HaShem spoke to Moshe, “Count Bnei Yisrael, but not directly. Instead, have every male over the age of 20, whether rich or poor, bring you exactly one half-Shekel of silver.”
No one has ever seen this half-Shekel coin. So how was Moshe supposed to know what it looked like? Moshe lifted his eyes to the heavens and a picture of a fiery half-Shekel appeared. Moshe now had a clear picture of this important commandment.
HaShem continued, “Count these coins and then it will be known exactly how many men survived after the sin of the Golden Calf. Then, melt down the silver and form them into 96 silver sockets which will hold the wooden beams of the Mishkan together. This will serve as an atonement; a forgiveness for their terrible sin.”
The Talmud tells us about the great difficulty Moshe had trying to understand how this half-Shekel looked. Only when HaShem displayed a flaming image of this half-Shekel in the heavens did Moshe understand.
Now, wasn’t Moshe an intelligent person? Why is the appearance of a half-Shekel so hard to understand, and why a flaming image?
It seems that something else was bothering Moshe. How could a simple coin cause HaShem to forgive the people for such a terrible sin of the Golden Calf?
With His fiery coin, HaShem answered this question, “It is not the money that brings forgiveness, but the fiery passion that I care most about.”
Indeed, when a person has a burning desire to reconnect to HaShem, HaShem will help him find his way.
HaShem does not allow us to count Jews directly. For example, when King Shaul wanted to find out how many Jews were in his kingdom, he counted them by means of stones. Every Jew gave him a stone and after counting the stones King Shaul knew the exact number.
Nowadays, to say the Kaddish or read the Torah in the synagogue, there must be 10 male Jews, ages 13 and up, in the same room. This group is called a Minyan. It may sound strange, but don’t be surprised when you hear someone “counting” – “not 1, not 2,” all the way to “not 10,” which means there are 10 people in the room – a Minyan!
Others count by using the words of a song – Hosheah Es Amecha, Uvarech Es Nachlasecha, Uriem Vna’asem Ad Olam. When they reach the final 10th word, Olam, they know they have a Minyan.
Still, other people use the “Blessing Method.” They “count” with the blessing we make on bread, which also has 10 words, “Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam HaMotzi Lechem Min HaAretz.” (BTW: This only works counting with the Hebrew words, because when translated in English – “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth” – a Minyan would be 17 people!)