How to Count

Next Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Adar and therefore Shabbos Shekolim. As you know, all the special parshios are noted by special collections of midrashim in the Pesikta de Rav Kahana. One section of the midrash recalls the famous story of the wealthy Gentile woman who asked the Tanna Rabbi  Yossi ben Chalafta what God does after the six days of creation. The Tanna replied, “He makes matches.” The arrogant woman replied that she can do the same, and she matched 1000 matches among her slaves in one night. The next morning these new matches showed up with endless bruises and worse. The woman had to admit that matchmaking is difficult. The Tanna responded: “as difficult as the Parting of the Red Sea.” 

Couples therapists can take the Tanna’s response to heart. We can think of the huge difficulty in creating the miracle of a healthy match. Winds blow hard from both families, someone has to jump in first, the dry space in the middle is temporary and made just for the two, there is danger of getting stuck in the mud, if it succeeds, there is cause for triumphant song and celebration. When we attempt therapy for couples, we are reminded of the need for the miraculous, the need for siyata di-shemaya, for two souls to combine into a harmonious “we”. 

But actually this is not the story the Pesikta has in mind for Shekalim. Rather, Rabbi Berechiah notes a different account. According to him, the Tanna’s response was that God was engaged not in matchmaking but rather in a form of ‘Chutes and Ladders.’ And Rabbi Yona Bitsraya explains that this refers to Yisroel whose deepest nadir and whose highest peak are designated by the same word “zeh” (this). The nadir was worshipping the Golden Calf, and the pinnacle – the bringing of the half-shekel. 

I think we have something to learn here that is relevant to today’s situation. We all give the same half-shekel, no one more and no one less. Yisroel’s destiny rises and falls together. While the government and the media are busy counting out who can be blamed for Corona numbers, we are reminded that we need a unified understanding of our people – that includes all the different parts. The same “zeh” can bring us up or down, all together. We can think of Shekalim as a Parasha of unification and solidarity. And perhaps this connects the matchmaking version of the story with its unification version. Both seem to require a miracle.