Tonight the line was crossed: More than 10,000 Israelis have passed away from the coronavirus, including around a thousand in the last month. All of us remember the days when we counted the seventeenth sick person and traced the buses he used and the restaurant where he ate. Now two years have passed and we have grown tired from counting how many have been infected, how many have been vaccinated, how many have recovered. But this new round number compels us to stop a moment and take a closer look.
This coming Shabbat, we will read the Torah portion of Shekalim. It calls upon each person to extend himself and make a contribution in order to prevent plagues: “When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted. This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting . . . half a shekel as an offering to the Lord.”
Our commentators explain that each person gives only half a shekel in order to be reminded that he cannot be whole without his fellow; that we are all threads in the same human fabric. These last two years have demonstrated how vital it is to feel solidarity not only toward those who have passed away but toward those who have been sick but are not yet fully recovered, toward business owners, toward coping parents, and, in fact, toward everyone who has been affected, which means every one of us.
Journalist Ariel Schnabel wrote last night: “Imagine Nokia Hall (Tel Aviv basketball arena) full of people. And now imagine it empty. 10,000 have died from the coronavirus in two years. It’s not popular to speak about them now since we are at the end of the most recent wave, and we are all fed up, each person for his own reasons. But they deserve to be remembered. Yes, the old people, too, with the pre-existing conditions. All of them are us. May their memory be blessed.”
Money Is Not Meant For Worship
The following thoughts come from Rabbi Amitzur Ariel of Habayit LeKalkala Yehudit, a non-profit organization whose mission is to integrate Torah values into all financial aspects of life:
What does idol worship have to do with us? What does the golden calf have to do with us? The story, after all, is part of history. Perhaps people once bowed down to idols and worshipped gold, but we are far more developed and sophisticated, or should be.
Indeed, there is a parallel between our relationship to money and our relationship to G-d. Money, like G-d, is something for which people toil, something they think about and desire, something the world revolves around.
Recall that if money was once physical and tangible, today we can also say that, like G-d, “it has no body (or physical presence) nor resemblance to a body.” Banks no longer need to keep gold bricks in their cellar safes. Money has become virtual, abstract, exchanged with a click on our cell phones.
The danger with modern money is that we can become enslaved to it, without feeling disgust for it as we would for idol worship, which we think of as long gone. For example, when we follow economic trends and take delight in our profits going up, we cannot compare hours spent earning and investing money to time volunteering, since the latter elevates our standard of living in a manner that monetary success never will. Another example: It’s not possible to quantify learning Torah, which raises the quality of life but does not contribute to the gross national product. Similarly, the benefits of spending quality time spent with our children cannot be quantified, yet enrichment we provide our children through private lessons and afternoon activities is often measured in terms of return on an investment.
The financial side of life is important as long as we imbue it with our values. We only need to ascertain that profit and loss statements do not become our golden calf.
(Translation by Yehoshua Siskin)