Monday, 28 October 2013

Shekalim 11 a, b

A quick run on today's daf:

We are introduced to how money is used from the fourth se'ah.  The rabbis question how and when we might actually increase the value of orphan's funds and funds for the poor.  They also discuss how artisans are paid for their work adorning the Temple when the deconsecration of items, like incense, is part of the process.  The rabbis look at money that is new and money that is leftover from the previous year.  They consider which coins should be used as payment for services rendered for the Temple rituals.  They also look at how animals, another form of tender, should be used.  We learn that consecrated items can be deconsecrated only with something/money that is unconsecrated.

All of this is interesting as the notion of consecration is such a magical notion.  We can make items holy by believing that they are holy; by putting them to use in divine contexts.  But how do we deconsecrate something?  Does the holiness leave once the item is no longer needed for its divine purpose?

To imbue an object with special power is a fantastical idea, no question.  When Jews pride ourselves on our understanding of G-d as the only G-d, how do we justify the creation of a hierarchy of spiritual essence?  And of course, we do this all of the time.  The Torah scroll is a great example.  We kiss it, we revere it; it is an object that almost emits a divine power.  And yet is is a creation of people with the generosity of cattle; it is entirely human and not at all G-d-like.  Why would a Torah scroll holy any greater inherent holiness than a tree, or even a chair?  We pour meaning into objects and words.  We consecrate them with our desire to find G-d in what is embodied; what is physical.

I find that the in-depth discussion of money, multiple offerings, and trading rules -- when mixed with the concept of sanctity -- leaves me both bewildered and intrigued.  I am utterly lost among the descriptions of different offerings and their interrelationships.  However, my mind wanders to the depth sitting right there, just below the coins.  All of this money, all of this talk of consecration - what was it for?  Clearly G-d could not sit in a throne of gold.  Why not pay the poor with the gold used to decorate the Temple?  How were people able to find the half-shekel when they had nothing?  And did enough money go to the poor?  Or, like in Toronto today, was the conversation always focused on road repair?

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