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Parasha Notes: Wayaqhel-P’qudei 5776

March 9, 2016

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant (Heb. aron hab’rith) is also known as the Ark of the Testimony (Heb. aron ha’eiduth), the Ark of the Lord, and the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. All of these names refer to the Ark’s function as a storage vessel, and as opposed to the kapporeth, whose function was a divine communication device. The “testimony” that was placed in the ark is elsewhere described as the Tablets and the Torah. The practice in ancient times was that when two parties entered into a covenant (or treaty, or deal), they would each write up some sort of document or create some sacred object which would be delivered to the other side for safekeeping. When Israel entered into a covenant with God, the tokens of the covenant, the “testimony,” i.e.,  the stone tablets upon which God Himself wrote “I am the Lord thy God” and the Book of the Law written by Moses as the representative of the people, was placed for safekeeping in the Ark which was the center piece of the sanctuary. The testimony contained in the Ark symbolized God’s covenant with the people.

 

The Half Sheqel of the Vilna Gaon

Although Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch make no mention of the practice of giving a half of the local currency toward charity in memory of the annual half-sheqel donations to the Temple, the Rema does make mention of it, and then adds that the standard practice is to give three halves of the local currency (Orah Hayim 694:1). The Vilna Gaon endorses the main practice, ostensibly because of its educational value, but rejects the aspect of giving in triplicate (Ma’aseh Rav 142). The usual reasons given for tripling the half-sheqel donation is because of the triple mention of the word t’ruma, donation, in the parasha (Exodus 25:1-9)  that describes the initial commandment to give toward the building of the Temple, and the triple mention of mahatzith hasheqel in the parasha (ibid. 30:11-16) that describes the commandment to give the half sh’qalim toward the Temple. The Vilna Gaon, however, believed that  tripling the donation would not recall the true practice because even though the Yerushalmi (Sh’qalim 1:1) describes the three different funds that received donations from the people before the construction of the Tabernacle, that was a one-time event, and the permanent practice was only a half-sheqel donation. The Vilna Gaon also points out that triplication recalls the tri-annual third-of-a-sheqel contributions towards the Temple upkeep mentioned in TY Sh’qalim 2:3.  (Nehemiah 10:33 mentions that the Jews in the early Second Temple times took upon themselves to donate a third of a sheqel every year towards the Temple, and in Bava Bathra 9a this verse is used as a source for teaching that one’s minimal annual contribution to the poor should not be less than a third of a sheqel.) That is, the educational value of a memorial custom lies in how it can educate the masses about what will one day be, and once the Temple will be rebuilt, each of us will only donate one half sheqel every year.

As for the practice of donating the half sh’qalim prior to the reading of the m’gilla the night of Purim, or according to the Magen Avraham, the morning reading, the usual reason is based on this (M’gilla 13b):

Resh Lakish said: It was well known beforehand to Him at whose word the world came into being that Haman would one day pay sh’qalim for the destruction of Israel. Therefore He anticipated his sh’qalim with those of Israel. And so we have learnt: ‘On the first of Adar proclamation is made regarding the sh’qalim and the mixed seeds’

but this is only enough to explain why the donation of the sh’qalim should happen some time before the reading. The Vilna Gaon, citing the Tosafists, explains that we try to time our donations with the closing of the Fast of Esther, a day of repentance and charity. Presumably, in places that observe Shushan Purim and read the m’gilla the second night, the half sh’qalim (or dollars or pounds) should still be donated at the end of the fast day, a full day before m’gilla reading, whereas according to the more common reason, it would still be appropriate to give them before the reading of the m’gilla, a full day after the close of the fast.

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