Parshas Pekudai: The Power of Achdus

בקע לגלגלת מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש לכל העבר על הפקודים

“A beka for every head, a half shekel in the sacred shekel for everyone who passed through the census takers” (38:26)

The Torah discusses Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s unique way of counting Klal Yisroel. Each member would submit a machatzis hashekel which would then be used as a proxy by Hashem to determine how many Yidden were in the midbar. In last week’s parshah, we learned about another dimension of the machatzis hashekel. Each half shekel was given as a means to atone for arguably the greatest aveirah in the nation’s history; the sin of the eigel hazahav (golden calf).

Let’s try to explore the connection between the eigel hazahav and the atonement that came about from just a half a shekel. Furthermore, the language that the pasuk uses to describe the counting is most definitely not literal: כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל — when you take a census of Bnei Yisroel (lit. when you elevate the head of Bnei Yisroel).

The Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk discusses a fundamental question in his sefer, Noam Elimelech. The 248 limbs in a person’s body each correspond to a different mitzvah. Shlomo Hamelech writes in Koheles (7:20) אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא — there is no one free of sin on planet earth. Accordingly, when one sins with one of those limbs, that limb has now in a sense been sullied. How, then, can one perform a holy mitzvah with an impure limb that has been contaminated by sin?

Reb Meilech explains that the answer lies in the words of the leshem yichud which is recited before performing a mitzvah, which always ends with the words בשם כל ישראל — in the name of all of Klal Yisroel. We declare that the mitzvos that we perform are in the name of every Yid. By saying these three words, one is not merely saying a nice thought. It is so much more than that! These words activate a power called “Knesses Yisroel”. This incredible power is the synergy of the unbreakable connection that all Jews shares with one another, thus allowing Klal Yisroel to link together and form one cohesive unit. The power is so strong that even the greatest individual sinner can be elevated by being a part of the Klal. Furthermore, unlike the limbs of an individual, nothing can defile Knesses Yisroel.

The eigel caused many stains on the individual members of Klal Yisroel. How would they now serve Hashem in such an impure state? They were a doomed nation with seemingly no way out.

To this, Hashem responded with a special mitzvah of machatzis hashekel. כי תשא את ראש — you want to lift your head up and get out of the gutter? The answer is בני ישראל — through the power of Knesses Yisroel; the joining of every Yid together to form an unbreakable unity; the very power that can lift any Yid out from the lowest depths.

Despite the sin that was done, there was still a facet that was undisturbed. The communal aspect of the Yid remained intact — completely pure and holy. This mitzvah would impart the message that come what may, there is always a part of the Yid that remains in a state of holiness, and this part can always be accessed. It does not matter what a person may have done; one is never too debased or filthy to draw closer to Hashem.

This thought was a big chizuk for me during the tekufah of the COVID-19 pandemic, just a short while ago. It is no question that the world at large, and Klal Yisroel bifrat, went through a terrible gezeirah at that point in time. Many lives and finances were claimed. The world was at a standstill for a very long period of time. To witness a global shut-down of Yeshivos and shuls was something that sent tremors down every Jewish spine. Torah and avodah suffered terribly, leaving the nation feeling as though they had no way to properly connect with Hashem and live the lives they had grown to love.

And yet, there was still something that could not be destroyed. The Knesses Yisroel remained intact. Throughout that entire period, Yidden all around constantly reminded themselves that when Klal Yisroel remains connected to each other, they can be lifted out of the darkest of places. Through the power of Knesses Yisroel, our nation always has what it takes to rise above the pain and the isolation that any gezeirah could possibly bring.

Good Shabbos, מרדכי אפפעל