Thursday, February 07, 2013

Haman's shekalim vs. ours

The gemara (Meg 13) writes that Haman’s payment to Achashveirosh to gain permission to destroy the Jewish  people was foiled because our payment of shekalim preceded his.  The coincidence of Haman using shekalim to enable his plot and our doing a mitzvah using shekalim seems to be just that – coincidence.  What’s  the connection between the ideas?

 “Vayivez b’einav lishloach yad b’Mordechai livado ki higidu lo es am Mordechai.”  It seems that there was some “hava amina” in Haman’s mind to strike at Mordechai alone, but then when he heard what people Mordechai came from, he decided to strike at them all.  What has the shakla v’terya behind his thinking?   Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel explains that Haman originally thought that attacking Mordechai would inevitably bring about the downfall of whatever nation he was part of, as the loss of his leadership would have a massive effect on the population.  However, when “higidu lo es am Mordechai,” when he heard that Mordechai was a member of the Jewish people, he realized that all bets were off.  The chalos shem “tzibur” that applies uniquely to Am Yisrael means that we are more than a collection of individual parts, each with its own identity.  We are not like a car that is made up of a part that is a door, a part that is a motor, a part that is a transmission.  Were that the case, then knocking out the most essential part (e.g. the motor) would cripple the entire vehicle.  The whole of the “tzibur” or “am” is a qualitatively more complex and complete unit than even the sum of its parts and can and will continue to exist absent any member, no matter how significant.  Haman saw that the only way he could win would be by eliminating all the parts completely – which we know to be impossible.

It is the collection of shekalim that reveals this to be true.  The Mishna in Shekalim tells us that the Kohanim thought that they should be exempt from contributing shekalim, as the korban of a kohein is completely burnt.  If the Kohanim own a portion of the korban tzibur by virtue of donating shekalim, they argued, it would mean the halachos of that korban would change to require complete burning of the entire korban.  The Chachamim disagreed.  A korban tzibur is not owned by the sum of the individuals who contribute to its being offered, but is owned by the collective entity called “tzibur” that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

The Midrash writes that Moshe complained to Hashem that once he is gone, there will be no memory left of him.  What will the car be without its engine?  Hashem responded that just as he collected shekalim in his lifetime, it will be as if he continues every year to collect shekalim through our reading of the parsha.  The “tzibur” remains a constant, always retaining the qualities of its members, past, present, and future.  And in turn, they continue to exist by virtue of our collective continuity as a "tzibur."


  1. Anonymous2:16 PM

    what diverted Haman, who hadn't reviewed the
    Mishna in Shekalim lately, from the (G-d forbid)
    possible goal of killing one man, to the "impossible" goal of "eliminating all the parts completely"?
    he'd overheard two Yehudim arguing, v'lechtecha va'derech, about "shekalim donated by a katan"!
    --this was a people using their heads, who'd survive though he cut off their head...

  2. Very nice explanation.

    I would like to add another. The very next Gemara right there in Megilla (13b-14a) says that in their transaction, Haman and Achashveirosh were like a man with a mound of dirt selling it to a man with an empty pit that needs to be filled – the man with the pit (Haman) is willing to pay for the dirt (Jews), but the man with the dirt (Achashverosh) is delighted to get it off his hands and would even have paid someone to take it.

    I suggest that our giving of shekalim appropriately overcame this deal, because in a similar manner, donors to the Mikdash saw themselves as receivers, in the spirit of v’yikchu li teruma ("take" for me -- donors to the mishkan are really "taking", as many have noted). The Mikdash needs our support, and we feel privileged to be able to provide it. Likewise, Midrash Raba comments on v'yikchu li teruma that the Torah (represented by the tablets/aron housed in the mishkan) is like a purchase of merchandise where both the buyer and seller are delighted – God is happy to teach his Torah to us, we are happy to receive it, and every human teacher of Torah rejoices along with the student - both teacher and student gain from the exchange.

    Our annual donation of sheklaim to the Mikdash represented a noble transaction in which both sides felt like “winners” getting an amazing deal. This overcame the evil transaction of Haman in which both sides wickedly rejoiced in getting such a good deal.

  3. chaim b.7:34 PM

    nice connection!