I think it's something besides the meteorological season, however. "Mishenichnas Adar, marbim b'simchah," our Sages say: "When [the month of] Adar enters, we increase our joy." A friend of my wife's invited her to go to Sam's Club this morning to buy goodies for shalach manos; a few days ago, the Rav of our shul told us to get our matzah orders ready. The excitement (or, should I say, delirium?) of Purim is almost upon us, and our great Festival of Redemption follows close behind. The spiritual season of joy and liberation that we are entering, in short, is the true cause of the positive vibes we are sensing.
And this Shabbos really gets the ball rolling. For it is Shabbos Shekalim, the first of four special Sabbaths leading up to-and spiritually preparing us for-the holiday of Pesach; on each of these four Sabbaths, our Sages instituted a special Torah reading (and haftarah) following the regular parsha of the week.
This week's special reading describes the mitzvah of donating a half-shekel each year for the purchase of the communal offerings that would be brought on behalf of the Jewish people in the Temple in Jerusalem (Exodus: 30, 11-16). (Hence, the designation, Shabbos Shekalim-the Sabbath of Shekels.) Since those half-shekels would have to be brought to the Temple by the beginning of the month of Nisan, the rabbinic courts would make an announcement one month before that time-at the start of the month of Adar.
Even though we presently don't have this mitzvah (since we lack a Temple), our Sages still wanted us to remember it each year on the Shabbos directly before the month of Adar (or in the case of a leap year, like this one, on the Shabbos right before the second month of Adar). Our Sages clearly felt that the lessons we learn from the mitzvah of shekalim are relevant as a spiritual preparation for the Purim-Pesach season.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that this mitzvah teaches us to fight against our own egotism and apathy.
For those who do not feel a sense of connection to their fellow Jews, the half-shekel is a reminder that the Sanctuary represented the union of all the individuals in Klal Yisrael; G-d's Presence-and atonement-ultimately result from the communal effort to achieve sanctity and closeness to Him. The individual Jew can only reach completion by joining together with his fellow Jews. (Some have observed that the very fact that Hashem commanded us to give a half-shekel, rather than a whole, clearly illustrates this idea: each of us alone is incomplete, a mere half instead of a whole.)
For those who are just too busy with their material
pursuits to care much about the destiny of the Jewish people, the half-shekel seeks
to inspire them with a sense of higher obligation. The primary career of a Jew,
Hirsch writes (awesomely on target for our times), is, first and foremost.to be a
Jew! The half-shekel teaches us that our spiritual life-our Biblical mission
to be a "kingdom of priests," and a "light unto the
nations"-must become the focal point of our efforts. "Your material
sustenance, and that of your families, has meaning and value [only] if you dedicate it for
the purpose of sustaining His Sanctuary." (Hirsch, "The Jewish
Year"-Collected Writings, Volume II, 409-413).
May Hashem help us absorb the unique spiritual light of the special Torah reading this Shabbos, so that we can reach new heights of joy in our service of G-d.even without the (delightful) help of Purim and Pesach wine!
Edelstein is Director
of the the Savannah Kollel and the
Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP).
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