WWOT: Weekly Words of Torah – Parashat Vayakhel (Shabbat Shekalim)

To inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women
By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League For Conservative Judaism

This week, we read Parashat Vayakhel; this week is also a special Shabbat called Shabbat Shekalim, the first of several special Shabbatot before Passover. The other special Shabbatot are Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, Shabbat HaChodesh, and Shabbat HaGadol. The special maftir (last Torah reading) portion for Shabbat Shekalim is from the book of Exodus, chapter 30, verses 11 through 16. The reading describes a census of the Jewish People that was taken while the Jews were in the Wilderness, after their Exodus from Egypt. The Torah, in here and in other places, teaches that it is forbidden to count Jews in the ordinary manner; rather, the People should be called upon to contribute items, which would then be counted. In the case of this census, the item that was contributed by rich and poor alike was a half shekel, the “shekel” being the coin in use at the time, roughly equivalent to our dollar. The collected shekels, or “shekalim,” in Hebrew, were then used for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan, the portable Temple, which was used until the Temple found its permanent residence in Jerusalem (despite its destruction twice, the place retains its holiness). The equal participation of all the People symbolizes that all Jews must share in achieving national goals, by giving up one’s selfish, personal interests for the sake of the nation. One who does so gains infinite benefit, because the mission of Israel is dependent upon the unity of the whole.

In honor of Shabbat Shekalim, I want to encourage all of us in WLCJ to engage in a similar practice. It was such an honor and privilege to be able to attend the 19th regional Masorti Women’s Study Day in Kfar Saba, Israel on February 13, 2019. I was able to witness firsthand one of three multi-themed daylong events focusing on Jewish Women and Gender Studies conducted in four languages: Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Russian. The energy and enthusiasm of the hundred-plus women there was incredible!  Giving Tuesday in November was like our Shabbat Shekalim, encouraging everyone to give a dollar each to help support the Masorti Women’s Day of Study. After experiencing the Day of Study myself, I see how truly important it is. I hope that, if you have not yet given, you will think of giving; and, if you have already, please contribute once again. This is our half shekel in 2019 for Shabbat Shekalim, as we support our Masorti sisters.

WWOT, Weekly Words of Torah is a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our new Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, presented in our “This Week @ Women’s League.” WWOT will provide meaningful thoughts related to the Weekly Torah Portion, an event on the Calendar, a Prayer, or something of Jewish interest, to inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women. If you have any particular interest in future topics, or want to send Rabbi Wolintz-Fields an email, you can contact her at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org. Read previous Weekly Words of Torah here.