And the man took a golden ring, a half-shekel in weight; and two bracelets of ten shekels weight of gold for her hands

Genesis 24:22

“A half-shekel”—to allude to the shekalim contributed by the people of Israel, “a half-shekel per head”[1]

Rashi, ibid.

The first marriage of which we read in the Torah is the marriage of Adam and Eve. Theirs, of course, was a marriage wholly made in Heaven: G-d Himself created the bride, perfumed and bejeweled her, and presented her to the groom.[2] One does not get the impression that Adam was much involved in the selection process.

The first instance in which the Torah tells the story of a marriage achieved by human effort is in the chapter that describes the search for a bride for Isaac.[3] Here are detailed the workings of a conventional shidduch: a matchmaker (Abraham’s servant Eliezer), an investigation into the prospective bride’s family[4] and character,[5] a dowry,[6] the initial encounter between the bride and groom,[7] and so on.

The Torah, which often conveys complex laws by means of a single word or letter, devotes no less than 67 verses to the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. Many of the details are related twice—first in the Torah’s account of their occurrence, and a second time in Eliezer’s speech to Rebecca’s parents. For here we are being presented with a prototype to guide our own approach to marriage—both in the conventional sense as the union of two human beings, and in the cosmic sense as the relationship between G-d and man.[8]

Half of Twenty

One of the details which the Torah includes in its account is the fact that “a ring, a half-shekel in weight” was one of the gifts that Eliezer presented to Rebecca at their meeting at the well in Rebecca’s hometown in Aram Naharayim.

Our sages explain that this was an allusion to, and the forerunner of, the half-shekel contributed by each Jew toward the building of the Sanctuary. As G-d instructs Moses in the 30th chapter of Exodus:

Each man shall give the ransom of his soul to G-d…. This they shall give: … a half-shekel…. A shekel is twenty gerah; a half-shekel [shall be given] as an offering to G-d… The rich man should not give more, and the pauper should not give less, than the half-shekel…[9]

Why half a shekel? We know that, as a rule, “Everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table…. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions; as it is written,[10] ‘The choicest to G‑d.’”[11]

Thus, in many cases Torah law mandates that the object of a mitzvah (divine commandment) be tamim, “whole”: a blemished animal cannot be brought as an offering to G-d, nor can a blemished etrog be included in the “Four Kinds” taken on the festival of Sukkot. Even when this is not an absolute requirement, the law states that, whenever possible, one should strive to fulfill a mitzvah with a whole object. For example, it is preferable to recite a blessing on a whole fruit or a whole loaf of bread, rather than on a slice (hence our use of two whole loaves at all Shabbat and festival meals).[12]

Why, then, does the Torah instruct that each Jew contribute half a shekel toward the building of a “dwelling for G-d”[13] within the Israelite camp?

The Torah’s repeated reference to this contribution as a “half-shekel” is all the more puzzling in light of the fact that in these very same verses the Torah finds it necessary to clarify that a shekel consists of twenty gerah. In other words, the amount contributed by each Jew as “the ransom of his soul” was ten gerah. Ten is a number that connotes completeness and perfection: the entire Torah is encapsulated within the Ten Commandments; the world was created with ten divine utterances;[14] G-d relates to His creation via ten sefirot (divine attributes), and the soul of man, formed in the “image of G-d,” is likewise comprised of ten “powers.”[15] But instead of instructing to give ten gerah, the Torah says to give half of a twenty-gerah shekel, deliberately avoiding mention of the number ten and emphasizing the “half” element of our contribution to the divine dwelling in our midst.

Separated at Birth

For such is the essence of marriage. If each partner approaches the marriage   with a sense of his or her self as a complete entity, they will, at best, achieve only a “relationship” between two distinct, self-contained lives. But marriage is much more than that. The Kabbalists explain that husband and wife are the male and female aspects of a single soul, born into two different bodies; for many years they live distinct and separate lives, often at a great distance from each other and wholly unaware of the other’s existence. But divine providence contrives to bring them together again under the wedding canopy and accord them the opportunity to become one again: not only one in essence, but also one on all levels—in their conscious thoughts and feelings and in their physical lives.[16]

Marriage is thus more than the union of two individuals. It is the reunion of a halved soul, the fusion of two lives originally and intrinsically one.

To experience this reunion, each must approach his or her life together not as a “ten,” but as a “half.” This “half-shekel” consists of “ten gerah”—each must give their “all” to the marriage, devoting to it the full array of resources and potentials they possess. But each must regard himself not as a complete being, but as a partner—a part seeking its other part to make it whole again.

The Sanctuary

The half-shekel ring given to Rebecca for her marriage to Isaac was the forerunner of the half-shekel contributed by each Jew toward the building of the Sanctuary, the “marital home” in the marriage between G-d and man.

The soul of man is “part of G-d above”[17]—a part that descended to a world whose mundanity and materiality conspire to distance it from its supernal source. So even a soul who is in full possession of her ten powers is still but a part. And even when G-d fully manifests the ten attributes of His involvement with His creation, He is still only partly present in our world. It is only when these two parts unite in marriage that their original wholeness and integrity is restored.

So to build G-d a home on earth we must contribute half of a 20-gerahshekel. We must give ourselves fully to Him, devoting the full spectrum of our ten powers and potentials to our marriage with Him. But even as we achieve the utmost in self-realization in our relationship with G-d, we must be permeated with a sense of our halfness—with the recognition and appreciation that we, as He, are incomplete without each other.[18]

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shevat 27, 5715 (February 19, 1955)[19]

[1]. Exodus 38:26.

[2]. Genesis 2:21-22; Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 18:2; Avot D’Rabbi Natan, 4:3; Otiot D’Rabbi Akivah, Ot Zaddik.

[3]. Genesis 24.

[4]. “And Abraham said to his servant… ‘Do not take a wife for my son from the Canaanite daughters…. Go to my country and to my kindred….’” (ibid., vv. 2-4).

“And [Eliezer] said [to Rebecca]: ‘Whose daughter are you?’ … And she said to him: ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milkah, whom she bore to Nachor.’” (ibid., vv. 23-24).

[5]. “And [Eliezer] said… ‘Behold, I stand here by the well of water, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. Let it come to pass that the maiden to whom I shall say, “Pray, tip your pitcher so that I may drink,” and she will say, “Drink, and I will give your camels to drink also”—she is the one whom You have destined for Your servant, Isaac…’” (ibid., vv. 12-14).

[6]. “And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master and he went, with all the goods of his master in his hands” (ibid., v. 10). “And the servant took out vessels of silver, vessels of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebecca; he gave also precious things to her brother and mother” (ibid., v. 53).

[7]. “Rebecca and her maidens arose, and they rode upon the camels, and they followed the man….

“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at evening time; and he lifted up his eyes and he saw that, lo, camels were coming. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes and saw Isaac; and she fell from the camel. And she said to the servant: ‘Who is this man who walks in the field to meet us?’ And the servant said: ‘It is my master.’ And she took her veil and covered herself….” (ibid., vv. 61-65).

[8]. See Talmud, Eruvin 54a; Or HaTorah, Bereishit 25a.

[9]. Exodus 30:13-15.

[10]. Leviticus 3:16.

[11]. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Things Forbidden to Be Brought on the Altar7:11.

[12]. See Talmud, Berachot 39b.

[13]. Exodus 25:8; Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16.

[14]. Ethics of the Fathers, 5:1.

[15]. Sefer Yetzirah; Tanya, ch 3; et al.

[16]. Zohar, part I, 91b; part III, 7b, 109b and 296a; The Ari’s Likkutei Torah, Bereishit 15a.

[17]. Job 31:2; Tanya ch. 2.

[18]. Cf. Or Torah (by Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch), Bahalotecha; Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim 34d.

[19]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. III, pp. 926-930; Maamar Zeh Yitnu 5715.


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