The Significance Of Charity
There are four special Torah readings read on the Sabbaths before the month of Nisan - Shekalim, Zachor, Para and HaChodesh.
Since Shekalim is the first of the four, it has special significance over the other three. Its lesson is of general significance and conveys the fundamental and primary principles which should guide our G-dly service.
The half-shekel was a donation by every Jew to help pay for the communal sacrifice. Regardless of one's financial status, whether rich or poor, each person gave no more and no less than a half-shekel toward this sacrifice. Thus, the basic idea of giving half-shekels is that of tzedaka (charity).
This is particularly true today after the Holy Temple has been destroyed, and the mitzva of giving shekalim in its original form is no longer possible. Today this mitzva is commemorated through giving a coin worth half of the standard currency to charity on the Fast of Esther - the day preceding Purim.
Tzedaka represents all the mitzvot - "outweighs" them all - and is called THE mitzva by the Jerusalem Talmud.
In addition, tzedaka must be done constantly, for two reasons:
- G-d created a world order in which there is giving and receiving. This is the reason that 'need' and 'want' are present in the world - in order that there be the possibility of performing tzedaka and kindness. Tzedaka, therefore, is an intrinsic part of creation.
Since tzedaka is an essential feature of the nature of the world, it is present as long as the world exists, i.e. constantly.
- Everything G-d gives to the world is similar to His "tzedaka." His gracious endowment of our very life and sustenance is clear proof of His great kindness. Nevertheless, this kindness is granted midda k'neged midda (measure for measure) - commensurate to our actions.
We must therefore involve ourselves in charitable acts in order to merit G-d's "tzedaka."
And since we are constantly dependent upon His tzedaka, our charitable acts must also be constant.
This explains the fundamental importance of the portion of Shekalim over the other three special portions. It is connected with charity, which is constant, and applies in all places and situations.