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Blog by Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields  – Rebbe El on Travel and Israel

Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Vice President, Congregation Engagement, ITC


Shabbat Shekalim 5778 – Save Your Spare Change For Your Trip


During the month or so before Passover, there are four special Shabbatot, which are characterized by special maftir readings, called the Arba Parshiyot, four Torah portions, which thematically relate to the festival of Purim or Passover. This Shabbat is the first of the four special Shabbatot, Shabbat Shekalim, the type of money used in ancient Israel, as well as today.  The Shabbat before Purim is referred to as Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of remembrance.   The next special Shabbat is Shabbat Parah, which means cow, when the special additional reading is about using the ashes of a red heifer to purify oneself before Passover and the final of the four special Shabbatot is Shabbat HaChodesh, the Shabbat of the month, which is either the Shabbat before the new month (Rosh Chodesh) of Nisan, or actually falls directly on Rosh Chodesh Nisan when Rosh Chodesh coincides with Shabbat.  Shabbat HaGadol, the great Shabbat, the Shabbat right before Passover,is actually a fifth additional special Shabbat and used to be one of two Shabbatot (the other time being Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) when rabbis would give a very long sermon, because large assemblies of people would be gathered at that time, in preparation for Passover.

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shekalim, takes place the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh for the month of Adar or on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar itself – is named for the final Torah reading, called the maftir portion, which will be read on Shabbat, from the book of Exodus, chapter 30, beginning with verse 11.  This portion of the Torah reading describes a census requiring every Israelite man to contribute a half shekel to support communal sacrifices in the portable tent of meeting, the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, and later at the Temple. The egalitarian nature of this contribution is emphasized –“the rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel.” The requirement that all individuals contribute equally to the community helped develop a sense of unity crucial to the new nation created by the Exodus.

In the special prophetic reading this Shabbat, the special Haftarah from the Second Book of Kings ( II Kings 11:17 – 12:17) King Yehoash commanded that all money brought to the Temple be used for its repairs and renovations, both the required contributions and the free-will offerings. Shabbat Shekalim occurs approximately a month before Passover as a reminder that the due date for the half-shekel contributions was approaching, on the first of Nisan, a month later.  Some people contribute to an institution of Jewish learning in remembrance of the half shekel.  

It is a custom for many, that right before one lights the Shabbat candles, some money is put into a pushka, a container for Tzedakah, or Charity.  My suggestion is to have multiple piggy banks – some pushkas,  set aside for specific organizations to help perpetuate Jewish education, Jewish identity, and the state of Israel. And then have a piggy bank – for your own personal savings – to empty your spare change – to save for your own Jewish identity, education, continuity, and travel.  Spare change adds up!  Daily and weekly savings of your change you receive here and there, can be set aside to help save for your next trip to Israel.   But travelling can cost a great deal of money – but it is worth every shekel saved, and every shekel spent.  Here is a story to ponder, as you set aside your shekalim this Shabbat, both for charity, and for future travel, for when you set aside your shekalim,  see who you can help, and also see how you can create a meaningful experience and memories with the ones you love and cherish, as you plan your next ITC vacation.  The following story truly awakens us to how we spend our time and money.  

Daughter: “Daddy, may I ask you a question?

Dad: “Yes sure, what is it?”

Daughter: “How much do you earn an hour?”

Dad: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?”

Daughter: “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?”

Dad: “If you must know, I make $100 an hour.”

Daughter: “Daddy, may I please borrow $50?”

The father was furious and said, “If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I work hard every day for my money.”

The little girl quietly went to her room and shut the door.

The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little girl’s questions. How dare she ask such questions only to get some money?

After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think: Maybe there was something she really needed to buy with that $ 50 and she really did not ask for money very often.

The man went to the door of the little girl’s room, and opened the door and asked his daughter if she was awake and the girl said that she was.

Dad: “I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier. It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the $50 you asked for.”

The little girl sat straight up, smiling, and said, “Oh, thank you daddy!”

Then, reaching under her pillow the girl pulled out some crumpled up bills. The man saw that the girl already had money, started to get angry again. As the little girl slowly counted out her money, her father asked, “Why do you want more money if you already have some?”

Daughter: “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do. Daddy, I have $100 now; can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you.”

The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little daughter, and he begged for her forgiveness.  The dad then began to really rethink his priorities, and realized that if he was working so much, he needed to use those shekalim  to spend time with his family, and spend time going to a place which he loved, with the people he loved – so he booked a tour with ITC!   

Shabbat Shalom !