The Torah says in this parsha, “If you purchase a Hebrew slave he shall serve you for six years and in the seventh year he shall be set free.” (Shemos 21:2) Later on, the Torah commands, “Six years you shall sow… and the seventh year it shall rest…” A bit further the Torah says, “Six days you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest so that your oxen and donkeys shall rest…”
It is noteworthy that three separate commands in the parsha relate to six days or years of work and the seventh day or year of rest. We also see several references to the number three, such as “Three times…” (ibid. 23:17) and “Three pilgrimages.” (ibid. 14)
The choice of words in the command to keep Shabbos seems puzzling: “…so that your oxen and donkeys shall rest…” It appears as if this is the reason for Shabbos, and if it would be so, then it would be enough to allow the animals to rest.
This Shabbos is called Parshas Shekalim, because we read in the Torah about the half-shekel that every Jew brought for the Mishkan. Rashi says there that Hashem showed Moshe a fiery coin to help him understand this mitzvah. There is a beautiful explanation about this. The Torah rules that in halachic disputes we must go according to the opinion which is held by the majority. If so, how can the Jewish people, who are certainly a minority in the world, oppose the beliefs of the entire world? There are many answers to this question, one of them being that although there are many more non-Jews, they are not united in their beliefs and are therefore counted as individuals, not as a majority group. Klal Yisroel, in contrast, is united as one, in one belief and as one unit of brotherhood, and therefore we end up being the majority group.
After the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, one of the arguments in their favor was that they followed the majority and worshipped idols. However, this argument doesn’t hold sway when the Jewish people are united as one, for then they are the majority. Moshe begged Hashem to spare the Jewish people, saying in their defense that the statement “I am Hashem your G-d,” was said in singular form, and could therefore have been understood as applying only to Moshe Rabbeinu. But since the Jewish people were united as one at Sinai, as the Torah testifies, the commandment given in singular form should have been understood as applying to all of them. Still, Moshe claimed that since in the future the Jewish people will not be as united as on the day of receiving the Torah, the commandment could have been misunderstood and therefore they deserve to be spared.
When Hashem commanded Moshe about the half-shekel, which atoned for the Golden Calf affair, Moshe was surprised. Why would the Jewish people need this atonement? He has already argued in their favor that they misunderstood the commandment as applying only to Moshe. So Hashem showed Moshe a fiery coin with His Fingers. The reference to fingers has a symbolic meaning. Each finger has its own size and length, but when the fingers are turned in towards the palm, they all extend evenly. Fire, too, has the power to weld two separate pieces into one. Likewise, although every Jew is different and unique, and our bodies are separate, we have one central soul. Our neshamos are all united. And since the Jewish people are considered to be one soul, they had to atone for the Golden Calf. The Alshich says that the half-shekel was a reminder that every Jew is incomplete, merely a part of the whole which is Klal Yisroel.
We see that Hashem separated Klal Yisroel into three groups: Kohen, Levi and Yisroel. However, His desire is for all three groups to unite as one. The first letters of the Hebrew words Kohen, Levi and Yisroel form the word “Keli – vessel.” This alludes to the saying of Chazal that Hashem did not find a better “vessel” for his blessings than peace. Hashem wants all segments of Klal Yisroel to unite as one and thus become a vessel for His blessings. In this parsha, the Torah mentions the three pilgrimage festivals, at which time the three groups of Klal Yisroel are united.
According to our Rabbis, three days before Shabbos the preparations for Shabbos begin, and the holiness of Shabbos lasts throughout the following three days. The three references in this parsha to the number six (the Hebrew slave who works for six years, shemittah and Shabbos) is symbolic of the six days of the week which are elevated by Shabbos. Shabbos is such a holy day that even the most mundane things are elevated. This is why the verse says, “so that your oxen and donkeys shall rest,” meaning that Shabbos brings such holiness to the world that even the animals and inanimate objects are elevated.
Shabbos is a day for the soul, and the Jewish people are all part of one soul. Therefore, Shabbos is a time of unity, as the half-shekel symbolizes.
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The Torah says, “If his master gives him a wife…” This verse reminds us that shidduchim are made in heaven. The Master of the world pairs up His people with their destined mates. A person may think it’s his own choice, but along with all his efforts he must keep in mind that ultimately his shidduch is Hashem’s doing.
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“These are the laws that you shall place before them. If a person buys a Hebrew slave he shall serve for six years and on the seventh year he shall be set free.” (Shemos 21)
The Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 7b) says that Hashem keeps all of the Torah’s laws. If so, how could Hashem keep His people enslaved in exile for so long? More than a hundred times six years have already passed, and we are still in exile. We should have long been set free!
This question could be answered by the famous Midrash (Midrash Tehillim 90, see Rashi) that 1,000 years equals one day for Hashem, and if we go according to this figure, we are not in exile for that many “days.” But then we can claim that the counting of the years should go according to the slaves’ way of counting, and not according to the Master, because the Torah phrases the verse as a commandment for the slave to work for six years only.
We see that Hashem doesn’t count our exile according to His days, because the world is destined to exist for six thousand years (Sanhedrin 97a). According to this way of counting, there are no years, only a week. This means that Hashem counts our exile according to our calendar.
The first letters of the first three words in the verse, “And these are the laws,” are Vav, Hei and Alef. These three letters are missing from Hashem’s Names while Klal Yisroel is in exile. So Hashem is telling us that “by placing the laws before the Jewish people,” meaning, by keeping the laws of the Torah, we can fill in the missing letters and fulfill the second part of the verse, “six years he shall serve and on the seventh he shall be set free,” meaning that we will finally merit the Redemption.
Hashem is suffering along with us in this bitter exile. Hashem feels our pain; He feels the pain of every single Jew. We are approaching the month of Adar, when joy is increased. May this month indeed be the end of our suffering and the beginning of our Redemption. May all Jews be helped with whatever they are in need of; the sick should merit a refuah, the grieving ones should be consoled. May we merit a month of true joy with the coming of Moshiach, Amen