Long before there were governments with legislative officials to guide and oversee social justice and morality, the Torah presented an annual stimulus package that helps the Jewish people and Israel year in and year out. The Stimulus Package, I.e., Parshat Shekalim, is read each year before the joyous month of Adar is ushered in to stimulate communal involvement, growth and prosperity. It also serves as an annual census besides being a collection for communal funds and services.
As opposed to Stimulus Packages where the government presents funds to its citizens, the Torah Stimulus Package actually collects funds from the citizens to benefit the nation overall.
The Torah commands a specific amount for the Stimulus Mitzvah - One Half Shekel. As it states: "Heashir Lo Yarbeh Vehadal Lo Yaamit Memachatzit Hashekel..." - The wealthy shall give no more, and the poor will give no less (Exodus 30:15).
The commentaries are puzzled as to why all citizens, no matter what their tax bracket, are called upon to advance One Half Shekel. In other appeals, families are called upon to give according to their means. So why for the annual Stimulus Mitzvah is One Half Shekel the amount collected from all?
Here are three answers:
A. To demonstrate that everyone is significant no matter how much money he/she earns, because every soul matters in G-d's world.
B. To remind us that we need each other to succeed in the world. Although each individual is important in their own right, only together do people ultimately make the biggest difference possible. We all bring our own Half Shekel to the table to be combined with the rest of the nation.
C. Finally, the Kli Yakar explains that we are commanded to present One Half Shekel to remind us of the human condition of insatiability. The Midrash states: When we have 100 we want 200; when we have 200 we want 400... such is the human condition.
Answer C explains why there are so many economic challenges in our time. A sense of greed, entitlement and insatiability has taken over the minds and souls of too many. Our world might have looked different if the Madoffs of the world studied Parshat Shekalim.
May it be G-d's will that the upcoming month of Adar will bring to our world true joy and happiness. We can do our part by learning Parshat Shekalim well and understanding the lessons of the Biblical Stimulus Package.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Rabbi Epstein is the Rabbi of Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, NJ, and is the author of Tefillah Tips