A Fiery Coin - כי תשא

Thursday, 29 February, 2024 - 9:21 pm

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 



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