Early one morning, I sat down next to my study partner, who was acting pretty strangely. He had one eye closed and was looking with his open eye at his hands, as he slowly moved them toward and away from one another. I asked him what on earth he was doing. He told me that someone taught him this cool, 3D trick. “When someone looks with only one eye, he cannot perceive depth clearly. With two eyes open, one can see 3D and notice depth of the different items that are in his field of vision. One eye alone does not give you depth. I closed one eye and am moving my hands to see if I can notice which one is farther away than the other.” Oh. I tried it myself, and I saw that it actually works! Now, there were two weirdoes in the study hall, with one eye closed, moving their hands around!
This was interesting to me. My eyes came across an interesting Midrash this week that gives a new dimension of depth to our everyday lives. The Torah forbids causing pain to the orphan and widow. If you will cause him pain, then he will cry out to me, and I will surely hear his cry. שמוע אשמע צעקתו (Shemot 22:22). We are taught that, “The way of mortals is that they cannot listen to the cries of two people who are crying simultaneously. With the Creator of the World, on the other hand, it is not like that. Even if all the people of the world were to cry out to Him at once, he could and would listen to their cries…” (Yalkut Tehillim 783)
This, of course, does not mean that human beings cannot hear two sounds at once. Although all the sounds may be heard, the meanings behind each sound cannot be interpreted or understood simultaneously. One must listen with his heart in order to hear the true meaning behind a voice, and the underlying message it wishes to convey. We all have only one heart, and if it is divided between two different subjects at once, then neither one will get our undivided attention. Humans cannot give their attention to two different cries and hear them both with their entire essence, with their whole heart, at the same time. G-d, on the other hand, can listen to all the cries of the universe and contemplate each one’s deeper meaning at the same moment.
We have two eyes instead of one for the purpose of seeing and understanding depth. I believe G-d gave us two ears to teach us a similar lesson. There are many things we hear, but to listen in depth, in a dimension that is somewhat 3D, is an entirely different type of listening. To feel the underlying message in the words and the perspective behind it is different from just hearing sound and understanding it on a superficial level. We have two ears, and we can hear a lot of noises at once; but we can only listen to one at a time. Only one sound can be understood in depth. Only one person can be listened to at a time. We have only one heart. And when we are listening to a person when our heart is not exclusively concentrating on him, then that person is not properly listened to, nor is what he really meant to say really understood. He is just “noise”. He will feel that he did not have the heart to heart connection with us which he sought and needed.
At age two, we learn how to talk. At the age five/six, we learnt how to read and write. We are never taught how to listen. We hear sounds. Hearing is basically an involuntary action. When a sound is made, we hear it, whether we choose to or not. In contrast, listening is different: listening enlists the attention, which we voluntarily direct to what can be heard. If done properly, listening can even be tiring. When we are careful not to interrupt or answer a question before the person speaking is finished, we show him respect. We express to him – without words of explanation – that we consider it important to listen to his underlying message. Most people are too busy to stop and listen: a father to his family members, a friend to his acquaintances. Because we are focused on too many things, we often cannot attune our ears to what is sometimes the most important subject in our lives. The only way to devote the necessary attention to issues that are truly important is by scheduling time for each thing and relating to each question, directing our whole focus to one thing at a time.
We find this in regard to the slave mentioned in the beginning of the parasha. The Jewish slave must have his ear pierced for wanting to remain in slavery under his Jewish master following the Shemitta year. Rashi explains that the ear, specifically, as opposed to any other organ, is pierced, for it heard at Mt.Sinaithe words “You shall not steal”, and the ear did not heed the injunction. After this thief got caught and could not replace the goods he had stolen, he sold himself into slavery in order to get funds to reimburse the theft. G-d also said at Mt. Sinai “…because Israel is for Me as slaves”: instead of recognizing HaShem as his Master, he went and got himself a human master. He did not use his ears properly, listening actively and understanding the meaning of HaShem’s message. (Rashi from Midrashim)
We can now understand this in a completely new light. The Jewish slave who decided to stay under his master said, in effect, that he wanted two masters. The reason why specifically the ear that did not listen is pierced, and not the hand that stole, is because this slave can never be a good slave. He can never listen to his mortal master, because he has another Master. And he can never listen to his Master in heaven, because he has a mortal master, who also gives orders. This is why one ear is pierced: to be a good servant, one has to be a good listener, in order to understand the meaning behind his master’s words. This is the message of two ears. This servant can never properly listen. He can only hear.
R’ Moshe Shapiro, shlita, was quoted as saying that a person is either in the state of Ein od Milvado (there is nothing in the world other than Hashem), or in the state of Ein Od Milvadi (there is nothing other than me).We are always serving – either G-d, others or ourselves. One can be a slave to only one of these masters at a time.
UNITED I STAND
Hashem commanded Moshe to take the consensus of the Jewish nation by having every Jew – rich and poor– give exactly half a shekel. The reason for this seemingly strange method of counting was because it is forbidden to count Jews directly. We are taught that doing so can bring a plague. Also, by donating half a shekel to the Mishkan, the Jews would achieve atonement. One may wonder why this atonement was necessary.
One explanation is that this atonement was to counterbalance the coins that Haman would, generations later, give to King Achashverosh. The Ba’al Haturim learns this from the last letters of the words in Parashat Shekalim, “מבן עשרים שנה”, which spell “Haman”, backwards. It seems that there is a connection between the half shekel in the time of the Mishkan and the miraculous salvation which took place on Purim, centuries later.
There is another question that is commonly asked: why were the Jewish people commanded to give only a half a shekel, and not a whole one? The Noam Elimelech explains that the half shekel leads a person to be aware of the fact that he always has plenty of room for further growth – he’s not yet “whole”. The Chida suggests, in the name of Rav Shlomo Alcabetz, that one must realize that he always needs others in order to work toward his own perfection.
We must first understand why counting Jews leads to a plague. When one counts Jews, each one has to be counted individually, in order to make a total sum. One standing alone is not a good thing. When we are together, we are considered a unit; all the mitzvoth of all the individuals are accredited to the group as a whole; a person standing by himself has his merit, alone, to speak for him. That was the power of Haman’s words to Achashverosh, “ישנו עם אחד מפוזר ומפורד …” – “There is one nation, scattered and separate…” To counteract this, on Purim we do mitzvoth that bring us together – giving Mishloach Manot and Matanot La’evyonim.
A lack of unity is not a problem in its own right: it’s a symptom. Disunity results from individuals being egocentric and self-centered. Only when a person realizes that he is no more than a half can he consider others as part of his life. Egocentricity is an obstacle not only to unity, but also to happiness. This is the connection between Parashat Shekalim, which stresses our need for others in order to realize our full potential, and the community mitzvoth in the month of Adar, on Purim.
In Mishlei, Shlomo Hamelech writes “לתאוה יבקש נפרד” – Disunity is brought about by physical desires. This was the case in the beginning of the Megilla, when Jews went to Achashverosh’s elaborate, ostentatious party. By indulging themselves in physical pleasures, they became ready candidates for divisiveness and estrangement from one another. This constituted an invitation for Haman to make such a tragically accurate statement about Jewish disunity. Haman knew all too well that as long as one focuses on requiting his desires, he can’t see anyone other than himself, and unity becomes unattainable.
When someone has problems in his relationships with others, the cause is, usually, something within himself. By learning to respect others, one can stop focusing on himself. This is why even after the Torah commands everyone to bring half a shekel, it repeats that even a rich man should not give more than this. When a rich man gives a big check to charity, he can easily be led to feel that he is “worth” more than those who donate much smaller sums, if anything at all. By requiring each and every person to give precisely the same sum, the Torah teaches us that we have a common denominator, a level at which we are all exactly the same. When a person recognizes that even he is just one number out of the sum total, he will learn to focus on others as much as on himself.
May this year’s Parshat Shekalim find us all appreciating, valuing and respecting all the members of Klal Yisrael. That is the golden path which leads to the Final Redemption!
Shabbat Shalom, Yosef Farhi
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