Parshat Shekalim: Honoring Money
Rosh Chodesh Adar is Sunday and Monday, February 26-27th. Parshas Shekalim is usually read the shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar.
At this time of year, we read a special Torah potion (for the Maftir reading) called Parshat Shekalim. This discusses the census that would happen at this time of year in Temple times. Each person would give one half-shekel. The money would be counted, and that would determine the census. And the Torah makes very clear that "the poor person shall not give less, and the rich person shall not give more."
But surely this is obvious. If everyone gave according to their means, and hence differing amounts, it would be impossible to count the number of people! The Torah must be teaching us something deeper than simple census advice. And indeed, it is.
In today's world, a person is often judged by how much money he has. How big is his house, how fast is his car - and yes, even how much does he give to charity. It's nothing new. Jews as well seem to judge ourselves, and each other, by our bank balance. The "leaders" of our Jewish community are not necessarily those who are most able to lead, but those who are most able to give. (Even if they don't!) A cranky billionaire will sit at the top table of every charity dinner. A pauper who gives beyond his means is likely to languish in Jewish obscurity.
The Torah tells us that this is wrong. "The poor shall not give less, the rich shall not give more." When counting Jews, a rich man is not worth 10 poor men. All are equal. Each has his role to play.
We are all guilty of distorting this ideal. Somehow it is a human inclination to take a wealthy person more seriously than a poor person. We will admire even an unpleasant billionaire. While someone who can't get a job may be the nicest guy in the world, but he will struggle to earn our respect.
We respect money and we respect success. But we don't really respect human beings.
The money that was given for the census was used for the Temple. The message is clear: In the service of God, all are equal. Money may buy respect from others, but before God, the wealthy person has nothing more to offer than anyone else.
Money of a gift from God, and a tool to achieve. But having a lot of money does not make a person a good human being. The sooner we stop honoring money, and start honoring character and decency instead, the better off we all will be.