D’var Torah by Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham: Fuel good deeds with ‘fire and passion’


Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham

Parshat Ki Tissa opens with the admonition, “This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay …” (30:13) God’s command was for every male from 20 to 60, rich or poor, to be counted by their half-shekel contribution to the upkeep of the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed) and to raise the spiritual level of the contributors.  

Our foremost commentator, Rashi, tells us that this was to effectuate a census and that God showed Moses a coin that had an image of fire on it to actually accomplish the enumeration. Rashi teaches: “[The Holy One] showed [Moses] a coin of fire whose weight was a half-shekel and said, ‘Like this they shall give.’ ” 

Why did God show Moses a coin of fire? Why not show him a regular coin? This is the question.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) explains that money and fire share qualities. Fire is one of the most indispensable elements known to man when used properly. When used improperly, it has the potential to destroy. The same is true for money. Wealth carries great danger if it falls into the wrong hands and, if misused, could lead to destruction.

Moses was shown a coin of fire to emphasize that both fire and money carry incredible powers for good or for evil. When used properly, they bring great well-being to the world. In the wrong hands, they can cause pain, destruction and death.

We can take several teachings from the seemingly straightforward and short admonition. Each of us, rich or poor, is equal before God.  The “close” of this short admonition is the reference to “atonement.” Addressing that aspect, the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859) reminds us with a flourish: If one seeks atonement by giving, the good deed should be done with “fire” and passion.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.