KiTisa-Coin of Fire

In our parsha (KiTissa), we read about the sin of the golden calf.  As the Jews left Egypt and arrived at Mt. Sinai, Moshe went up the mountain in order to receive the ten commandments.  To some of the Jews encamped at the foot of the mountain, it seemed that Moshe was tallying for just a bit too long on the mountain. So, they called for a “golden calf” to be built, to take his place.  The group that actually gathered the gold and made the calf was small, but the rest of the Jews should have reined them in, and didn’t.  So, the entire Jewish people were held accountable for this grievous sin.

Nevertheless, Moshe “stood up” for the Jews.  Rather than let God replace the Jewish nation with Moshe’s own progeny, as God Himself suggested, Moshe said that he preferred to be taken “out of the book” entirely rather than sacrifice the Jewish people.  To this “chutzpah,” God agreed.  Moreover, he even offered the Jews a kapara, or way to make atonement, called the machtzit hashekel – a “half shekel coin” – that every Jew could give as atonement for the collective sin of the golden calf.

Moshe, being of an intellectual nature, could not refrain from asking God, what is the meaning of this coin, and how can it attain atonement for the Jewish people?  In answer, God showed him a “coin of fire.”  This seemed to satisfy Moshe, but it is not likely to satisfy most of us, who want to know what is the meaning of this fiery coin and how does it work to attain atonement for the Jews?

To begin with, the coin and the fire were the physical opposite of one another.  Metal comes from the earth, the lowest of the four elements (earth, water, air and fire). And the fire is the highest of the elements, so how is it possible to join the two of them together?  In order to understand, we have to know that every physical creation has a spiritual source.  Normally, they are separate and distinct, but the spiritual source influences, shapes and serves as a “model” for the physical matter below.

But, with the coin of fire, God wanted to show Moshe that the spiritual not only transcends and influences the physical from afar, but it also permeates and influences the physical object from within.  The greatest example of that is the soul and the body.  The spiritual soul far transcends the body, and yet it enters the physical body to enliven and guide it.  In the case of the fiery coin that God showed Moshe, he wanted to demonstrate that even if the coin (the body) is physical, it is permeated and motivated by a spiritual (fire) force within.  There is no such thing as a Jew without a soul.  The fire of the soul motivates the Jew and enables him to attach himself to God even while the soul is in the body. That was the lesson of the fiery coin.

What God demonstrated to Moshe was that even after the grievous sin of the golden calf, in which some Jews transgressed the most cardinal mitzvah of the Torah, not to worship avodah zarah (“idol worship”), nevertheless there is a soul of fire within every Jew.  Sometimes it is not so obvious and indeed it becomes completely hidden, but with some fire, it can be re-ignited.  The fire of the Jewish soul needs ignition, but it is never completely extinguished.  Thus, even after the sin of the golden calf, there was an atonement for the Jewish people via the half-shekel coin, whose spiritual source is in the element of fire above.

Another lesson from the coin of fire is that every mitzvah ignites a fire. Every mitzvah that we do transfers a spiritual current that has the ability to ignite a fellow human being, or ourselves.  For example, when we do the mitzvah of tzedaka and give a few coins, it has the ability to raise another person’s spirits and enable a poor person to feel better and “keep going.”  And that is the secret of the coin of fire.

For a longer, more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 26, pp 229-37

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