The Beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa discusses the half shekel used for the census and yearly contribution towards the daily offerings. The Torah calls the shekel a holy shekel (Shemos 13:13). The Rabbeinu Bachye asks asks a basic question: why is the shekel referred to as holy?
The Rabbeinu Bachye answers: “That it is called holy because all the mitzvos are the essentials of holiness and some of the mitzvos need this coin, for example redeeming the first born which is done with five shekels, also the mitzvah of erechin (donating one’s self value to the Beis HaMikdash) which are called holy, needs shekels. For this reason we call the language of our Torah Loshon HaKodesh, the holy language, since it is a language of holiness which includes many types of holy things. All sorts of holiness is used with it for it is the language that Hashem used to tell the Jewish people the Ten Commandments and He also speaks to prophets and angels [in this language]. Hashem has 70 names all of them are from Loshon HaKodesh. Also the names of the angels are in Lashon HaKodesh, for example Gavriel is called for his mightiness and Rephael means healing, and many angels’ names end with the letter E-l, one of Hashem’s names to teach us that His name is partnered with them…. This is the language with which the world was created as our rabbis have taught, ‘The world was created with Lashon HaKodesh as it says, ‘For this she is called isha (woman) because from ish (man) she was taken’ (Breishis 2:23, See Breishis Rabba 18:6). The proof to this is from the naming of Adam, Chava, Kayin and Hevel which are all Loshon HaKodesh as well as all the other names [in the Torah]. This will be the language that all the nations and different dialects will use in the future in the times of Moshiach as it says ‘And then it will change for the nations, a clear language for all to call out the Name of Hashem, to serve Him in unity’ (Tzefania 3:9).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The dialect of Hebrew used by the Torah, called Lashon Hakodesh, makes sense to be called a holy language since it is literally Hashem’s language, which he used to write the Torah, create the world, talk with others, and to name His creatures, as well as his own seventy names. It will also be the universal language when all the nations repent and return to serving Hashem, speedily in our days. Such a divine means of communication and vehicle of creation naturally deserves to be called holy. However the shekel, which is used specifically for only a few mitzvos out of 613; and not to take any value away from these mitzvos, but they are not major mitzvos which are constantly done or of obligatory nature. The half-shekel was given once a year for the ages of men 20 and up; pidyon haben, redeeming the first born, is only for those who are a first born male, yisrael (a non levi or kohen) and not born via a c-section; erechin is an optional mitzvah. So why was the shekel singled out to be called the Shekel HaKodesh, the holy shekel?
The Rabbeinu Bachye said that mitzvos are the essentials of holiness. We must internalize and appreciate what that means. It must be that the mark every mitzvah has on creation makes such an impression that it can transform a regular coin into a holy coin even if it is only used for a few types of mitzvos.
The lesson to inculcate in ourselves is the appreciation of the opportunity of serving Hashem with His mitzvos, and how we can use them to change ourselves and the world, imbuing everything with holiness.