Unity Not Uniformity

PARASHAT KI TISA: Why were the Jewish People commanded to give the half-shekel? Why an equal amount and why only those over 20?

By Yehuda HaKohen

Current participant of our Shalhevet training program for shlichim

“HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘When you elevate the heads (take a census) of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give HaShem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them. This shall they give – everyone who passes through the census – a half shekel of the sacred shekel, the shekel is twenty gera, half a shekel as a portion to HaShem. Everyone who passes through the census, from twenty years of age and up, shall give the portion to HaShem.” (SHEMOT 30:11-14)

Men of Israel, regardless of their socioeconomic status, were called upon to each contribute a half shekel towards the upkeep of the Mishkan. The identical participation from the entire Hebrew Nation teaches that we are all equally responsible for advancing Israel’s mission of bringing humankind to perfection through the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

The half shekel was collected precisely from those who fought in Israel’s army, teaching that one who subdues his private interests for the sake of the collective receives the infinite blessing of playing an active role in the Divine plan. And while even today the Israeli military serves as a unifying force in the life of the Jewish people, it is often said that a major challenge confronting the advancement of the Hebrew mission is a lack of cohesion within our nation. In fact, fierce political and ideological disagreements actually seem very much part of Israel’s national culture. But when one recognizes the objective unity Israel eternally possesses despite the many surface quarrels, it becomes easier to appreciate that even those disagreements are expressing something holy and necessary to achieving our historic mission.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook teaches that the highest level of Ahavat Yisrael (love for Israel) a person can achieve results from obtaining the belief, knowledge and deep understanding of Israel’s true inner essence. It involves more than merely loving individual Jews for their positive personal traits. These traits may not always be discernable and are certainly not what makes Israel unique. The Segula of Israel is the collective national essence that precedes the individuals. It is the inner Divine light planted within the Hebrew soul and revealed in human history through the Jewish people. Rather than attempt to love each and every individual Jew, one can learn to recognize and love the source of Israel’s essence, which then allows this love to flow out to every distinct piece of that national collective.

The Hebrew Nation is not the sum total of every Jew but rather one colossal spirit – Knesset Yisrael – that manifests itself in space and time through millions of bodies. While human beings each possess a personal soul, Israel shares one massive national soul – like a giant tree of which each Jew is an individual branch.

A man who loves his son does not simply love the sum total of each limb. He loves his child as a whole person and therefore loves every individual piece of that person. He can see each finger, leg and ear as an expression of that one soul he knows to be his son. Knesset Yisrael is similarly one giant spiritual organism revealed through individual Jews scattered in space and time. Through a heightened awareness of our true inner essence, we can see past what appears to be division within Israel and appreciate the intrinsic unity beneath and beyond our internal disputes.

True unity does not require sameness or uniformity but actually celebrates our differences and recognizes the unique contribution each individual brings to the collective. When Jews from opposing ideological camps engage one another, we should appreciate that regardless of our divisions on various details, we do not represent opposite sides of a conflict but rather different opinions within one camp and equally vital components of a much larger truth. Once this mindset of national unity is achieved, Israel will be able to function as the conduit that channels Divine blessing to all of Creation. Through true inner harmony, we will ascend to a higher plane of existence as all of the individual virtues and talents of seemingly dissimilar factions combine to form a nation that expresses kedusha in every sphere of reality.

With Love of Israel,

-Yehuda HaKohen

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