I can't tell you the depth of emotion that Volodymyr Zelenskyy's words stirred in me this morning. Although I probably don't need to tell you, because you were probably feeling many of the same things. Admiration and wonder. Trepidation and solidarity. Sorrow and rage.
Zelensky is the kind of leader everyone wishes they had. A leader who so fiercely loves his people that he stays. The fact that this Jewish man refused to abandon his people today, on Shabbat Shekalim, is not lost on me.
Let me explain.
This Sabbath is called Shabbat Shekalim, because it's the Sabbath when God's census command from Exodus 30 is read. But for this census, people weren't counted. Instead, their shekels were:
"This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight - twenty gerahs to the shekel - a half-shekel as an offering to the LORD. Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give the LORD's offering: the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less..." Exodus 30:13-15 JPS89
This collection became an annual thing, and on Shabbat Shekalim, that passage is read as a reminder that the collection is coming up in one month. There's so much I could say about the details of this census command, but that's for another day.
But today, what matters is the amount God told them to give: a half-shekel. And the question is: why did God even say “half a shekel?” Why didn't he just tell them to give twenty gerahs?
Well, the answer that rabbis have taught over the ages, is that by God saying we are counted by half of something, it’s a reminder that none of us is whole on our own. That it’s only when we join ourselves to God that we are spiritually whole. And that it’s only when we join ourselves to each other that we’re relationally whole.
We are counted whole, only when we are counted together. When we stand with one another and for one another.
That's the kind of leader that the Ukraine has today, and the kind of leader that the rest of the world can learn from. And the kind of human being that all of us can be inspired by.
Zelensky's defiant statement reflected the essence of Shabbat Shekalim: A refusal to be considered as a differentiated individual at a time of national accounting. A willingness to give up self for the survival of all. We Americans would do well to learn from this.
For those of us who are followers of Jesus as Messiah, the Cross is the ultimate embodiment of Shabbat Shekalim. But I pray that all of us - no matter who we are - as we watch and pray and do what we can to stop this invasion of the Ukraine, we’d think about God’s half-shekel command and President Zelensky’s words on this very Shabbath Shekalim. That we would consider what it means to refuse to be separated from one another. Even from people we don’t always agree with, or even always understand.
God has called us to be counted as a half-shekel. Incomplete without one another. Whole as we stand together. It’s a powerful and beautiful thing.
May there be shalom on this Shabbat.