Updated: Dec 2, 2019
On the Shabbat, before we enter the month of Adar, we have a special reading that mentions the bringing of the Half Shekel Coin to the Temple. This time of year corresponds with the ancient times during the First and Second Temple periods, when the leaders of the nation reminded the people to prepare the Half Shekel contribution as they were about to ascend to Jerusalem for the feast of Pesach (Passover) in the month of Nissan, following Adar. The Half Shekel coin was used for the upkeep of the Temple - a Biblical Command.
Not only does this accentuate the importance of the upkeep (past and future) of the physical Temple as a central part in our worship to G-d, but also that all men stood as equals. Rich and poor alike had to give the same amount – a Half Shekel.
Before Coins Existed
The Shekel was more than a currency, it was a weight representing a certain value. Currency itself, as a bartering medium was only created around 600 BCE. This means that at the time when G-d commanded the People of Israel, during their sojourning in the Wilderness, to bring a half shekel for the upkeep of the Tabernacle and afterwards the Temple, that the shekel was in actual fact a weight, not a coin, as coins didn’t exist yet at the time.
Even in the word “Shekel” you can hear the word “scale” that we use today. In modern day Hebrew, when you inquire the price of an item you ask: “Kama ze oleh?” – literally: “how much does it go up?” This only makes sense if you have a scale weighing a certain object. So even in modern day Hebrew we stick to the ancient tradition.
Later during the second Temple period when currency was already in use, a Half Shekel coin was brought to the Temple.
During the ongoing excavations in Israel, and more so in the area of ancient Biblical Jerusalem, a concentration of these ancient coins have been recovered.
A Small Coin's Journey to America
The Holy (allocated for Temple-use and made of silver) Half Shekel coin weighed 7 grams. I had the honor to travel with one of these Holy Half Shekel coins to the US where I had to share the story of ancient Biblical Jerusalem's rise at a convention in Orlando. My colleague and I found a wonderful kosher restaurant where we dined every evening. One evening we showed the manager of the restaurant the coin as we had to keep the coin with us at all times. Upon seeing the coin, our orthodox Jewish restaurant manager hurried to bring a food scale from the kitchen. He placed the coin on the scale and the 2,000 year-old coin weighed exactly 7 grams. It was an amazing moment for all of us. It didn't come as a surprise when I saw, written in big letters on the wall of this cozy restaurant, the sentence: “Orlando is great, but Jerusalem is REAL!” This explains so deeply the 2,000 year-old yearning of every Jewish soul to return to Jerusalem. Which brings me back to the Half Shekel coin…
Small coin, Big Message
During the Great Revolt (66-70 CE), the Jews rebelled against the Roman occupation of their homeland, then known as Judea. As a sign of rebellion, the Jews took already existing Roman coins and reminted a new impression on them: “For the Freedom of Zion.” These coins were called “Zuzim,” meaning “to move,” since the nature of money (currency) is that it moves from hand to hand. As for currency in general in the ancient world, emperors and important people imprinted their images on coins, knowing that the coins will travel the world over. (Unlike today where a certain currency is bound to its country of origin). So too, these “Freedom of Zion” coins became small messengers proclaiming and demanding the liberation of Zion to the world. The freedom coins were produced in silver and bronze.
Striking these so-called freedom coins, was as serious a transgression as the revolt itself, as the minting of coins was an imperial privilege. Re-minting existing Roman coins was taking the revolt to another level altogether!
But the resistance did not prevail. During the summer of 70 CE, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem. A few weeks later, the Temple was captured and burned and the Holy city of Jerusalem was razed to the ground.
The Romans deliberately spared no effort in wiping out her identity; they renamed Jerusalem, calling her Aelia Capitolina. Even the foundations of the new city were intentionally set at a different angle than those of the former foundations of the Holy City. The Romans also changed the name of the entire region, calling it by a new name, Palestine.
Patiently Waiting for a More Opportune Time
Although a small Jewish presence remained in Jerusalem throughout the centuries, the Jewish people were separated from their Land. Hope of independence and Jewish sovereignty was put on hold until a more opportune time, compelling the Jewish nation to remain connected with Jerusalem and the Land of Israel via prayers and customs practiced during the darkest times of their exile. Three times a day, for almost 2000 years, they would pray facing Jerusalem, like Daniel in the Bible, praying to return to their Homeland and rebuild Jerusalem.
Then, after almost 2,000 years of exile, the year 1948 heralded in a new age – a nation was born in a day. It was a watershed moment in history that challenged millennia-old paradigms. Prophesies of the exiles returning, the desert beginning to bloom under the hands of its returning people – prophecies that were thought long-past their expiration date, suddenly came true, fulfilled in fast succession. The founding of the modern State of Israel was a game changer that influenced modern-day history; this small nation was reintroduced to the world stage, impacting it in a very big way.
A sense of closure came 19 years later during the Six Day War in 1967, when the Old City of Jerusalem was reunited and the City of David (ancient Biblical Jerusalem), situated outside the Old City walls, finally was in reach again.
During initial excavations of the ancient city, archaeologists came across many of these revolt-era coins. I’ve had the honor of receiving one of these precious bronze coins as gift, certainly one of my most precious possessions! Holding this ancient coin that proclaims the Freedom of Zion in my hand as I stand within my own return to the Modern-day Metropolitan City of Jerusalem, is a victory in itself.
Like its bearer, the coin has finally come full circle.
Are you aligned with Zion? Have you made a serious effort in understanding and appreciating this tremendous gift the Jewish People as well as the world has again been given? That Zion, ancient Biblical Jerusalem, is being liberated from the dust and ashes through ongoing excavations and that her rediscovery and -introduction to the world proclaims:
“...freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners that are kept bound through strength, … to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them a garland of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness;”
Isaiah 61: 1-3 paraphrased.
In short – if she can do it, you can do it!
Take an active step: Align With Zion TODAY.
Learn more about our Zion Script.
The word Zion in Hebrew, pronounced "Tzion".
Torah parchment made of leather.
Handwritten by an expert Torah Scribe
Made in Jerusalem.
ONE OF A KIND.