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Vayakhel 5782 ~ February 25, 2022

On this Shabbat, we read from the Torah the first of the four special readings in preparation for the Festival of Passover.  It is entitled Shabbat Shekalim. The reading instructs each member of the community to provide a half-shekel coin to the community to provide for the financial stability of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem. For the rabbis of the time, creating financial stability within the community, specifically to maintain its religious house and holy items used during services, was quintessential to the future of Jewish worship.

There was a second reason for the half shekel donation. It was more than simply a donation. It was actually a way to ward off the evil eye. How would donating a half-shekel coin accomplish this fete? As I shared with members of our Lunch and Learn class yesterday, it is the practice not to count individuals. In doing so, one actually is stating that the individual’s purposefulness or precise purpose of being placed on this earth has been fulfilled. We, therefore, open the door for the malakh hamavet, the angel of death or, for that matter, any contrary angel, to make its way into an individual’s existence or destiny. It is the tradition to count words in a specific verse of Torah, rather than count individuals who are present in a minyan, due to this superstitious belief. In a similar fashion, the half-shekel coin fulfilled a similar reality in the time of the Torah and the rabbis. Instead of taking a physical count of each individual, superstitiously putting each one in harm’s way, the half-shekel coin was counted.  In that way, from the time of Moses until today, the community could verify its size.

One means of identifying the strength of a community is not always with affiliation, but rather with commitment to our fellow brethren throughout our world. It was quite moving to participate with so many of you last evening at our special moment of expression of our concern for the victims of the Russian aggression into the Ukraine. We are all concerned, but not only for the people of the Ukraine. The effects of this aggression upon our world bring our own personal concerns regarding even greater economic repercussions including a larger supply shortage to the fear of a war beyond wars for a third time.  And as we are concerned for all of those who are currently in the Ukraine, we understand that we need to be present for the Jewish community there.

As one who traveled to Odessa to work with Refusniks at the time of the former Soviet Union, I somewhat understand the fears of the Jewish community. Thankfully, the Masorti Movement, our worldwide Conservative movement, has a rabbi and wife serving as shlichim, emissaries to the community there. Together with the leaders of Masorti Movement throughout the world, those affiliated with our congregations in Kyiv have been moved to places of safety. And if necessary, they will work on moving people to Eretz Yisrael. (We must be grateful that Israel is a not only a homeland, but a safe haven.) In that regard, I encourage you to join together with me and so many others in supporting their work in the Ukraine by perhaps providing your own half-shekel to help support their efforts.

The link to participate is: Please state that it is to be used for Ukraine Initiative.

I pray for Hashem, to guide the leaders of the world to find a way to end this aggression and to protect the people of the Ukraine.  Perhaps, it is as close as we might get to seeing a messianic age in our day.

I close by sharing with you the poem that we read last evening to begin our service of achdut, solidarity with the people of the Ukraine. I believe that it truly colors for us the thoughts and feelings that we all share.

Fri, June 24 2022 25 Sivan 5782