The Power of The Community
Why would a counting of males twenty years and older cause a plague, and how would the paying of the half-sheqel protect the people from this?
Every male of military age, besides for Levites, contributed equally towards the silver for the sockets and hooks of the Qodesh, the inner sanctuary:
“The silver of the community numbers was one hundred talents…One hundred talents of the silver were used for casting the sockets of the Holy and the sockets of the dividing curtain; one hundred sockets out of one hundred talents, one talent for each socket. And out of the one thousand seven hundred and seventy five [shekels] he made hooks for the pillars, and he covered their tops and banded them. (Shemot 38 21-28).”
The sockets held the boards together, while the hooks held up the curtains. Without the sockets and the hooks the Mishkan could not stand. These were the fundamental joints which held up the Qodesh. Everyone was an equally integral part of the foundation of the Mishkan. Additionally, these donations had to be the exact same amount of silver, no matter one’s status in the community: “The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel (30:15).” The effect was that everyone joined together as one unit, having an equal part of the group. Their shared donations led to one single vehicle to relate to God as the group. No one had a VIP pass because of their wealth, and no one was limited because of their lack of funds.
Similarly, everyone enters a synagogue as an equal part of the sibur no matter their status or importance in society outside of the synagogue. Thus they are praying as a qehila, and having their prayer consistently heard. This is the case even if there are transgressors amongst the group. This was articulated by Rambam:
“Communal prayer is always heard. Even when there are transgressors among [the congregation], the Holy One, blessed be He, does not reject the prayers of the many. Therefore, a person should include himself in the community and should not pray alone whenever he is able to pray with the community (Mishne Torah Hilkhot Tefila 8:1).”
When one is part of a group, the individual’s strengths coalesce creating a strong group, while their weaknesses are not as apparent. The transgressors, as well as the other individuals who have their flaws, are protected by the merits of the group. Counting calls attention to each individual and their imperfections. To be protected from scrutiny, one joins the group, not standing out to be examined.
Our Hakhamim give a mashal of a single stick versus a bundle. The single stick can be easily broken, even by a small child, but within the bundle, that stick is difficult to break. The donation of the half-sheqel joined each household into a larger group, creating a ‘bundle,’ that protected the individuals. Our nation consists of all types of people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. If we view each other as equal participants in our community and guarantee each other’s welfare, we will find success in our numbers, see our redemption, and Penei haShekhina.
Rabbi Meyer Laniado