The Silver Soul

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky, for "The Chumash of the Lubavitcher Rebbe"


"This is what everyone...shall give." (Ex. 30:13)

Moses was perplexed by the idea that the soul can be redeemed by a piece of silver. Silver and soul are polar opposites, the soul being the epitome of the spiritual and silver of earthliness. And the whole reason the soul needs to be redeemed is because it has become too overtaken by earthliness. How can the cure for too much earthliness be more earthliness? Not only is silver of the lowest of the four elements - fire, water, air, and earth (it is usually found deep within the earth), it is the lowest of the low.

So Moses was shown a coin of fire - not by an angel, but by G-d Himself, for G-d is not bound by the rules of any order, natural or otherwise. G-d showed Moses that in the case of the half-shekel, opposites can become one: silver, the lowest element (earth) is the highest element, fire. G-d was saying that the physical, inanimate coin donated by the Jew is fire, live spirituality. Not that it is spirituality in its source, for that is true of every physical object, and not that it becomes a home for spirituality, for that is true of any object used for a mitzvah; rather, even as the half-shekel exists on the physical plane it is transformed into "fire" and therefore has the power to redeem a soul.


A coin given without feeling is cold and unremarkable. But a coin given with the warmth and enthusiasm of the soul's essence can atone for the gravest sin. This was the coin of fire shown to Moses.

The dynamic of the half-shekel is true in all of our physical mitzvot. The physical coins given to the poor, and/or the physical words of kindness spoken to him, are not just physical acts - these are coins of fire: holy and spiritual entities.

In their spiritual counterparts, silver coins and fire are opposites. Fire, which is constantly moving and soaring upward, expresses the ardent yearning to transcend the limited self and become one with the Divine. In contrast, the silver coin, which is earthly and stable, represents the recognition that one must submit to G-d's will and therefore remain within the physical realm in order to fulfill His plan for Creation.


The ultimate challenge is to go about the mission of bringing light to the earthly and stable with the same enthusiasm and fire that one naturally feels in the agitated yearning for transcendence. This paradox was embodied the coin of fire, and this is why it had to be retrieved from the Throne of Glory. For how can man find enthusiasm in submitting to G-d's will, defying his natural desire to seek his own spiritual transcendence? Only with the power of His Creator, with whom contradictions can abide in peace.


"...Twenty gera" (Ex. 30:13)

The half-shekel was an expression of Jewish unity - everyone, rich and poor, gave the same amount. Therefore, instead of simply saying, "give ten gera," the Torah says that one must give half of twenty gera. This is because unity is achieved when we all recognize that we are only halves. To be a complete shekel, we must unite with our fellow.

Similarly, we are also half in relation to the Creator. In Kabbala, we are taught that G-d is "clothed" in the ten sefirot; these sefirot are reflected in man as his ten intellectual and emotional attributes. When man draws together all of his ten attributes - every nuance of his being, and channels them in serving his Creator, he aligns his intellect and emotion with G-d's; his ten becomes twenty - a holy shekel.


Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org

Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem. While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.


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