I can’t get enough of my twin grandsons! These 2-year olds are so cute and lively! Over Shabbos they were opening up cabinets and emptying them out. Salt shakers were a real favorite; what fun shaking out the salt all over the floor! Baruch Hashem, our whole family keeps a sharp eye on them to reduce the cleanup. Part of growing up!
A favorite among young children is the story of Eliezer being sent by Avraham to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak and then meeting Rivka by a well. This story has deep significance and is the first reference to the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel (half shekel) that is read this Shabbos, Parshas Shekalim.
The story begins in Parshas Chayei Sarah, when Eliezer arrives at the town well seeking the girl who will excel in acts of kindness. Rivka appears and offers Eliezer and his servants some water, and then continues to draw water for the entire fleet of camels. Eliezer is now certain that Rivka is the match sent by Hashem for Yitzchak. Eliezer presents her with a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel (a beka) and two bracelets weighing 10 gold shekels. Rashi notes that these specific gifts and their weights had tremendous significance. The bracelets corresponded to the Luchos (two tablets), and their weight of 10 golden coins corresponded to the Ten Commandments written on the Luchos. The weight of a half a shekel of the golden nose ring corresponded to the mitzvah of the half shekel.
Why do we need these concepts to be interwoven into our story? Rav Wolbe explains that if Rivka was to agree to marry Yitzchak, she would become the matriarch of the Jewish nation and she needed to realize that our life-guide is the Torah: the Luchos with the Ten Commandments.
The Maharal explains the significance of the bracelets and the nose ring. Eliezer saw how Rivka excelled in chesed. Therefore, Eliezer hinted to Rivka through these gifts that to be the matriarch of Bnei Yisrael she needed to develop two additional qualities: Torah and avodah, which included korbanos/tefillah. The patriarchs and matriarchs serve as our foundation. They needed to excel in the three areas that support the world: Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim (acts of kindness). Eliezer gifted Rivka with two bracelets, which signified the Luchos—the Torah—and a nose ring, signifying the avodah/korbanos, as the Torah refers to sacrifices producing a reiach nichoach l’Hashem, a pleasant odor (recognized by the nose) to Hashem.
But what about the half shekel?
The Rashbam says the word beka means to split (“uvka’eihu”—Hashem split the sea). Kli Yakar points out the source of the word tzemidim, bracelets. A tzamid is the product of taking two parts and connecting them to form together a whole item. Thus beka and tzemidim are opposites. The half shekel coin is referred to as beka, since money creates division and splits people up. A person focused primarily on money will never be satisfied. Meanwhile, the tzemidim, bracelets, represent the Torah, which unites and creates harmony.
I would like to suggest that the golden nose ring alludes to the golden calf that was formed from the golden nose rings of the Bnei Yisrael. The weight of the nose ring was a beka, half a shekel, so the beka is an atonement for the prior improper use of a half shekel. The two bracelets correspond to the two sets of Luchos that were gifted to Bnei Yisrael. The first set was broken by Moshe upon seeing the Jews dancing around the golden calf. The building of the Mishkan was funded by everyone contributing a half shekel. These coins were melted and used to form the sockets that were the base supporting the vertical beams of the Mishkan.
The message to Rivka was both mystical and clear, focusing on what it takes to be a mother to klal Yisrael. Rashi notes that the women refused to give their golden rings for the golden calf; only the men did. Yet, Rivka needs to realize that children will spill, make a mess and sometimes fall down. A mother’s job is to help them get back up. The two bracelets represent both sets of Luchos, including the first that were smashed. The matriarch is there to love her children, help clean up the mess and pick them up after they fall down. Through this process, with the help of our matriarch, we were able to arise and be whole again to receive the second tablets. May all our Jewish mothers have the attributes of Rivka Imeinu.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.