There will not be a plague among them when counting them

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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ולא יהיה בהם נגף בפקוד אותם


Reish Lakish said: it was clearly known in advance before  He Who spoke, and the world came into being [i.e. G-d] that Haman was destined to weigh out shekalim (i.e. silver coins) for the purpose of destroying the Jews.  Therefore, He caused the Jews to precede their shekalim to [Haman’s] shekalim.  And thus we learned in a Mishna: on the first of Adar, they [the Sanhedrin] proclaim regarding the payment of the shekalim.[1]

                The decree of Haman and Achashveirosh “to destroy, to slay and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, children and women” was so harsh that G-d preempted it with the cure, and from the wound itself affixed the bandage to heal it, namely, shekalim for shekalim.  We do not find such preemptive measures with any other decree.

                This cure, the half shekel, had the power to turn a curse into a blessing, the Attribute of Judgment into the Attribute of Mercy.  As we know, counting the Jewish people is a danger to them, but when they are counted using the half shekels blessing is ever present.  Not only are they not harmed when they are counted, “… so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them[2],” but they are blessed through them.  As the Zohar explains[3]


Come and see.  The blessing from Above does not dwell upon anything counted.  If so, how were Bnei Yisrael counted?  An atonement for their souls [i.e. the half shekel] was collected from each of them, and these were not counted until they were all collected.  First Bnei Yisrael were blessed, then the coins were counted, and then Bnei Yisrael were blessed again, so that Bnei Yisrael were blessed at the beginning and at the end thereby preventing a plague among them.

                Thus we see that through the half shekels Bnei Yisrael are blessed and the danger is not only preempted but entirely nullified.

                Chassidic commentators have noted that the middle letter of the word מחצית is theצ'  which stands for צדקה, charity.  The two adjacent letters are ח' and י', which together spell חי, alive.  The outermost letters are מ' and ת' which together spell מת, dead.  This is to hint to us that this mitzvah has the power to add life and keep death at bay.

                We find this Segula in general with the mitzvah of tzedaka, as we see in the Gemara[4]

It was taught in a Baraisa: they related the following story about Binyamin the righteous, who was appointed administrator over the communal charity fund.  Once, during years of famine, a woman came before {Binyamin] and requested assistance.  She said to him: my master, sustain me!  [Binyamin] said to [the woman]: I swear by the Holy Temple that there is nothing in the charity fund for me to distribute to you.  [The woman] said to [Binyamin]: my, master, if you do not sustain me, a woman and her seven sons will perish!  Moved by the woman’s plea, [Binyamin] rose and provided her with sustenance from his own funds.  After a time [Binyamin] took ill and was close to dying.  The ministering angels thereupon said to the Holy one, blessed is He: Master of the Universe! You have said that one who preserves one Jewish soul is regarded as if he preserved an entire world, and Binyamin the righteous, who preserved a woman and her seven sons during a famine, should die after these few years on earth?!  Immediately upon hearing this argument [the Heavenly Court] tore up [Binyamin’s] decree, and in the merit of his charity he was spared.  It was taught in a Baraisa: [the Heavenly Court] added twenty-two years to his lifetime.[5]

                This mitzvah has a wondrous potency to stir the heavenly attribute of mercy and increase life, as the wisest of all men, Shlomo HaMelech, said, וצדקה תציל ממות[6], charity rescues from death.  This is even more potent in the mitzvah of מחצית השקל which also has the power to annul decrees against the Jewish people.  The righteous who steps in and gives charity—he is the one who keeps death at bay and brings life.

                Chassidic commentators say that a tzaddik has the power to nullify harsh decrees and turn the Attribute of Judgment into Mercy through certain letter permutations.  For example, in [7]ספר התולדות it states that נגע, affliction, can be switched around to spell ענג, pleasure; צרה, calamity, to רצה, appeasement; צרעת, leprosy, to עצרת, a holy assembly.  Thus through the mitzvah of tzedaka the death sentence is distanced, the letters מת being further away from the צ', the צדקה, and life is added, the lettersחי  being adjacent to it.

                There is a basis for this found in the words of the תוספות[8]  who write that Bilam wanted to curse the Jews at the specific time of day when G-d’s anger is present.  Bilam said כלם, destroy them, but G-d changed it from כלם to מלך, king, as the verse states, ותרועת מלך בו, and the friendship of the King is in him.  We see that decrees and curses can morph into blessing through permutation of the letters.[9]

                When we upkeep the half shekel custom of our fathers, this too stirs the Heavenly Mercy and suppresses the Angel of Death, adding bounty, life and mercy to all of Am Yisrael.  As we say in the יוצר for פרשת שקלים:

אור פניך עלינו אדון נסה, ושקל אשא בבית נכון ונשא, ובצדק הגה ערך כי תשא, גונננו מגן א-ל רם ונשא

 O Master, raise the light of Your face upon us, and let me raise a shekel in the firm and exalted Temple.  In the merit of the Torah reading in Ki Sisa, protect us as with a shield, O exalted and uplifted G-d.


[1] מגילה י"ג ע"ב

[2] שמות ל': י"ג

[3]פרשת כי תשא ח"ב קפ"ז ע"ב

[4] בבא בתרא י"א ע"א

[5] It is known in the name of the Gaon of Vilna that twenty-two years were added to his life because the Gemara (בבא בתרא ט' ע"ב) states that one who gives alms to the poor is blessed six times, and one who comforts him with words is blessed eleven fold.  Thus Binyamin the Righteous who acted this way with eight people merited eighty-eight blessings, and the Gemara states (סוטה כ"ב ע"ב) that a good merit is sustainable for three months.  If each of the eighty-eight blessings he received lasted three months, then eighty-eight multiplied by three equals 264 months, which is exactly twenty-two years.

[6] משלי י':ב',י"א: ד'

[7] ספר התולדות פרשת נח.  See also דגל מחנה אפרים on פרשת אמור

[8] עבודה זרה ד' ע"ב

[9] For further insight see the Zohar, חלק ג' קע"ט א', regarding Kohanim having the ability to turn חרם, excommunication or destruction, into רחם, mercy.