- Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz
Ki Tisa, 5779/2019~"What Half You Done For Me Lately"
Tish Talk” by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz
Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table
Our Parashah opens up with the very interesting Mitzvah of the ”Half Shekel”, which was an annual collection of never more than an exact HALF Shekel (silver), which according to some experts, had to literally be a “whole shekel broken in half”. The funds went towards the community sacrifices brought on behalf of all of Israel. I am sure you have heard the oft cited and beautiful idea that the “half” aspect of the Mitzvah represents the idea that only when we as individuals recognize that each of us is not an "island" and acknowledge that we all need, complement and “complete” each other, will achieve real unity and merit true success as a nation. But I have a different twist on this to share with you this Shabbos.
I think that the half shekel contribution reflects the understanding that no matter how much one is firm about his/her own beliefs, thoughts and positions, one should never forget that such ideas stem from one's uniquely personal perspective, reflecting one's own view, background, mindset. In other words, we often only view things from our HALF of the room. It is the person with the uniquely developed character, who can recognize this, and be able to “step over the threshold to the other side of the room", and see things from another viewpoint, or from many divergent outlooks. The Half Shekel, representing our communal sacrifices through which we literally atone for each other’s sins, MUST come from the ability to actually “step into the shoes” of our neighbors and not only empathize, but feel and understand the heart of our sisters, brothers, neighbors, friends. To merit ultimate connection and redemption, we cannot afford to be limited by our own myopic view of the world.
Following up on last week’s Tish Talk referencing the recent LA ART SHOW that prominently highlighted a horrifically inflammatory art piece depicting Israel, I had the opportunity to articulate this idea in an exciting communication I had this week with Mr. Daniel Richter, the artist whose work depicting Israel as the "Third Reich" in a “Map" of the Middle East was publicly displayed. Artist Richter, who thankfully responded to the public discussion about his art, shared: (quote)
“Your interpretation fetches neither what i intended nor what is to be seen on that print. which is in fact meant as a criticism of the bigot way of scrutinizing/criticising israel popular not only in germany,but all over europe left and right. the idea was to get the (german) viewer to identify with the situation israel is facing,surrounded by enemies and under constant attack on different levels...I am horrified to understand this has not only been misunderstood (to be expected, given topic & image) but completely false interpreted...needless to say, i have not the slightest interest in appearing as "anti-israel propagandist" since i despise ideas and activities of that kind..."
Gratifying as it is that Mr. Richter places himself on “our side” of the room (judging others favorably is a Torah-articulated Jewish value), it appears that the artist failed the “”Half Shekel” test: Was he so limited by his unique view of his art that he couldn’t see how the rest of the world would interpret a map of Israel in the shape of Hitler's (Yemach Shemo) Germany? I believe he himself acknowledged that failure and was saddened by it. Hopefully my belief will be proven correct by his commitment to ensure that this depiction no longer occurs.