Last week the school held its annual 33-hour online campaign. Each of these past campaigns had achieved their goals – but this year’s campaign was unique. In life, there are many items that need to be taken care of in our communal and personal lives. As individuals, we are forced to judge daily where we should invest our energy and where we rely on others to fill in the gaps. With COVID this year, I was very worried, because there was no way to gather as a group to make phone calls together and we simply needed to rely on everyone’s private participation. As the event progressed, it became evident that not only would the campaign be successful, but it would be a campaign that reflected the effort and support of every family in the school.
I read the following article by Harav Yissocher Frand that describes the message of the Machatzis Hashekel, which dictated that every person counts, and we are only a “half” without the participation of each other. Rabbi Frand points out that Jewish Unity equals Jewish Strength, and it was this strength that brought about the miracle of Purim.
The Symbolism of Homon’s Offer of Silver Shekels
- The Megillah [Esther 3:9] states that Homon offered to increase the King’s coffers by 10,000 kikar silver in exchange for the right to get rid of the Jews. (Tosfos in Megillah [16a] indicates that this was a half shekel for every Jewish person.) The simple analysis of Homon’s offer is that Homon was afraid that Achashverosh would object to the loss of Jewish tax revenue if he killed them all. To preempt that financial objection, Homon was ready to sweeten the deal for the king by making an offer of ten thousand kikar silver.
On the metaphysical level, however, the Rabbis tell us that Homon was trying to negate the merit of the Jews’ annual half-shekel contribution to the upkeep of the Bais Hamikdosh. The Gemara [Megillah 13b] says that since Hashem knew that Homon would offer shekels to Achashverosh to “purchase” the right to destroy the Jews, He preempted Homon’s contribution through the half shekel. The merit of the Jews contributing the annual half shekel protected them (in the future) against Homon’s evil designs.
I once heard an interpretation of this Gemara in the name of the Yismach Yisroel. Homon’s potential for destroying the Jewish people was hinted at in his own description of the nation: “There is a people that is dispersed and divided…” [Esther 3:8]. It is only because there is division and unjustified hatred within the Jewish nation that their enemies have the ability to harm them. When the Jews are divided, they represent only individuals – not a klal [a communal entity]. When that happens, we have lost our strength.
Homon’s whole plot was based on the division of the nation. That is why Hashem insisted that each Jew should give exactly one half shekel. The symbolism of the half shekel is that each Jew is only a fraction of the entity. He needs to combine with his fellow Jew to make a significant contribution. If we think we can be “an entire shekel unto ourselves,” that is not going to work. Our strength is through the recognition that we need each other, and the realization that we need to set aside our petty differences to come together to provide a complete shekel.
This is the strength that ultimately saved the Jewish people. Because of the terrible calamity that was hanging over them as a result of Homon’s decree, they decided to put away those “dispersions and divisions in the nation” and came together as a unit and as a whole.
Purim and the Machatzis Hashekel leave us with a message of Jewish unity. Only when we join and work toward a common goal can we be successful. I thank our entire parent body, the executive committee and all our partners who work together constantly for the betterment of the community and school.
Tzippy and I will be away for Purim once again this year fundraising for the school in Lakewood, NJ, and will be donating to PHDS in lieu of individual mishlo’ach monos. We certainly appreciate everyone’s desire to extend well wishes to us over Purim but ask that you refrain from sending mishlo’ach monos as we will be away. Wishing everyone a chag same’ach and a happy and enjoyable Purim.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman