Misappropriating Machatzit Ha’Shekel

Shekalim (2:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 13 years ago

The Mishnah (2:2) discusses a case where one elected his friend as a shaliach to contribute his machatzit ha’shekel, but that friend handed it in for himself. The Mishnah teaches that if the trumat ha’lishcha has been taken, then his friend has violated the prohibition of meila. Meila refers unlawfully using sanctified property – property of the Beit HaMikdash. One how violates this prohibition is obligated to bring a *korban meila.*In addition he must repay the principle amount as well as an extra twenty-five percent of the principle value of the benefit gained (referred to as chomesh). 

Why is the prohibition only violated if trumat ha’lishcha is performed? Trumat ha’lishcah is where a portion of the collected funds are separated to finance the korbanot. At that time, it is separated not only for the money that is present in the treasury, but for all other funds still to be collected as well. This was so that the korbanot purchased from the separated money would be considered on behalf of the entire nation. Consequently in this situation once the machatzit ha’shekel his handed over to the shaliach it is considered hekdesh (Bartenura).

What benefit is being gained by the shaliach? The Tifferet Yisrael explains that it is not because the shaliach fulfils the mitzvah by using the coin, beacuse we have a principle that mitzvot lav lihanot nitnu. Instead, the Yerushalmi explains that the benefit gained is because Beit Din is able to forcefully seize a mashkon(collateral) from one that has not paid his machatzit ha’shekel and the shaliach is avoiding that scenario.

The Lechem Shamayim asks, what sum of money (plus chomesh) must the shaliach repay? Is it a half a shekel or is it the monetary value of not having had a mashkon taken from him? This case might be considered similar to the case where one wears a chain belonging to hekdesh. The Mishnah(Meila 5:1) rules that we estimate how much one would pay to wear such a chain for the period it was worn. This then seems to align with the second option above.

A further question asked is did the shaliach fulfil his obligation to give machatzit ha’shekel when he handed over the coin he was entrusted with? If not, according to the possibility that he must repay a half shekel, would fulfil his obligation then or is a further half shekel required? The Lechem Shamayim understands that the Rambam holds that the shaliach had fulfilled his obligation.1 

He continues by noting that if the shaliach had fulfilled his obligation then we find that two people fulfil their obligation with one coin! This might seem difficult. He explains that the sender fulfilled his obligation when he handed over the coin as it instantly transferred to the property of hekdesh. When the shaliach intended to use the coin for himself it became chullin – no longer hekdesh. Consequently the shaliach can then fulfil his obligation with that coin, albeit now obligated to repay the coin he stole from hekdesh(aligning with the first understanding).2 

He adds however that according to the second understanding, that the value repaid is that of avoid having a mashkon taken, it is clear the shaliach did not fulfil his obligation in the outset, because the coin never became chullin. Also the payment for meila would not satisfy despite most likely not equalling a half shekel. According to that understanding another half shekel would be required.

1 The following may be a proof for this understanding. The Yerushalmi says that the benefit gained is that Beit Din cannot come and take a mashkon. If the shaliach did not fulfil his obligation, then no such benefit was gained. That said the Yad Avraham cites R’ Shmuel that this benefit has been gained even if no mitzvah was fulfilled as would Beit Din would still not take a mashkon having been defrauded by the shaliach’s actions.

 Note that this understanding that the shaliach had fulfilled his mitzvah aligns with the commentaries that explain that the meila was not due to the benefit gained for performing a mitzvah as mitzvoth lav lihanot nitnu. If no mitzvah was performed, then there would be no need to raise this point.

2 Perhaps this still does not go against the Yerushalmi that explains that the benefit gained is avoiding having a mashkon taken. When the Yerushalmi asked “what is the benefit?’ it may not be asking how we are evaluating meila but what personal benefit is there that it can be considered shlichut yad


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