The defeat was humiliating and the conduct of the army was giving off the scent of stinging shame. The embarrassment of the head of the army and the king was overwhelming. The shocked soldiers returned to their land in total disgrace. The feelings of pride and self-worth of old were replaced with guilt and weakness.
But the upcoming battle demands a far greater power and determination. Down trodden, the armies will be stepping into unavoidable defeat all over again. The troops must be inspired with bravery and self-confidence. People must regain the admiration for their monarch who epitomizes their self-identity and self-worth. So, to return the élan to his people, the king himself must come down and dwell among his nation in a most unusual and startling manner. During the following days the royal image of the king could be seen walking the camp, beaming benevolently. Low foot soldiers got to meet their exalted monarch face to face and be personally acknowledged by him.
This extraordinary gesture returned the spirit to the armies. Emboldened, they return to battle, united by feelings of shared destiny and unity.
Smells of a new beginning start to permeate the air; Passover is on the horizon. The first moment of the new year, a Rosh Hashanah all its own. Pessach is a beginning, and like any beginning it has a segue leading to it: the four special Shabbossim that precede the ultimate holiday of freedom and liberty.
This week we will read the first parsha of the four, parshas Shekalim. Next we’ll go through the parshios of Zachor, Para and Chodesh. These four parshios aren’t mere additions to the weekly portion, they constitute gateways through which every Jew can enter the sanctity of Passover. They open the way to freedom and success – if you know how to use them.
“These are the commandments of the Mishkan of testimony”. Rashi explains: “[For it is a] testimony that Hashem forgave the sin of the golden calf.” The Mishkan is the royal smile, a monarchial declaration of love. Immediately after we committed the most atrocious sin imaginable, Hashem agrees to be mollified and declares before the entire world that His love for His people has not waned. The proof positive that Hashem has not left His people is that He orders them to build Him a home so He can reside among them.
The Mitzvah of half a shekel invites every Jew to take real part in the divine inspiration of the Jewish people. Everyone is requested to become a partner in the holy service of Hashem.
Two Sides of the Coin
As we stand on the cusp of new beginning, a thought of the golden calf sneaks in. Suddenly the heart is divided. On one hand, the intimacy of the Mishkan is inviting us to come forth and become a part of the Divine Presence. The heart wishes to badly to see the smiling face of the King and receive his absolution. On the other hand, another thought enters the heart. Maybe it is time to stop and reckon with the unpardonable sin we just committed. It’s not as if it didn’t happen. Maybe it is time to figure out where we are and reconcile with what we have done. Time to rectify the wrong. This is how doubt captures the soul on the precipice of new beginnings: Should it be “Azamra” – or judgment? Should I rejoice in what I have or be judged on what is still missing?
There are two sides to the coin of the half-shekel. One side evokes the petition for mercy for a transgression for the ages. It invites us to forget the bad and see ourselves as part of the Shechina. It is the King coming down, inviting us and acknowledging even the simplest Jew, encouraging us to become a part of eternity for the small deed of a half a shekel.
But the half shekel also denotes “mishkal” – weigh. It is a call for the bringing up of the deeds and weighing them precisely. It is the need to evaluate and judge that which needs to be fixed. A Jew must judge his ways in relation to the Torah and correct all that needs correction. Both are needed.
The question, of course, is where to begin.
Azamra – the gate to success
Hischazkus – strengething – and judgment are both crucial, but the first step to success can be accomplished only through the gate opened for us in parshas Shekalim. Parshas Shekalim proclaims “Azamra”. Just when the memory of the golden calf is chasing us from behind, we must immediately find a connection to the dwelling place of Hashem. The Mitzvah of half a shekel calls every Jew to become a part of the Temple of Hashem. This is not time for judgment and the establishment of self-righteous inquiry panels. Now the light of the divine presence shines in the world. It consoles tired souls and lays the groundwork for the new Kingdom.
“Azamra” is a search for the points of goodness in a landscape that seems to be devoid of anything positive. When there is a need to rectify a failure as great as the sin of the golden calf, the way to begin is half a shekel. Rejoicing in נקודות טובות and finding happiness in what there is.
If you make the first steps in through the gateway of Azamra, you will find the doorway to partshas Zachor where the war against Amalek can be fought successfully. Victory is possible if Azamra prepares the ground first. The fight against the coldness of Amalek, to dispel the winds of heresy and shake laziness and lethargy off the heart, must start off with the song that is made up of the good points.
And when you enter in through the gates of Azamra and Zachor, you find the spirit of purity of Para and are ready to face Shabbat Hagadol.
You’re marching towards a world of freedom and success.