week is definitely a full portion! It was very hard to decide what to
write about, but I figured there is no better place than the beginning!
Now, I know the verses we start with in this chapter are curious, but
for some reason, these were the verses that fascinated me when I was
studying this portion. |
This Torah portion begins by God giving His instructions concerning the census of the men of Israel; how it was to be conducted and who was to be included. This census counted all the men of Israel from 20 years old and above. It was at the age of 20 that one became a “man of war” in Israel. As it says in Numbers 1, “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel…every male individually, from twenty years old and above—all who are able to go to war in Israel.” In this portion, it deals with the census of all the men of Israel, as it says, “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number…everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel…from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less… And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel…”
To sum everything up; Every man of Israel over 20 years old was required to give a half shekel (according to the shekel of the sanctuary), no more and no less. It was to be given for the service of the Tent of Meeting = the Tabernacle, as a memorial and covering for the children of Israel. What I left out of these verses are the two most important elements of this passage. Here are the verses for why the half shekel was to be given; “…that there may be no plague among them when you number them…” and “…that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.” The half shekel was given not only as a census to count the people; it was given to protect Israel from plague and to make atonement for them. The reason a half shekel was the chosen amount was to show 2 things. The 1st reason was to show that every man who wanted to be counted among the people of God had to give something up. Bloodlines and family names confuse most of us, but in this case, it didn’t matter your bloodline or who your family was. One had to make a conscious decision to pay the half shekel in order to be counted among God’s people.
The 2nd reason a half shekel was the amount chosen to be given, was to show Israel that, no one person, can bring a full shekel for the service of the Tabernacle in and of himself. In order to bring a full shekel, one half shekel had to be joined with another half shekel, teaching us that the service of God’s house functions only when we join our half shekels together in unity, as one people.
In Hebrew, the words “to make atonement for yourselves” are “L’chaper al-|
Naf’shotechem.” These words would be better translated as “to cover over your souls.” The word “Naf’shotechem”has the root word “Nefesh,” in it, which means “Soul.” With this understanding, we could imply that each “soul” was valued at one half of a shekel. For complete clarity, here’s the equation, one soul = half a shekel. The giving of a half shekel was a physical action, which represented the giving of one’s own soul over to God. When an Israelite gave the half shekel, he was attaching his soul to God and to the things of God. It says that this census was to be done to “to cover over your souls” so that “no plague [could come] among [you].” But what was the covering needed for? And, what is the plague that is spoken of here?
In order to understand these questions we must skip in this portion over to Exodus 32. In this chapter we read about the “Egel Masecha—Molded Calf,” where Israel falls into the sins of idolatry and immorality.
The sages teach us that the half shekel was to be given as atonement for the sin of the “Egel Masecha—Molded Calf.” God knew what Israel was about to do and so therefore stepped in with the antidote before the sin was even committed. The concept that we learn from this is; the rectification and atonement of sin is already provided for, even before an evil deed is done.
From the sin of Adam and Eve, to the evil committed by mankind around the world today, God has already provided the antidote. No transgression is done without God providing the way of atonement first.
Yet, this does not in any way, remove the consequences of sin. God tells Israel to take a census so that “no plague [can come] among [you].” But because of Israel’s transgression, guess what? It tells us at the end of Exodus 32, “…The Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf…” The half shekel for atonement was given to counteract the worship of the Golden Calf, but the plague of consequences still came to haunt the people for the transgression that had been committed.
Now, back to atonement! I know this is hard to comprehend. Atonement, as we have always been taught, can only be found in Yeshua…right? How can the sin of idolatry be rectified through the payment of a half shekel? Even if we had all the money in the world, could we really “pay God off” to forgive our evil misdeeds?
Before we get in to this “hot topic” I want to pose some other questions. Why was there a census? Why did the men of Israel have to be counted after the sin of the “Egel—Calf?” Putting a half shekel forward provided atonement for idolatry, but why was a census also necessary?
The reason a census was needed after the sin of the “Egel—Calf” was to count how many men had perished for their idolatry. When Moses arrived in the camp of Israel and saw the idol worship, he called for every man who feared God to go and slay the idolaters. It tells us in the story that “…all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together… [Moses] said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’’” It is from this story that the Levites are recognized as zealous for God and God takes them as helpers in the holy service of the Tabernacle. (Numbers 8)
In summary, this was the reason for the census…to count those who had perished and those who had not. As the Israel Bible notes, the “Sages point out that the numerous times God counts the people is also an indication of His love for them.” As we read in Deuteronomy 7, God calls His people an “Am Segulah—A Treasured People.” Even as a king counts his jewels and riches, so God counts His people, viewing each person as a precious jewel crafted and created for His good pleasure.
Before I get into atonement, because I want to save it for last, I want to ask one more question. A question that has been debated for many centuries and that has many interesting answers…a question whose many diverse answers point to different lessons from which we must learn. The question is: What was the sin of the “Egel Masecha—Molded Calf?” You probably already have the answer, right? It is stated plainly in the “Aseret HaDibrot—10 Commandments” in Exodus 20, “You shall not make for yourself a carved (or graven) image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” But was this really the sin of the “Egel—Calf?”
Only 3000 men were killed for idolatry out of the entire nation of Israel, which equaled 600,000 men not including women and children. Why did God plague the entire nation on account of 3000 idolaters? Maybe because the sin of the “Egel—Calf” wasn’t so much about the idolaters as much as it was about the entire nation of Israel that didn’t say a word when this debacle started. Out of 600,000 men, not one said a word to stop this disaster from taking place. There is a traditional story found in Vayikra Rabbah 10, which tells us that, before the people came to Aaron, they came to Hur, who was also a leader in Israel. The story goes as such, “At the time when the Israelites were about to commit the act [make the golden calf] they first came to Chur, and they said to him: ‘Make us a god!’ Since he did not listen to them, they rose up and slew him.” Whether this story is true or not, the reality is this, the Children of Israel allowed a graven image to be created and worshiped within their midst. If an Israelite participated in the idolatrous worship or not, it was permitted within the community of Israel. No one stood up and said: STOP!
First Fruits Of Zion writes in one of their articles, “The Tabernacle represents God’s way of doing spirituality. The golden calf represents man’s way of doing spirituality.”
God declared the half-shekel census to be done to make atonement for the nation of Israel. This atonement was for all the of men Israel
who had allowed the worship of an “Egel—Calf” to happen within their
midst. But as I already asked before, “How can the sin of idolatry, or,
the allowance of idolatry, be rectified through the payment of a half
shekel?” Remember the equation from earlier? One soul = half a shekel. This is key to how we understand the atonement, which took place in this story.|
Please bear with me here, because this is a very difficult topic to breach and remain clear on. If each soul equals half a shekel, then when each individual man of Israel gives his half shekel to the priest, his physical action ought to reflect the spiritual promise he is making. When the Children of Israel each gave their half shekel, as recorded in Exodus 38, the amount comes out to 100+ talents of silver. This silver is used for the sockets and bases to build the Tabernacle. The spiritual promise being made here by doing the physical action of giving the half shekel was this; “I am willing to be used as a dwelling place for God.”
Accountability and community are what the half shekel represented, unity with God and with one another. The atonement came from each individual soul = each individual half-shekel coming together as a dwelling place for God.
How does Yeshua fit into all of this? Here’s the really stirring part. When God gave Moses the command to take a census of the men of Israel, Moses didn’t understand what God meant by a half shekel. As the story goes in the Midrash, Numbers Rabbah 12:3,“R. Meir expounded: The Holy One, blessed be He, took what resembled a coin of fire from beneath the Throne of Glory and showed Moses, ‘This they shall give,’ namely, they shall give a coin that resembles this one.” God showed Moses the half-shekel coin that would be used to census Israel. From where did God take this coin? From beneath the Throne of Glory…Do you know what is also traditionally underneath the Throne of Glory? In the Pesikta Rabbati it makes this statement, “What is meant by ‘in Your light do we see light’? What light is it that the congregation of Israel looks for as from a watchtower? It is the light of Messiah, of which it is said, ‘And God saw the light that it was good’ (Gen 1:4). This verse proves that the Holy One, blessed be He, contemplated the Messiah and his works before the world was created, and then under His throne of glory put away His Messiah until the time of the generation in which he will appear.”
The “coin of fire” which was under the Throne of Glory is also the place where it says God put His Messiah until His time to appear! This helps to understand the verse in Colossians 3, “[My] life is hidden with Messiah in God.” So here is my proposal, the half shekel which was equal to the soul of every Israelite was based upon the blueprint of the ‘coin of fire” which is equal to the soul of Mashiach! Every soul must be conformed to the image and seal of the coin of fire; who is Yeshua our Messiah. There is no atonement without conforming and submitting to seal of Yeshua upon our lives. The half shekel was used to build a physical house for God. The soul of every Israelite was created to be a spiritual house for God. But in order to have either, every Israelite and every one of us must become like the “coin of fire” = the soul of the Messiah. We must become even as He is.
We know we are created “B’tzelem Elokim—Imago Dei—In the image of God.” Now we need the seal of Messiah, the stamp of His “coin of fire” on and in our lives.
Yeshua Himself said, “Render to Caesar his stuff and to God the things that are His.” That’s a bad paraphrase, but you understand. We are all “half shekels,” meaning, we can’t accomplish anything alone. We need community. It also means, we were created to make spaces and places where God can dwell, whether that be in our individual lives or in a physical building. But first, we need to become a half shekel created in the image of God’s “coin of fire” = Mashiach = Messiah = Yeshua. We can be a dwelling place for God and He can be a dwelling place for us, or, we can be a plague to Him and He can be a plague to us. Let’s choose the former. Let’s become who He created us to be. In Isaiah 8, the Lord says, “V’Hayah L’Mikdash Ul’Even Negef—And He will be a Sanctuary and a Stone of Plagues.”
We have the choice. We can choose His ways and receive Him as a Sanctuary or we can reject Him and He will come as a Plague. He coming anyway, so, if you don’t make the choice, He’ll have to make it for you. Choose Him, choose life, and choose today!
May you all be sealed with the “Coin of Fire,”
Grace be with you all,