Shemot, 30:13: This shall be given by everyone who passes through the counting, from twenty years old and up, a half shekel from the holy shekel coin, the shekel weighing twenty geirah, a half shekel as gift to Hashem."

Rashi, 30:13 sv.: This shall be given: He [Hashem] showed him [Moshe] the form of a coin of fire and its weight was half a Shekel, and He said to him, 'give like this'.

God commands Moshe to instruct the people in the mitzvah of Machsit Hashekel - to donate half a shekel towards the Tabernacle (Mishkan). This mitzvah would act as an atonement for the Jewish people's sins. Rashi quotes a Midrash that God showed Moshe the form of the coin. The Midrash explains further that Moshe had difficulty envisioning exactly what the half-Shekel should look like, therefore God showed him an image of the coin of fire. A similar course of events took place with regard to the Menorah - Moshe found it hard to envisage, therefore God showed him its image.

The commentaries ask that it is understandable that Moshe had difficulty in visualizing the Menorah as its design was very complicated. However, why was it so problematic for Moshe to envisage the simple design of a coin?! Moreover, what was the significance of the fact that the coin was made of fire?

Rabbi Zalman Sorotskin offers a fascinating homiletical answer,[1] in his commentary on the Chumash.[2] When the Sages say that Moshe found it difficult to envisage the coin, they do not refer to its physical appearance. They mean that Moshe had great difficulty understanding how a coin, representing money, could serve as an atonement. In the words of the well-known phrase: 'Money is the root of all evil'. This may be an exaggeration, but it is certainly true that money is often used in harmful ways and is the source of many negative traits such as greed and jealousy. Accordingly, Moshe wanted to how could something that is the cause of so much evil and trouble serve to bring man closer to His Maker?

God answered him by showing him an image of a coin made of fire. Fire is a classic example in the physical world of something that can do tremendous good or cause great destruction. Fire has killed untold numbers of people and caused inestimable damage. Yet at the same time, it has enabled human beings to survive in the winter and to prepare our food. God was communicating to Moshe that money in the spiritual sense, is just like fire in the physical sense. Money can indeed be spiritually detrimental, yet it can also be elevated to be a 'cheftsa shel mitzvah' - an item that is used for a mitzvah. A person can give charity with his money and greatly enhance people's lives. Money is needed to support Torah learning, and pay for Study Halls and synagogues. In the case of the Machsit Hashekel, the money was being used for the mitzvot pertaining to the Mishkan - such a holy use of money did indeed merit to serve as an atonement for the Jewish people's sins.

A similar lesson can be derived from one episode in Megillat Esther. Haman offers King Achashverosh ten thousand silver talents in order to allow him to wipe out the Jewish people.[3] On that verse, the Talmud quotes Reish Lakish who says that God knew that Haman would offer this money for the right to kill the Jews. Therefore, God preceded Haman's money with the Jewish people's money in the form of the Machsit Hashekel that they would donate every year.[4] It seems that the simple explanation of this Gemara is that Haman was using money for evil, but the Jewish people countered the effect of Haman's money through the fact that they used money for Mitzvot.

The example of the Machsit Hashekel teaches us of the correct approach to money - as a way to fulfill the great mitzvah of charity. And at the same time, Moshe's concern about the negative use of money also serves to remind us of the potential negative effects of money. May we all merit to use money only for the good.

NOTES

1. This is means that it is not the simple understanding known as pshat, rather it is a homiletical explanation.
2. Oznayaim LaTorah, 30:13, quoted by Rabbi Yissachar Frand.
3. Megillat Esther, 3:9.
4. Megillah, 13b.