This week's parsha, Mishpatim, is the first of four "special" Shabbatot in which we read a different maftir in honour of the particular week. The next four weeks we will attempt to explore how we can understand these four special weeks within our contemporary society.
The Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar is referred to as Shabbat Shkalim. The Sabbath of Shekels. Rather than referring to the latest atrocity in Israel in which Cofix hiked up the price of their items from 5 to 6 shekels it talks about the census that Moses took of the Jewish people during a plague that killed many of the people.
Each man was to give no less than half a shekel which the text suggests has two reasons:
1. For the purposes of the census.
2. As an atonement for the sins (vaguely reminiscent of the practice of Absolution in the Catholic Church).
The art of the census lies in the mathematics. In reality, people all have different skills, levels of education and wealth, the census is designed to make everyone equal. On paper, the half shekel indicated a single person regardless of their contribution to society, the extent of their sins and their self-worth. Each and every single person counts for 1. Each and every single person's sins are redeemed by the same token amount of money.
What can we learn from this?
In the Australian Jewish community it is sometimes difficult to feel as if we all have equal worth, that we all are capable of change. Whether that is in our particular communities or in the broader communities. We are consistently faced with dreams as they confront establishment.
The idea of a Jewish census is very much alive and well. 3000 years ago it helped Moses count his people. Today it will help us define the future of our community.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov