Parashat Ki Tissa Torah Reading: Exodus 30:11-34:35
I write and speak often about the centrality of community to the Jewish experience. John Donne posited that "no man is an island" . . . Judaism posits that no lone Jew is a self-sufficient island either.
We are dependent on each other in a myriad of ways: We need 9 other Jews to read Torah, to praise God with the words of the Kaddish, to bring a child into the covenanted community of Israel . . . we need a community of Jews to educate our children, to educate ourselves, to be inspired and supported.
This week's Torah reading establishes the principle of "stakeholder" in the community of Israel . . . according to this week's Torah reading every adult Israelite was required to donate a half shekel to support the rituals of the wilderness Tabernacle. The half shekel was a modest amount of money, within the means of all but the community's destitute.
There were always opportunities for people of greater means to contribute more to the sustenance of the Tabernacle, the Cohanim/Priests and Levi'im/Levites.
But the universal application of the half-shekel donation meant that everyone was a stakeholder, everyone could look everyone else in the eye knowing that everyone had met the elemental obligation of community responsibility.
Today, the half-shekel has evolved into synagogue dues . . . but the power of looking each other in the eye and knowing that together we have sustained the central institution of our community is the same.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.