Before the reading of the Megilla in the synagogue this past Wednesday night, you may have noticed a number of plates or baskets marked for various Tzadakah opportunities.
One of the familiar signs on these baskets is, “Machtzis Hashekel – The half-Shekel”. This is a remembrance for the yearly half-Shekel silver coin that each male between the ages of 20 and 60 gave to the Temple to facilitate the purchase of the communal sacrifices and the Temple needs.
Today, we use our US half dollar for this ritual. However, you may have noticed that we actually give three half dollars. Why three?
When the Torah speaks of the contributions that the Jews gave towards the Temple’s construction in the desert, the Torah mentions the word Terumah – a contribution – three times.
Our great commentator Rashi explains that the word Terumah is mentioned three times to refer to three different silver contributions given towards the Temple in the desert.
The first contribution was a half-Shekel given by each adult male. This contribution was given equally and was used to determine the census of the Jewish people. The proceeds of this collection was used to make the silver sockets that the beams of the Temple rested on.
The second contribution was based upon the generosity of heart of each individual and was used as the material for the construction of the Temple.
The third contribution was again a silver half Shekel given by each adult male and the proceeds were used for the Temple treasury to supply the sacrifices.
To commemorate these three contributions, we each give three half dollars to Tzadakah right before Purim.
The Torah, in the second portion we read this week, gives an accounting of all the materials that were contributed.
I want to discuss the first contribution of the silver half Shekels that went towards the silver sockets that served as the foundation for the Temple’s beams. The edifice of the Temple was constructed with 48 beams. Each beam had two protrusions at the bottom that fit into silver sockets.
Thus, there were 96 silver sockets in the perimeter of the Temple and the remaining four silver sockets were used as the foundation of the four beams which supported the Poroches – the curtain that separated the holies from the holy of holies where the holy Ark was placed. Thus there were 100 silver sockets all having the same weight.
When the Torah details the work required to build the Temple, it instructs us not to conduct any of the construction on the holy day of Shabbos. The 39 categories of activities prohibited on Shabbos are derived from the work necessary for the construction of the Temple.
We are not allowed to write on Shabbos. Where was writing necessary in the construction of the Temple? The beams of the Temple had to be placed in the same order each time the Temple was constructed. Thus each beam had to be paired with the beam next to it. A letter or symbol was written on the sides of two adjoining beams indicating that they were a pair. Thus, writing two letters was necessary for the construction of the Temple and is therefore forbidden.
The commentary, Rokeach, tells us that this was true about the beams, however, the silver sockets which the beams rested upon did not have to be in any order. They could be interchanged when the Temple was reconstructed.
I wondered, why were the sockets different from the beams?
Perhaps we can explain that the silver for the sockets came from the half Shekel contributions of the nation. Each person gave only a half Shekel to symbolize that each person of Klal Yisroel is only a half, and only if he joins with others does he become whole and complete. This creates a sense of unity with all other Jews and fulfills our mission of devoted service to G-d and humanity.
If the sockets would always have to be aligned with its neighboring socket it would seem to indicate that the socket and the people represented by the socket could only align itself with its neighbor who matches them in personality, expression or interests.
But since the sockets represent the unity of all of Israel, the Torah wants to emphasize that we can unite with every member of Israel, therefore the foundation sockets of G-d’s holy Temple could be aligned with any of the other sockets!
If we achieve this goal, then we will merit the rebuilding of the third and everlasting Temple in Jerusalem!