by the Reisha Rav, HaGoan Rav Aaron
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Whoever the court finds guilt shall pay double to his fellow. (Shemos 22:9)
Chazal teach us that the half shekel was paid as atonement for the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Yerushalmi Shekalim 4:3). This is hinted at in the posuk the wealthy shall not increase and the poor shall not decrease from the half-shekel to give the portion of Hashem to atone for your souls (Shemos 30:15). We may ask, what connection is there between the sin of the golden calf and the half shekel that every Jew was obligated to give?
The posuk tells us that exactly three thousand people died as a result of worshiping the golden calf (Shemos 32:28). The Torah in parshas bechukosai gives the erech value for a male between the age of twenty and sixty as fifty shekalim. Thus, the loss of three thousand lives was equal to the loss of fifty-shekalim times three thousand which equals one hundred and fifty thousand shekalim. The number of adult Jewish men at the time of the sin of the golden calf was approximately six hundred thousand. It was these same men who were obligated to give the half shekel as the posuk says in connection to the half shekel Everyone who passes among the counted from the age of twenty years and up shall give the portion of Hashem (Shemos 30:14). A simple calculation shows that the total collected from all the half shekelim equaled exactly three hundred thousand shekalim.
If we take the above together with our posuk that
teaches that the guilty party must pay double, we can understand
why each individual was obligated to pay precisely a half-shekel.
Although only three thousand people actually worshiped the golden
calf nevertheless the entire Jewish people were responsible for
this awful sin. The rule that every Jew is responsible for his
fellow Jew applies to spiritual matters as well as the mundane
and thus the Jewish people as a whole were guilty of not
restraining and preventing their brethren from sinning.
Therefore, because they were guilty they were obligated to pay
double the loss. This is hinted to in our posuk, which may
now be homiletically interpreted as Whoever the court [of
Heaven] finds guilty shall pay double [of account of] his fellow.
Double the loss equaled three hundred thousand shekalim.
Those who were guilty were six hundred thousand and an equal
distribution equals a half-shekel per person.