What do you do when a
nation that's just witnessed Hashem face to face decides
to make an Eigel Hazahav (golden calf) and destroy their
everlasting covenant with Hashem, who just recently miraculously
took them out of bondage? You make a census, of course! Strange
but true, Hashem commanded Moshe "S'u et rosh Bnei
Yisroel" - "Count the heads of Bnei Yisroel."
But this count would be no ordinary head count. According
to Hashem's rules, each male member of Bnei Yisroel,
over the age of twenty, and up to 60 years, would contribute
"one coin" to the treasury of the Mishkan. With this
coin, they would ransom their lives which had been forfeited
during the chait ha'eigel (sin of the calf). In this
way the people would "raise their heads," the literal meaning
of Hashem's statement "S'u et Rosh."
Now, Moshe should have been totally relieved to find that
his "clients' " sentence was down-graded from annihilation to
a coin-toss, but, you know Moshe, he's all nerves when it comes
to Bnei Yisroel. You can't pull surprises on his people.
And so, Moshe wonders what the value of this coin will be. You
see, in those days, people minted their own coins with different
weights. So how much weight does it take to redeem a life?
Is it a kikar of silver, worth 3,000 silver coins? But would
that kind of cash be excessive and turn the people away from
Hashem? Then maybe it's like the hundred silver coins
that is the punishment for a man who defames his wife. After
all, the eigel episode did defame Hashem's
name. Or maybe it's like the punishment for the owner of a goring
ox, thirty shekalim, after all, the Bnei Yisroel
did give up the Greatness of Hashem for a statue of
Imagine Moshe's surprise when Hashem revealed to
Moshe a coin worth HALF A SHEKEL!
Now that we know the value of the coin, here's the "other half"
of the story:
All the Bnei Yisroel had to do was to wait another
half a day for Moshe to come down the mountain, but instead,
they got "itchy" so they made the eigel to replace
Moshe. The "Half" shekel represents the "half" day
that they just couldn't wait.
Along the same line of reasoning, a half shekel is
equal to a popular coin of that day worth six gramsin.
Since the eigel was built during the sixth hour of
the day, Hashem chose this value.
A half shekel is also worth ten gerot, reminding
Bnei Yisroel that they broke all ten commandments when
they worshipped the eigel hazahav.
Now, here's an interesting twist: Some say that the half shekel
was to atone for the sale of Yosef by his ten brothers. Yosef
was sold for ten silver dinarim. Ten dinarim is
worth five shekels. Therefore, each brother got half
a shekel out of the sale booty.
There's more to the story than just a coin calculation. Some
sources say that the whole eigel episode is the fault
of Yosef's brothers! You see, the sale of Yosef caused Yaakov
and his family to settle in Mitzrayim. Yosef made his
brothers swear that when Bnei Yisroel would leave Mitzrayim,
they would take his body with them. When the Egyptians
got wind of this, they buried Yosef deep in the Nile. How did
Moshe retreive the casket? He wrote a little note to Yosef on
a golden tablet. Yosef is known in the Torah by the nickname
"ox". The note simple said "rise o' ox" Moshe tossed it into
the water and the casket popped on out! Somehow, that tablet
ended up in the hands of the Eirev rav. While Aharon
was mixing the gold for the eigel, somebody slipped
the tablet into the mix. That's how the form of a calf arose.
So, you see, it all goes back to the sale of Yosef.
Finally, the half shekel reminded the Bnei Yisroel
that "kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh" - All of Bnei
Yisroel are responsible for one another" No one person
is a whole. Each of us is like half a body which is completed
when we take responsibility for the actions of one another.