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Shekalim: Measuring Our Reward

King David had commanded, “For my sake, be gentle with the boy Absalom (II Samuel 18:5).” Eventually, “Absalom chanced upon David’s servants. Absalom was riding upon a mule, and the mule came under the thick branches of a large elm tree; his head became entangled in the elm, and he was suspended between the heavens and the earth, while the mule that was under him moved on.

One man saw and told Yoav; he said, ‘Behold! I saw Absalom hanging from an elm!’ Yoav then said to the man who had told him, ‘and if you saw this why did you not strike him there down to the ground? I would have been obligated to reward you with ten silver pieces and one belt!’

The man said to Yoav, ‘Even if I were holding (Shokail) a thousand silver pieces in my hands, I would not send forth my hand against the King’s son, for in our own earshot the king commanded you and Avishai and Ittai saying, ‘Whichever one of you finds him, take care of the boy, of Absalom.’ Even if I had acted deceitfully on my own, nothing remains hidden from the King, and you would stand aside (II Samuel 18:9-13).”

This anonymous man replies Yoav’s claim “I would have been obligated to reward you with ten silver pieces and one belt,” by saying, “Your theoretical reward would still not be worth actually holding 1000 silver pieces in my hand.” The word “Shokail,” holding in my hand, is contrasted with a theoretical or a promised reward. The Shekel, in this verse, represents holding something tangible and valuable in one’s hand.

We can understand the idea of“Shekel” in this verse acting on the ability to experience the fall value of a reward. We can now understand why the mitzvah is to contribute a Half Shekel, not a full Shekel; it is impossible for us to measure the full extent of the reward we have earned in our Service of God.

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