26.2. Counting the Half-Shekels (30:11-16)

 (11) The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

(12) When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment, each shall pay the Lord a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled.

(13) This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight — twenty gerahs to the shekel — a half-shekel as an offering to the Lord.

(14) Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give the Lord‘s offering:

(15) the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel when giving the Lord‘s offering as expiation for your persons.

(16) You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before the Lord, as expiation for your persons.

(11) The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: As soon as portion Tetzaveh, which tells of Aaron’s Temple, has ended, and portion Ki Tissa begins, the Torah once again immediately calls Moses by name.

(12) When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment: “Their enrollment” here in the text is lifkudeihem, literally, “[according] to their enumerations.” But the Hebrew root P‑K‑D has other meanings besides counting, including “to command” (e.g., troops; see Deut. 20:9). Thus we can translate lifkudeihem as “for their review” (in the military sense). This census, whose purpose is to establish each person’s function and position in battle, is needed for conquering the Land of Israel.

(12) Each shall pay the Lord a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled: “A ransom for himself,” kofer nafsho, means literally: “a ransom for his soul.” But what is the connection between census and ransom?

In each person we need to see a unique personality, the sum total of all his individual qualities. But the census perceives people as a “quantity,” setting aside the uniqueness and infinity of every individual and of the Jewish people as a whole.

And yet, the realities of life require us to know also, for practical purposes, the overall population count, for otherwise it will not be possible to govern the people properly, let alone to lead them into battle.

In order that the census will not lead us to see any human being as nothing more than “one equivalent unit,” the Torah here establishes two requirements: (1) The people must be counted only indirectly; e.g., we count them by counting the number of coins received when each person gives one coin. (2) We acknowledge that the act of counting people is inherently “sinful,” for it does “harm” to the idea that every individual is uniquely and infinitely valuable. A “ransom for the soul” must therefore be built into the calculation.

(13) This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight … as an offering to the Lord: The “sanctuary weight” of a shekel is nine grams (3 ounces) of silver.

(13) By the sanctuary weight — twenty gerahs to the shekel: The Torah adds this refinement in order to tell us which shekel is meant for this application. There were various shekels, but only one gerah, a standard coin.

This shekel is also used to measure the amount of silver that is required for fulfilling certain commandments – redeeming a firstborn son, for example: “Take as their redemption price, from the age of one month up, the money equivalent of five shekels by the sanctuary weight, [each shekel of] which is twenty gerahs” (Num. 18:16).

(14) Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give the Lord’s offering: As explained just above (in connection with the word lifkudeihem), the census counts adult males who are fit to serve in the military (“You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms,” Num. 1:3).

(15) The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel when giving the Lord’s offering as expiation for your persons: Because this is not a property tax, but an atonement for the soul, all are equal in this regard. The halving of the shekel serves as a reminder that no person in isolation is a self-sufficient unit, but only a “half” of one. A person can achieve wholeness only in conjunction with others.

(16) You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before the Lord, as expiation for your persons: In laying the foundations of the Tabernacle, the fundamental equality of all Jews is established. Thus, each individual senses that on his own he is incomplete, and also that his participation is essential to fulfilling the communal mission.

License

Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book