in trying to reach out to these kids, and slowly his own Yiddishkeit changed for the better. I won’t bore you with all the details, but Jack is now Reb Yaakov and is a well-respected mechanech.

This was not an act of spiritual magic, nor was it something bizarre. What happened was that the branches were given new nourishment, sweet waters of caring compassion. There was no longer a need to rebel, and the core soul, the roots, regained their strength.

There are so many Jack’s – Yaakov’s in the world today, each crying out in his or her own fashion. The half shekel teaches us never to lose hope because no Yid is completely lost. In this modern world we find ourselves in, the levels of tum’ah are rising, and new ways are constantly being found to corrupt our souls. Yet never have there been so many baalei teshuva with others coming closer to Yiddishkeit. How can we understand all this? Perhaps we can start with the half shekel, and accept that nothing is totally lost. The spark lies within the Yiddishe soul, and we never know what it is that will ignite it.

So, to the Jewish eye, is the glass half empty or half full? Suffice it to say that thousands of years have proven that being optimistic is the default position of a Torah Jew, and that nothing can ever be totally emptied of our spirituality. We can fill the half glass, as long as we don’t lose faith in ourselves.


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