The new masechet, masechet Shekalim, opens by explaining that on the first of Adar, beit din would send messengers throughout Israel to announce that everyone must bring their half-shekel. Bartenura explains that since on the first of Nisan, one month later, the korbanot ha’tzibur (public offerings) were to be offered from these new funds, everyone was given thirty days to supply the yearly obligatory fixed amount. This being the case, one might think that we are learning this masechet prematurely. We are currently learning the seder (order) of Moed which has a strong focus on the festivals. It would seem that Shekalim is more suited to be found in seder Kodshim that deals with the korbanot. The Rambam too follows the pattern of the Mishnah by placing Shekalim as part of Zemanim instead of Korbanot. Why is it here?
Rav Osher Weiss, in the Minchat Asher, explains that really the essence of the mitzvah of Machatzit HaShekel is not simply a means of funding the korbanot, but rather the giving it its own right. The Rambam writes about the machatzit ha’shekel in his Sefer Ha’Mitzvot (171) as follows:
Mitzvah 171 is that we have been commanded to give a half-shekel every year. As it states, “…every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them”…
Once again, it is listed amongst the laws of the festivals. Furthermore, the Minchat Asher notes that this mitzvah is explained differently to other mitzvoth,*like building the Beit HaMikdash and wearing the priestly garments, where the Rambam writes that they were “for avodah”.The absence of this expression when listing machatzit hashekel strengthens the assertion that the mitzvah* is simply to give.
He continues by explaining that the Rambam later teaches (Shekalim 4:1) as follows:
The trumat ha’lischa (the funds that were taken) what would they do with it? Purchase korbanot.
We find that the fact that it was used for korbanot is a law in the trumat ha’lishcha and not that which defined the mitzvah of machatzit ha’shekel.
The Minchat Asher brings a further proof. The Rambam writes there is only a mitzvah of machatzit hashekel in the times of the Beit Ha’Mikdash. The Smag bases this law on a pasuk. What is the need for a pasuk? If the machatzit ha’shekl was brought only for the purpose of korbanot then it should be obvious that if there are no korbanot then there is not mitzvah. If however it is a mitzvah independent of korbanot then we can understand why a pasuk is required.
We find therefore that since the mitzvah of machatzit ha’shekel is not defined by its funding the yearly korbanot, but rather seen independently as a yearly contribution, it is aptly found in the seder of Moed.
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