HONORING YOUR TWO CENTS
Judaism may be the only religion on earth where we are less interested in the accuracy of the answer, and more concerned about the quality of the question.
I remember coming home from Hebrew day school in Montreal, and often being asked by one of my grandparents, "so, did you ask any good questions?"
Judaism ultimately rests upon choices and differences of opinion. The Talmud reminds us that "there are seventy faces to the Torah." That means that there are seventy ways, if not more, of looking at any situation or issue, and each one is precious in God's sight.
Do you believe that God is the "Almighty" or is God our "divine partner." At various times in the Torah, God listens to the advice or pleading of Abraham or Moses, and changes direction. Other times, God is the "omnipotent one" with no room for discussion.
It seems in the Talmud that for every issue which is presented - from the official times to pray, to levels of charity, acts of kindness, or completion of various Mitzvoth (commandments) there are at least two combatants arguing from various sides of an issue.
We cherish that diversity.
Recently, I spoke with an elderly couple regarding end of life choices. One member of the couple requested that if the time ever came that he was incapacitated, that "no special measures be taken." His wife held a different view. "As long as God created life and medical technology let me be kept alive by whatever means until God wills it otherwise."
So who was right?
The Talmud instructs that on these subjective matters, Eilu v'eilu divrei Elohim Chayim, "These and those are the words of the Living God." In other words, there are no absolutes in this world. We possess free will, and there are many ways of approaching any dilemma.
This respect for diversity is captured in this week's section of the Torah, Ki Tissa, which begins with a commandment that a census be taken of the Israelites in the desert.
Each Israelite over the age of 21 was required to contribute a half shekel. No one paid more or less than the other, or as the Torah says, "the rich shall not give more, or the poor shall not give less than a half shekel." (Exodus 30:15).
It also reflects that everyone is glorious in God's eyes regardless of their net worth, and that every person, every half shekel, every point of view matters.
Whether you are, "observant," "secular," "devout," "spiritual," or none of the above, your spiritual journey and your unique perspective counts.
But there is a physical component to this equation.
In her best selling book, The Soul of Money, author Lynne Twist explores money as a sacred currency. So often we look at money in terms of what it physically can do for us.
But Lynne Twist's book, now being read and discussed in synagogues and churches, along with investment houses, corporations and government agencies, encourages us to examine how money can be harnessed as a tool to inject spirituality into the world.
This week's Torah portion adds to this conversation by teaching that although all questions, opinions and perspectives are important, words need to be combined with some physical act, even if that means a half shekel.
Within Judaism, everyone gets called to the Torah regardless of financial status. In our Talmud classes, every opinion counts no matter how much a person has accrued in their savings account.
The half shekel requirement from this week's Torah portion reminds us that every person has a right and even an obligation to put in their "two cents."
Indeed, life is a combination of the physical and spiritual, and it is difficult for one to exist without the other.
Therefore, it may be a useful exercise to challenge ourselves whether we are matching the passion of our opinions, with the blessings of giving.
It's something to teach our children. Next time we're at the 7/11 store is there value in contributing the change from that candy bar to the charity jar on the counter? Can we model good behavior by tearing off the one dollar food bank coupon at the grocery store checkout?
These acts are today's equivalent of the half shekel.
Within today's society, issues regarding Tzedakah (righteous giving) are complex. This is part of the never ending process of questioning and discussion within Judaism. In spite of that, the Torah commands us to contribute something.
Indeed, when we mind ourselves to do good, no amount is too small. It is the momentum of the intention which counts.
What values are we modeling with regard to life's sacred currencies? The Torah teaches us this week that even a half shekel counts.
For perhaps it is not that important to measure the physical quantity of what we put back into the world.
This week the Torah teaches that any contribution towards kindness, no matter how large or small, is sacred in God's sight.
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv
(with all goodness).
Rabbi Irwin Huberman