Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on screen from Israel, during the AIPAC annual meeting in Washington, DC, on March 26, 2019. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Jewish Unity: Shekalim, Purim and AIPAC

Strengthening the community through Shekalim.

The month of Adar has begun, and Purim just passed. Right before Rosh Chodesh Adar, we read Parshat Shekalim. This parsha discusses the yearly half a shekel that Jews were required to contribute. The Jews in the midbar (the wilderness) are provided with all the specifics about the necessary amounts they must donate to build the mishkan. Later, during the times of the mikdash, on the first day of the month of Adar, the beit din would issue a proclamation reminding people that they needed to donate (litrom from the word תרומה) a half-shekel. This money was used to buy cattle for communal korbanot and for maintenance of the beit hamikdash. Additionally, the donations were used to get a census of the Jews. But why couldn’t they just do a headcount? Would it not have been simpler to have everyone stand in line and count one by one?

The Purim story can shed light on why we must donate to be counted as part of the community. Every year, when we read Megillat Esther, we are reminded of what separation does to the Jews. Haman said to Achashverosh:

יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים — “There is one nation scattered and separated amongst your provinces.” 

During the story of Purim, the Jewish community was in a chronic state of internal conflict. Haman saw how easy it was to target the Jews simply because of their lack of unity. Esther, as the heroine of the Purim story, recognized the need for unity and instructed that all Jews come together and fast before she entered Achahverosh’s chambers to advocate on behalf of her people. 

The lesson that the Tanakh is conveying through the necessity of giving shekalim and fasting on Esther’s behalf is that we are only truly present and a part of the community when we give. In the modern world, there are many people who feel lost and are on a constant search to discover their purpose. I believe everyone’s purpose relates to how they contribute to the world and how they make a difference. The Jews were forced to donate half a shekel, and though today we have a different system of taxes and donations, the Torah shows that each of us is here to achieve a higher purpose and contribute something to the world. By having each person, rich or poor, give a donation, each Jew can find his or her purpose. 

The author and her classmates at AIPAC.

Last week, students from my school traveled to Washington D.C. for AIPAC’s policy conference, where many factions of people unite to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. As I attended the conference, I thought about its interconnectedness with the Purim story and the necessity of donations. AIPAC reinforced for me how important it is to be united as a nation and to work together to stand up for what we believe in and to fight for what is right.

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Sonya Kest is senior at YULA Girls High School in Los Angeles. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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