From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
What is the Connection Between Shabbat Shekalim and the Vaccine or Antidote?
This Shabbat, Parashat Mishpatim, Rosh Chodesh Adar and Shabbat Shekalim we will take out 3 Sifrei Torah. In the first we will read the Parasha of the Week, Mishpatim, in the second Rosh Chodesh and in the third Parashat Shekalim, which appears in Parashat Ki Tissa.
We may ask, why do we read before Rosh Chodesh Adar the Parasha that deals with the obligation of the Jewish People to give the half shekel silver coin as a donation to the Bet HaMikdash? The answer may be found in the Gemara Megillah (13b) on the passuk: “If it pleases the king, let it be recoded that they will be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents into the hands of those who perform the duties, for deposit in the king’s treasuries” (Esther 3:9), Resh Lakish said it was revealed and known before the One who said, “let the world come into existence”, that Haman would weight the silver shekalim against Yisrael, therefore Hashem preceded their silver shekalim to his silver shekalim, and it for this reason we learnt in the Mishnah that on the first of Adar we announce that the silver shekalim be collected.
Resh Lakish teaches us a very important principle. In the army there is the concept of a “pre-emptive strike”, or in medical terms “preventative measures” or in today’s language “vaccination”, meaning that we pre-empt the cure before the ailment. Just like today there is a tangible vaccine to fight disease, likewise there is a spiritual vaccine against harsh and evil decrees. So Hashem knew that in the future the wicked Haman would bring ten thousand talents of silver to King Achashverosh to acquire the Jews in Shushan. To destroy, murder and annihilate all the Jews from young to old, toddlers and women on one day. And so in order to neutralise the wicked Haman’s evil plan, Hashem commanded that the Jewish People two thousand years prior in Parashat Ki Tissa, that each of the Jewish People should donate the half shekel of silver as a gift to Hashem. With the merit of this mitzvah of the shekalim, that all of the Jewish People gave, they stood as a counter measure against the ten thousand silver talents of the wicked Haman and with that they neutralised and annulled his wicked plan and evil intentions against the Jewish People. So, in practical terms the mitzvah and donation of the half shekel silver was the Jewish People’s spiritual antidote against the wicked Haman’s desire to destroy, murder and annihilate all of the Jews from young to old. As a memory to this, we read every year Parashat Shekalim on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh Adar [the month of Purim].
If we think carefully, we will see that the donation of the Jewish People’s shekalim wasn’t only an antidote and a preventative measure against the wicked Haman’s decrees but also a potent force to turn his evil against him, whereby the Jewish People prevailed over their enemies and hanged him and his sons on the gallows. This is the efficacy of a mitzvah, that it not only has the ability to annul evil and harsh decrees but also the power to transform everything to good and berachah.
Many ask, we have a yetzer hara and bad habits such as haughtiness, anger, being argumentative, lashon hara and the like, so how is it possible to be saved, or in today’s terminology is there an antidote against the yetzer hara?
The answer is yes, there is a vaccine against the yetzer hara that is suitable for all ages and for all Jews, male and female, young and old, healthy and ill. But we must take the daily dose of the vaccine. This antidote is found in Gemara Kiddushin (30b): Hashem said to Yisrael, I Created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as an antidote. If you toil in Torah-study you will not be ensnared into his hand, but if you don’t toil in Torah-study you are delivered to him! That is to say, there is a vaccine against the yetzer hara namely Torah-study.
When a Jew studies Torah, each according to their ability and spiritual level, he receives a spiritual vaccination and a spiritual antidote against the yetzer hara against bad habits of haughtiness, anger, being argumentative and baseless hatred.
King David said in Tehillim about a Jew that studies Torah (19:9-11): “The commandments of Hashem are just, gladdening the heart. Hashem’s mitzvah is radiant, giving light to the eyes, fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever. Hashem’s judgements are true, altogether righteous. More precious than gold, than much fine gold. They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” Such Torah as this that is studied with joy and love is absorbed in his body and soul and it fortifies him with a potent spiritual vaccine against the yetzer hara and decants within him good behaviours of humility, modesty, fear of Heaven, patience, shalom bayit between him and his wife and his children.
We learn about this spiritual antidote from Parashat Shekalim, which is also Rosh Chodesh Adar, about which it is said when Adar enters, we increase in joy (Taanit 29a). We should all study Torah in joy, then we will all receive the spiritual antidote that is suitable for all ages and especially those with underlying conditions of bad habits and argumentative nature and then we will all merit to good health, refuah sheleimah and a spiritual antidote to give nachat ruach to our Maker and to fulfil the Will of our Creator, Amen.