Ever wonder: Is the “half shekel,” which we donate on the fast-day of Esther, related to the “half kingdom” which Achashverosh offered to give Esther following her fast? It sure is! To learn more, please click here for a source sheet exploring the fascinating connection between them; below is a short d’var Torah based on some of these sources.
Throughout the Purim megillah, Achashverosh repeatedly promises to grant Esther up to “half” of his kingdom. Ever wonder: why “half,” specifically? Well, there is one other place in Tanach where the ratio of one “half” carries extra special significance: in the law of the “half-shekel,” which b’nei Yisrael are commanded to collect before the construction of the mishkan. Could there be a connection here?
There most certainly is.
After all, Jewish law bids us to read the portion of the “half-shekel” each year before Purim. We even have the custom to donate the value of a half-shekel during the fast observed right before Purim–namely, ta’anis Esther. And the reason is quite remarkable: according to the gemara in maseches megillah, it was actually in the merit of their half-shekel donations that b’nei Yisrael were spared from Haman’s plot on Purim. In the gemara’s words: “It was publicly known before [Hashem] that, in the future, Haman would weigh out shekels over Israel [to pay those who would execute them]; so Hashem caused them to pre-empt these shekels with their own.”
A fascinating medrash! But what’s it’s deeper meaning?
In a nutshell, perhaps it is this:
The Purim megillah opens with Achashverosh hosting a banquet at which he proudly displays the conquered vessels of the beis ha-mikdash. The Jews of Shushan freely participated in this banquet, and it is for this reason, Chazal tell us, that they were targeted by Haman at the time of Purim. After all, nothing threatens the integrity of a nation more than when its own members fail to preserve their collective identity.
Yet the Jews of Shushan had not forsaken the beis ha-mikdash. They may have attended Achashverosh’s feast–a grave mistake, to be sure. But do you know what else they did? They continued the tradition of collecting the half-shekel: a collection which was instituted to fund communal worship in the beis ha-mikdash. By doing so, they demonstrated where their true commitments lay. Publicly, perhaps, it was difficult to proclaim confidently that the beis ha-mikdash would eventually be rebuilt; privately, though, they maintained whichever of its rituals they could, in the hopes that, one day, they’d be able to once again serve Hashem from within its walls. And it was in this merit, the Gemara claims, that they ultimately made it through to better days.
Thus, the half-shekel stands as an enduring symbol of faith and hope. Even when faced with great tribulation, one must do whatever one can to build towards a more promising future. This does not require heroic efforts. Indeed, all it takes is a half a shekel. A half-shekel today; a half-shekel tomorrow; and, before one knows it, redemption will have arrived.
A freilechen Purim!