Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tax Me To The Limit Of My Revenues (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Money Money")

As we are just a few weeks from Pesach, it suddenly dawned on me that I need to start gathering all my income tax information and getting everything complete. Admittedly it is not just that Purim ended and Pesach preparations have begun which have reminded me of my legal obligations. We watch a lot of news in our house. When our children actually sit with me they will frequently ask questions. They don’t realize it, but it is a great way to educated young people in current affairs. In any case, the other morning I was drinking coffee and watching my favorite news show, when my son came bounding down the stairs and sat with me. It just so happened that the there was a discussion about the President, Congress, the Sequester, and the automatic budget cuts that were about to lop of some 85 billion dollars from a bloated budget.  As my son watched, the discussion turned towards the role of taxes. Could the budget deficit be eliminated by “taxing their way out?”, or by “cutting spending” only. As my son listened to the “talking heads”, my son asked me, why not do both, that would make the problem go away faster.  A few seconds later, the “talking heads” confirmed what my son said. Needless to say, he was rather excited that “experts” validated what he said. During the commercial, I explained that some political leaders think that when the government collects taxes, it is infringing upon our welfare and our freedom. I smiled and told him that I don’t normally vote for those kinds of leaders.

This week we read from Parsha Ki Tissa. As mentioned, we are a few weeks away from Pesach; we take note of that by reading the special Maftir Aliyah which focuses upon the Laws of the Red Heifer (Num. 19:1-22). The reason has to with the Pesach Offering. The ashes of the Red Heifer were sprinkled such that all of B’nai Yisroel would be deemed as purified and therefore able to bring the Pesach offering. Parsha Ki Tissa is divided into several parts. The first part being the commanded to take a census of the population and collect a half shekel for each person counted. The second part is the final blue prints for the Mishkan, the spices that are to be used, as well as the oil that is to be processed prior to burning. God then designates two men, Betzalel ben Uri from the tribe of Judah and Ahaliav ben Achisamach from the tribe of Dan to be the Master Builder and Designer of this national project. God re-iterates the commandment of the Shabbat and reminds Moshe that anyone who violates it will be put to death and his/her soul will be cut of from the people.  The next part Bnai Yisroel commits the sin of the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf): they built and then worshipped an idol. God wants to wipe out the people but Moshe urges God to reconsider. Moshe then descends the mountain and becomes just as upset as God, and he throws down the Shnei Luchot HaBritthe Two Tablets of the Covenant. After a day or two when calm has been restored, Moshe re-ascends the mountain in order to pray for national forgiveness. Moshe then has an opportunity to experience another personal revelation even more powerful than the Burning Bush; Moshe has the opportunity to witness God’s passing before him. Dictated by God, Moshe chisels the Aseret Diberot into two new Tablets. He then goes back down the mountain. This time he descends with light and glory of God emanating from him.

There are many powerful moments, and deep theological issues raised in this Parsha. Certainly it seems that the Census has very little to do with the rest of the Parsha. Yet the Census and the Machatzit HaSHakel, the half Shekel tax, is vital. V’Natnu Eish Kofeir Nafsho L’Adoshem Bifkod Otam V’Lo Yiheyeh Bahem Negef Bifkod OtamEvery man shall give Hashem atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be plague among them when counting them. Zeh Yitnu Kol HaOveir Al Hapkudim Machatzit HaSHekel B’Shekel HaKodesh Esrim Geirah  HaShekel Machatzit HaShekel Trumah La’AdoshemThis shall they give, everyone who passes through the census, a half shekel of the sacred shekel, the shekel is twenty geras, half a shekel as a portion to HaSHem (Ex. 30:12-13). It is not enough to just take a census by counting people as “one, two three…” Counting in such a manner merely relegates the individual to a numbered status. However contributing something, in this case a half shekel, the individual is not relegated to the status of number, but rather a contributor, an equal contributor to a cause like the next person. Poor or wealthy, it doesn’t matter. Everyone contributed the same amount. As a result everyone had an equal stake in the welfare of the community and the maintenance of the Mishkan. By casting individual gain and personal interest aside, and instead focusing upon the welfare of the entire community, every individual’s spiritual merit is merged into every other individual’s spiritual merit; the community becomes unified and thus able to withstand divine judgment and retribution.

            Certainly none of us takes great joy in watching our hard-earned income leave our pockets and go to the state/Federal government. Certainly none of us takes great joy in paying our dues or our “Voluntary Contribution” to the Synagogue. However when something goes awry in our lives, or we need help we want the government to be involved and helping. Imagine for a moment where we would be without a place to gather, to learn, to pray, or to educate our children. We would be swallowed up the larger more secular community and our collective Jewish identity would be greatly diminished.
Rav Yitz 

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