Before Purim, the rabbi put out a plate and told everyone to give a half-shekel (or its local equivalent). I understand this was done in the times of the Tempe to purchase public offerings. But what is its relevance today?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
When the Torah instructs every Jew to donate one Half-Shekel annually, the law is that everyone must give exactly the same amount. Nobody is allowed to give more than one Half-Shekel - even if they are wealthy and want to give more!
Why is it forbidden for anyone to give more?
The answer is that in God's grand plan, every Jew is equally valuable. If one person is born with physical strength and becomes a brick-layer, while another is born with a sharp mind and becomes a brain surgeon, each makes his own important contribution to society. Neither should feel any more or less valuable than the other. It is a mistake to think that being born with more talent somehow makes a person better. The Talmud says that the only thing we earn is our good name and character. Everything else is a gift. In the words of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, true self-esteem comes from focusing on your spiritual growth, not on superficial signs of status. Because no one person's "package" is inherently better than another.
The story is told of the great Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (20th century Jerusalem), who asked his congregation to delay the evening prayers until the street sweeper arrived. Said Rabbi Auerbach: "This man is devoted and committed to his work, and takes pride in the contribution he makes to Jewish life. I wish I had such pure intentions in my own work!"
Yet we are still left with another question: Why does the Torah command everyone to give a Half-Shekel - why not a whole shekel?
The answer is that the Jewish people are an indivisible unit and we cannot achieve our goals without each other. The Kabbalists explain that just as 600,000 Jewish souls stood at Mount Sinai, so too there are 600,000 letters in the Torah (including the white spaces between letters). Because just as a Torah scroll is invalid if even a single letter is missing, so too the Jewish people are handicapped if even one Jew has fallen away from our people.
Every Jew is crucial, an indivisible part of the whole. This is why it is so important to reach out to fellow Jews who may be estranged from their heritage. We try to bring them back - not only for their own sake - but also for the sake of the Jewish nation which is suffering from their absence. In this way, the idea of the Half-Shekel is as relevant today as it was in the time of Moses!