The Midrash teaches that Moshe found the parsha of shekalim difficult to understand. Hashem responded by showing him a “matbe’a shel eish” pulled from under his throne. The Midrash is ambiguous – what did Moshe find hard to understand and how did Hashem’s response allay his concern? – and it leaves the door open to various interpretations.
The Sefas Emes explains: Machatzis hashekel was an equalizer. No matter how rich or poor you were, you had to give exactly half a shekel, no more and no less. This was the point which troubled Moshe. Are the poor man and the rich, the stingy miser and the benevolent “nediv lev” really cut from the same cloth? How can all people be expected to give exactly the same amount, to be counted the same way, as if on some level all are equal? Especially in our day and age, where our community is so splintered, with so many divergent viewpoints on anything and everything, does it make sense to speak of commonality in any sense of the word?
להגיד גדולתו של מלך מלכי המלכים, הקדוש ברוך הוא, שאדם טובע מאה מטבעות בחותם אחד, וכולן דומין זה לזה, מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא טובע את כל האדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון, ואין אחד מהם דומה לחברו. לפיכך לכל אחד ואחד לומר, בשבילי נברא העולם.
The Mishna in Sanhedrin (4:5) teaches that Hashem was “tove’a” all humanity with one common stamp. The word “matbe’a” used by the Mishna shares the same root as this word “tove’a” used in the Mishna. It was this commonality which Hashem showed Moshe in response to his questions. As different as we appear on the surface, underneath it all we do share a common core. The Midrash refers to a “matbe’a shel eish,” a burning stamp, because as different as how we act, how we speak, how we think, there is an inextinguishable spark of common goodness that lies in the heart.