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A Coin of Fire - The Ultimate Tzedakah

The Torah portion of Sisa begins with G-d telling Moshe1 that, when he takes a census of the Jewish nation, he should do so by having each individual give a half-shekel atonement offering. So powerful was this charity offering that, when Moshe was perplexed as to how the Jews could be uplifted, G-d told him that it would be accomplished by this half-shekel gift.2

What was so unique about this charitable act? Charity is, after all, a logical action; it was practiced even before the Torah was given.3 Moreover, acting in a charitable fashion is not limited to human beings; animals, too, can be charitable.

Tzedakah may be given for any number of reasons: It may be the manifestation of an instinctive caring for others, or be performed as the result of a logical imperative; after all, the survival of humanity depends on it. Understandably, in such an instance, the individual’s giving is commensurate with his (inherently limited) degree of feeling or understanding.

A higher form of tzedakah is when a person gives, not for any personal reason, but because G-d — Who is unlimited — has so commanded. Yet, even in this instance, since the person gives because of his desire to fulfill G-d’s will, his giving will still be subject to the limitations of his desire to fulfill G-d’s commands.

The highest form of tzedakah is — to paraphrase the Rambam4 — “A truthful act because it is verily so.” In other words, the Jew gives tzedakah as a visceral and reflexive response to G-d’s command, without any motive or desire whatsoever. It was in this manner that the Jewish people gave the half-shekel.

For, with regard to the coin that the Jews were to use, we are told5 that “G-d showed him [Moshe] a coin of fire whose weight was half a shekel , and said to him: ‘similar to this [coin] shall they give.’ ”

By exhibiting a “coin of fire ,” G-d empowered each Jew to give his or her half-shekel with all the fire of their Divine soul, thus enabling the gift to be wholly selfless — the epitome of tzedakah.

This half-shekel gift was therefore very different from all acts of tzedakah performed until then, and enabled the Jews to be uplifted to a far greater degree than they had yet experienced.

This lofty manner of tzedakah is alluded to by the phrase “a coin of fire, whose weight was half a shekel ” — a combination of two opposite qualities.

A coin possesses a definite shape and form, while fire has no distinct shape. What’s more, fire rises, while the value of a half-shekel coin lies precisely in its weight.

Because fire rises, it symbolizes the selfless desire to leave the physical and become one with our Source above,6 while the weight of a coin is symbolic of the heaviness of physicality that causes one to be dragged downward.

The combination of these two opposites in the half-shekel weightless and formless fire with weighted and shaped coin — thus denotes a level of tzedakah that surpasses all limitations.

Just as fire has no form and constantly strives upwards, so too with the highest manner of tzedakah — it is given with fire and passion, and not as a result of one’s emotions or intellect, or for the sake of reward, or even out of a desire to fulfill G-d’s will, but simply — like fire itself — because of every Jew’s formless, limitless and intrinsic response to G-d’s command.

Nevertheless, this ethereal tzedakah was given by means of a coin — in a very tangible manner — demonstrating that the ultimate tzedakah permeates the giver’s entire physical being.

Based on Sefer HaSichos 5749, Vol. I, pp. 280-287


1. Shmos 30:11-16.

2. See Bava Basra 10b and commentary of Rashi, ibid.

3. See Bereishis 18:19; Yechezkel 16:49. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, pp. 155ff.

4. Hilchos Teshuvah beginning of ch. 10.

5. Yerushalmi, Shekalim , 1:4; Tanchuma , Sisa 9, Naso 11; Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3.

6. See Tanya, beginning of Ch. 19.



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