Author Archives: Shimshon S. Siegel

About Shimshon S. Siegel

Shimshon Stuart Siegel is studying for rabbinic ordination at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva in the Judean Hills.

The Coin of Fire

Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

Parashat Ki Tissa opens with God commanding Moses to take a census of the Children of Israel by collecting a half-shekel coin from each adult. The silver from these coins is to be used to make the sockets that hold the planks of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that will be God’s sanctuary among the people (Rashi on Exodus 30:15-16).

canfei nesharimThe previous two Torah portions, Terumah and Tetzaveh, featured detailed instructions for the construction of the Mishkan and all its utensils. At the beginning of Parashat Terumah, God tells Moses to call for a donation of precious goods to be used in the project:

“…gold, silver, and copper; and turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tahash skins, acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings… (Exodus 25: 3-7)”

The silver half-shekel, which is to be used to make the very foundation of the Mishkan, is not proscribed until now, two portions later. What is unique about these coins that they are not listed with the other materials donated in Terumah?

Wealth in Egypt

coin of fireThe Midrash says that God showed Moses a half-shekel coin made of fire and said, “Like this one shall they give (Rashi on Exodus 30:13).” The Noam Elimelech explains that money is like fire; it can be used to create, protect, and nourish, or it can be used to harm and destroy. The silver half-shekel stands at the opening of our Torah portion as a warning of the potential dangers of wealth.

Many of the donations for the Mishkan came from the great wealth that the Israelites, following God’s command, requested and were given from their Egyptian neighbors as they were preparing to leave slavery.

In Biblical times, Egypt, more than any other nation, was noted for its prosperity. The thought of Egypt evoked massive pyramids and palaces, heavily adorned with gold and precious materials. The yearly flooding of the Nile produced fertile soil that was farmed to feed vast populations. Not coincidentally, in the Book of Genesis, both Abraham and Jacob go to Egypt when there is famine in the Land of Israel.

All That’s Gold Doesn’t Glitter

Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

The Torah portion Tetzaveh continues the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, or Sanctuary, which were begun in last week’s portion, Terumah. The Mishkan is the center of the Israelite camp, the locus of the Divine Presence on earth, and the precursor of the Temple in Jerusalem. Appropriately, the instructions feature a long list of rare metals, fine skins and fabrics, precious gems and gold. A lot of gold.

canfei nesharimIn the Torah portions Terumah and Tetzaveh, gold is mentioned nearly 50 times–far more than any other material. Gold covers most of the Mishkan and its furniture, including the Holy Ark, which is topped with two solid gold cherubs. The High Priest, who leads the service of the Mishkan, is draped in gold: gold chains, gold bells, gold rings, gold settings for precious stones; there is even gold woven into the fabric of his garments. A solid gold headplate crowns the ensemble.

Such a finely adorned sanctuary and spiritual leader would not be out of place in our own time. Our society has a passion for gold and jewelry. We mark significant life transitions with jewelry. We regard finery as a symbol of sophistication, love, and inherent worth.

The Impact of Gold

But today, behind every gold ring are literally mountains of toxic waste and trails of destruction. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hard rock mining, which includes, although is not limited to, the mining of gold, releases almost half of all toxic pollution in the US, with a clean-up cost in the tens of billions of dollars.

Gold mining utilizes toxic chemicals, releases harmful elements previously bound up in the rock ore, and consumes massive amounts of water. Here are just a few examples of problems associated with gold mining:

The planet’s bulk gold deposits have nearly been depleted, so many of today’s mines use a process known as heap leaching. To produce one ounce of gold, at least 26 tons of ore must be mined from the earth, and then a cyanide-solution is poured over the mound to separate the gold from the rock so the miners can collect the remaining microscopic gold particles.

A Paradigm for Environmental Consciousness

Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

While still in the Garden of Eden, humans, animals, and plants lived in harmony, according to God’s desire for the world. After the Fall, maintaining this harmony became a great toil: the earth outside the Garden was thorny and tough; man and beast became adversaries.

canfei nesharimAfter a few generations all life on the planet had “corrupted (hishchit) its way on the earth.” (Genesis 6:12) In our parashah, God decides to wash the slate clean and begin creation over from scratch: “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created…for I regret that I made them.” (Genesis 6:7) But one man’s righteousness compels God to spare a small sector of life: “Noah found favor with the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)

Although environmental issues are not directly expressed in the parashah, when we take a deeper look at Noah, seeing him through the eyes of Midrash and various rabbinic commentaries, we can discover a portrait of a man who spent his life innovating a lifestyle of environmental harmony and Divine awareness.

Environmental awareness is an aspect of the mitzvah known as Bal Tashchit–Do Not Destroy. Noah, the one man who had not corrupted the world, became the pioneer of Bal Tashchit in the world–when he built the ark, the vessel that would preserve the planet’s animal life in the face of the total destruction of the environment.

Noah and his family faced incredible hardship and challenge as they fought the tide of destruction. A fresh look at the life of Noah can provide us many lessons as we strive to bring our world back to a state of holy balance. What can we learn from Noah’s efforts?

The Patient Educator

Caring about the environment requires patience and forethought. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 30:7) says that 120 years before the Flood, Noah actually planted the trees from which he would take the wood for the ark (no old-growth logging here)! Aware of the massive resources that his project would demand, Noah tried to be as self-sustaining as possible.