Essay on Parashat Vayakhel Shekalim 2016

This week we will not only read our regular portion of the week, Parasaht Vayakhel, but we will also read Parashat Shekalim, the first of four special parshiot that are read during the Purim season. These portions include Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Hachodesh. This essay will focus on Parashat Shekalim, the evil eye, and how it all connects to the building of the tabernacle.

The special reading for Parashat Shekalim is in the beginning of Parashat Ki Tisah. Exodus 30:11-16

“And G-D spoke to Moshe, saying When you shall count the children of Israel for their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to G-D, when you number them; that there be no plague among them, when you number them.” Each one who is numbered in the census shall give a half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (meaning the standard value of the shekel used in the sanctuary) where a shekel is twenty gerahs, half a shekel as an offering to Hashem. Every one that passes among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the offering to G-D. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, it is an offering to G-D to atone for your lives.” And you will take this atonement money from the children of Israel and use it for the building of the tent of meeting and it will be a remembrance for the people of Israel before G-D to atone for your lives.”

Here the Torah describes the important mitzvah of counting the people of Israel using a half shekel. We learn from the verses above that only by counting the people of Israel in an indirect fashion is allowed. On the other hand, if they are counted directly this can bring a plague upon the nation. An example of a plague taking place as a result of counting Israel the wrong way is found in the book of Samuel. There, King David orders Yoav to count Israel and as a result, a terrible plague strikes Israel where seventy thousand people lost their lives. “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. For the king said to Yoav, the captain of the host, who was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel from Dan unto Beersheba and number the people that I may know the number of the people… And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech you, O LORD, take away the iniquity of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.” (Samuel 2, 24:1,2,10)

Why can counting the people of Israel the wrong way cause so much damage? In order to understand this we must first understand another concept called and “evil eye“.

It is brought down in the Ethics of our fathers – “Behold what is an evil path which one must distance himself from – Rabbi Eliezer says an evil eye…” (2:9)

“Rabbi Joshuah says that an evil eye, evil inclination, and hatred of others take a person out of the world.” (Ibid: 11)

“Eat you not the bread of him that has an evil eye, or desire his delicacies:” (Proverbs 23:6)

A person who has an evil eye is someone who does not bare to see the blessings of others. His heart is full of jealousy and covets what belongs to others. He says to himself – “why are others deserving of such wealth and bounty and not me?” He is a person that does not give with a full heart. He does not rejoice in the success and happiness of others and the contrary it makes him ill. He is always looking to find fault in people instead of looking at their good qualities.

There are those that are afraid of an evil eye and carry special charms and say special prayers in order to protect themselves from its damage. When a person looks at someone with an evil eye, he is evoking judgement upon the person. This happens because he challenges the individual’s right to the blessings he bears. Since all he sees and focuses on is their character blemishes, he does not accept the fact that this person is deserving of the blessing he has. This causes that person to be judged and can damage him. This is demonstrated so powerfully in the opening of the book of Job. The Satan, which is the evil eye, is challenging the blessing that was bestowed upon Job.

The Talmud in Taanit 8B says “Rabbi Isaac says a blessing is not found only on something hidden from the eye” For it says: “G-D shall command the blessing upon you in your storehouses, and in all that you set your hand unto; and he shall bless you in the land which Hashem your God gives you.” (Deuteronomy 28:8) The Hebrew word used for storehouses in “Asam” it is similar to the word “samui” meaning hidden. Rabbi Isaac is teaching us that a person’s wealth and bounty should be stored away from the eyes of others in order to prevent the damage of an evil eye.

The Talmud in Bavah Batrah 2B says – Rabbi Aba in the name of Rabbi Hunah in the name of Rav teach us that one is not allowed to stand in the field of his fellow man while the field is baring its grain”

This teaching is meant to protect one’s field from the evil eye. When one stares at a beautiful filed in full bounty, it can evoke and evil eye.

The major cause of a person who bears and evil eye comes from the fact that he is self-centered and egoistic. Since he is only interested in his own success and personal gain there is no room for anyone else. This is a terrible character trait and the source of all evil.

With this introduction in mind, we can now get back to our original question. Why aren’t we allowed to count Israel directly? Counting something is the opposite of hiding it. It is announcing to all that it exists. It shows how it is separate and unique from other things. It makes it stand out and draws attention to it. This creates jealousy and can awaken the evil eye.

This connects to the words of the Chalban – Rabbi Chaim Hacohen Shalita on this week’s portion. He brings down the Talmudic passage in Yomah 22:B  –

Rabbi Shmuel the son of Nachman and Rabbi Yonatan showed a contradiction between two parts of a verse. “Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered;” (Hosea 2:1) The two parts contradict one another. This is because the sand of the sea, although is a huge number, nevertheless, it has a limit, it is finite.  On the other hand, the second part of the verse that says, which cannot be measured or numbered, is infinite. The Rabbi go on to explain that, in reality, there is no contraction -“one part is talking about a situation where Israel does the Will of Heaven and the other when they do not do the Will of Heaven.” When Israel does the will of Heaven they cannot be measured or numbered. If they do not do the will of heaven, they will be limited to being like the sand of the sea.

Rabbi Chaim Hacohen explains that when Israel does the will of Heaven they connect with the infinite light of Hashem and bring it down to all the lower worlds. By doing so, they are revealing the light of G-D in a world of boundaries and limitations. In this way, they are uniting the word with the infinite Creator and connecting themselves and the world with Hashem who is infinite. Therefore, they cannot be measured or numbered.

On the other hand, when Israel, G-D forbid, does not do the will of Hashem by revealing the infinite light of G-D in this world, they separate themselves and the world from the Divine. This causes the Divine light to be hidden and the Divine Presence retracts itself to the Heavens and Israel is left under the influences of boundaries and nature. In this instance, they are likened to the sand of the sea that is a finite number and has a defined boundary separating itself from the sea.

In addition, counting Israel is a way of causing separation and disunity. Israel in its true essence is one nation united under one soul. In reality, only their bodies are separate. When people behave externally, they focus on themselves and disconnect themselves from their surroundings. This is when the dangers of the evil eye can cast their spell. When people are interested only in their personal success and benefit, they evoke judgment and cause disunity among Israel.  On the other hand, when people behave internally they reveal the truth that all of Israel is one essence. They connect to the Infinite Creator and they completely unite and bond with Him.

The necessity of having to count Israel using the half Shekel is clarified through the deep concepts that were brought down above. Looking at ourselves as just a half a shekel brings us to the true realization of who we are. It helps us rectify our ego. We must always remember that we are but a half and not complete. In order to be a complete we must unite. Unity is achieved by eliminating the evil eye. True righteous people have a constant good eye. They are happy with the success of others and pray for their prosperity. This why it is mentioned in the Talmud Brachot 55:B that the evil eye does not affect the seed of Joseph. Joseph who was abused by his brothers had the prime opportunity as the second in command to the King of Egypt to punish them harshly for selling him. Instead of boasting of his personal achievements and power, all that concerned him was the welfare of his brothers. He was the perfect example of what it is to have a good eye! His faith in G-D had no boundaries and knew that everything was for the best. This is why that Joseph is known as the foundation the Yesod. It is interesting that the half shekels that were collected were used for the “Adanim” of the tabernacle which served as the foundation. This hints to the fact that a person must make himself like a foundation where, although, he is constantly trodden upon in reality he is supporting everyone.

The Building of the Tabernacle served as a way of unifying all of Israel. It was for this reason that everyone had to give a half shekel. Through uniting, the Divine presence came to rest in the boundaries of the temple making the finite unite with the infinite.

It is interesting that in Samuel 2 24:8-9 it says “After they had traveled throughout the entire land, they returned to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and 20 days.” And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.” The word used for traveled in Hebrew is “Viyashuto” It is interesting that it is the same word that is used in the book of Job 1:7 “And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”

It is amazing how in verse 21 in Samuel 26 it says: “And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the LORD, that the plague may be stayed from the people.”

Here King David purchases the temple mount to establish the place of the everlasting temple. We see here clearly that the rectification of building the temple depends on the elimination of the evil eye. From here, we must conclude that only when each one of us looks upon his fellow man with a good eye we will merit in our final redemption.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith

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