The Beauty of Being Incomplete
Based on Parasha u’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Adapted by Braha Bender
Unlike any other charity drive, they did not run after the big donors. In fact, they didn’t ask for large donations at all. If a philanthropist wanted to stand out by the generosity of his donation, he was told to find a different address. For this donation campaign, all he was allowed to donate was half a shekel. Half and no more.
“The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not decrease from half a shekel...” (Exodus 30:15)
The drive was conducted in this unusual manner in order to remind the nation of truths they may have had forgotten. Even today, these truths are easy to forget. No matter how rusty or hollow, status quos are usually taken for granted.
The half-shekel campaign refreshed an awareness of the absolute equality of every member of the Jewish People. Class distinctions, socio-economic distinctions, and scholastic distinctions fell away before a task that engaged every individual equally, and demanded an equal sum from every man. This commandment asserted in visceral terms that before God every Jew is equal.
The Jews also shared a broader mission during the half-shekel drive. Money collected during this drive would fund national offerings, and atonement of the entire group depended on these offerings. The half-shekel campaign showed that national atonement had to blossom from within. In order to attain atonement for the nation as a whole, each member had to give equally, without partiality and without any special advantage to anyone. All had to play their part with equal worth and importance, unifying the Jewish People with a sense of shared identity.
The moment of the half-shekel collection was the great moment of the individual, the singular within the group. The money collected during this drive funded national offerings, but it took the individual, doing his part as an individual, to achieve atonement for the entire nation. Had any one person refused to do their part, no other person would have been able to complete his part either. No sum in the world would have made up for the fact that such-and-such individual did not contribute. The individual’s importance came to light in unequalled magnitude. He carried responsibility for the entire nation.
And why only half a shekel? Wouldn’t the donation of a whole shekel have fulfilled the same spiritual, social objectives?
The answer is a resounding no! Feeling incomplete is important. The donation of only half a shekel taught every donator that he was in need of his fellow Jews in order to become complete. Individually, no one person can achieve atonement for the entire nation and bring about Jewish spiritual restoration. This half-shekel drive, commanded upon every individual as one, showed this plainly. Every individual was incomplete, a half in need of the others members of the nation to make him, his mission, and his identity, whole. We still are.