Nothing is certain but death and taxes.
If you thought this idiom applied to you but not your ancestors, look no further than this week’s Torah portion to see otherwise.
This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.Shemos 30:13
Every man of Israel had an obligation to give half of a silver shekel every year to pay for communal offerings brought in the Mishkan or Temple.
What is interesting, is not that the Torah mandated taxes (how else does a large group provide services to it’s members), but the type of tax given here.
The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel…Shemos 30:15
This is not a percentage tax like we might expect, where those with more to spare contribute more. This is a flat tax where every Israelite, rich or poor, would give the same amount.
Not that the Torah is opposed to percent taxes. In fact, most of the taxes mentioned in the Torah: tithes to the poor, the cohens, the levis, etc, do increase based on the amount of land, cattle, produce, etc that you have in the first place. So why here, does the Torah give a flat tax?
The Sefer HaChinuch explains that G-d wanted each of us to have an equal part in the offerings. That when the cohen would buy a goat to atone for us, there was just as much chance he used my silver coin as Michael Bloomberg’s to pay for it.
Other types of taxes/charity might be about solving the most problems, so we encourage the wealthy to give more. But the Half Shekel donation is about our portion with G-d. Everyone deserves an equal portion in that.
We are, all of us, G-d’s people. And this type of tax I’d gladly pay, to be counted as an equal with all of you.
Rabbi Altonaga and the JET Team