Blog - Torah Insights

A Fiery Coin - כי תשא

A Fiery Coin

Can money buy atonement? 

Moses was told to command the people of Israel that they each offer a half-shekel coin for atonement:  

"When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.

This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.

Moses was bewildered: how could a coin create atonement? 

The Midrash, quoted by Rashi explains: 

This they shall give: He [G-d] showed him [Moses] a sort of coin of fire weighing half a shekel, and He said to him, "Like this one they shall give."

How does an image of a fiery coin explain Moses' bewilderment?

The common interpretation is that, indeed, a coin cannot offer atonement, for a coin is physical and mundane, whereas atonement relates to the spiritual soul. The insight that G-d offered Moses was that when the coin is "a fiery coin", when the act of giving is imbued with emotion, heart, and feeling, then the coin can create atonement.

According to this interpretation, it is not the coin that creates atonement but rather the fire, the emotion, and the heart invested in it. There is, however, a deeper Chassidic insight that suggests the opposite: G-d was indeed showing Moses that the coin itself offers the atonement. 

When one uses a physical object for a Mitzvah, its Divine source, the fire, the spiritual spark within it is revealed and expressed, the actual "coin", mined from the depths of the earth, becomes a coin of "fire", which surges upward seeking to escape the grasp of the wick. By showing Moses the fiery coin, G-d demonstrated that to confine the presence of G-d to the spiritual realm is to impose a limitation upon his infinite light. True infinity is the ability to be in the physical just as in the spiritual. 

By doing a Mitzvah, we reveal that what seemed to be a physical object or experience is, in truth, a spark of fire, an entity that, deep down at the core of its existence and consciousness, is a fire that allows us to raise ourselves upward, uniting us with G-d. 

What seemed to be a mere coin, is, in fact, a coin of fire.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 26 Ki Tisa 1 



A Journey Through a Talmudic Tractate - משפטים


A Journey Through a Talmudic Tractate 

A majority of the Torah's civil law, based on the principles laid out in this week's Parsha, appears in the Talmud in three tractates: Baba Kamma, "the first gate", describes the laws of torts; Baba Metziah, "the middle gate" discourses laws of ownership, and Baba Batra "the final gate", which discusses laws of neighbors, and real estate.  

The Torah contains both "body", the practical law, and "soul", the deeper spiritual meaning within the teaching. Therefore, every aspect of the Torah, including the order of the laws, contains a lesson for each of us. 

The final section of the Baba Batra, the final gate, discusses a dispute between Rabbi Yishmael and Ben Nanas regarding the legal obligation of a guarantor who committed to secure the loan for his friend, not at the issuing of the loan but after the loan is due. Ben Nanas argues that the guarantor is not liable since the creditor did not rely on the guarantor when he made the loan. Rabbi Yishamel argues that, under certain circumstances, the guarantor's commitment is binding since the guarantor benefits from making his commitment. The benefit he receives is that - due to his commitment - the creditor stops the collection process against the borrower. In the words of the Mishnah: 

In the case of a guarantor whose commitment emerged after the signing of the promissory note…

An incident occurred where such a case came before Rabbi Yishmael, and he said: The creditor can collect the sum from unsold property of the guarantor, but not from liened property that he has sold to others.  Ben Nannas said to Rabbi Yishmael: The creditor cannot collect the sum from the guarantor at all, not from liened property that has been sold, nor from unsold property.

Rabbi Yishmael said to him: Why not? Ben Nannas said to him: If one was strangling someone in the marketplace, demanding repayment of a loan, and another person found him doing so and said to the attacker: Leave him alone and I will give you the money he owes, the person who intervened is exempt from paying, as the creditor did not loan the money in the first place based on his trust of the one who intervened. 

The significance of the conclusion of all the laws of torts with the discussion about the guarantor can be appreciated when comparing the end of the tractate Baba Batra to its beginning. The first Mishnah in the tractate discusses the laws of how partners may dissolve a partnership and divide the land they once shared.

Partners who wished to make a partition [meḥitza] in a jointly owned courtyard build the wall for the partition in the middle of the courtyard. What is this wall fashioned from? In a place where it is customary to build such a wall with non-chiseled stone [gevil], or chiseled stone [gazit], or small bricks [kefisin], or large bricks [leveinim], they must build the wall with that material. Everything is in accordance with the regional custom.

In the figurative sense, partners dissolving a partnership represents the beginning of all torts, when people see themselves as separate from others and, therefore, are not concerned with the wellbeing of the other. After studying the entire tractate, we develop spiritually to the point where we recognize that our souls are all part of the same essence and are interconnected. This recognition motivates us to be concerned for the well-being of others to the extent that we commit to be their "guarantor", to take personal responsibility for their well-being. 

Spiritual development and redemption occur when we move from "Partners who wished to make a partition" to a "guarantor" who sees his friend being "strangled" by the creditor and he intervenes and says, "Leave him alone and I will give you {the money he owes}". 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos 26 Mishpatim 1

“This is My - Personal - G-d” - בשלח


“This is My - Personal - G-d”

In the song of the sea, which the Jewish people sang after the splitting of the sea, they refer to G-d as both the G-d of their fathers as well as their own G-d. They exclaim: 

This is my God, and I will make Him a habitation, the God of my father, and I will ascribe to Him exaltation (Exodus 15:2).

Although chronologically G-d is “the G-d of my father” before he is “my G-d”, nevertheless the order of the verse teaches us that a person must first thank G-d for the kindness he himself experiences, creating a personal relationship with G-d, before thanking G-d for the kindness to  his ancestors. Indeed, in the opening blessing of the Amidah prayer, recited three times every day of the year, the sages instituted that we say “our G-d and the G-d of our fathers”, following the same pattern as the Jewish people’s song at the sea; we begin with our own personal relationship with G-d.

The Shallah, the great 17th century Kabbalist, explains the deeper meaning of this verse. “The G-d of my father” refers to faith which is transmitted from parent to child. The parent conveys the history and teachings of our people thus educating the child about G-d. As the child develops however, he expands his knowledge, he studies and understands the greatness of G-d. At that point G-d is not only the “G-d of my father”, the G-d transmitted to him and which he accepts on faith, but rather “my G-d” for now a personal relationship has been born. 

The verse states “my G-d,  and I will make him a habitation” the Hebrew word for habitation , Veanveihu, is comprised of two words Ani Vahu, “I” and “He”. For only through study can the mind comprehend and internalize the relationship with G-d, creating an abode where “I” and “He” unite in oneness.


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