Many years ago, when I was in high school, I gave someone a loan. It was not a large loan, only 10 shekel, ~$5 at the time. When he returned the money to me, it was in the form of small change. This really annoyed me and I made sure to make him aware of that fact! Who wants a bunch of coins?!
In this week’s parsha, we read about the Machzit HaShekel, the Half-Shekel Donation that each household gave, once a year, to the Temple for the purpose of purchasing animals for communal sacrifices. Maimonides (Rambam) writes that the donation is only to be given in the form of a single half-shekel coin, not with a variety of smaller denominations making up the same value.
In regard to charity, why should this matter? We often put pennies in the pushka (tzedaka box) — institutions are happy to get this and use it, regardless of the form in which it was given. Why is the Machzit HaShekel different?
The Talmud brings the Mishnah (regarding sacrifices) that one who does or gives much and one who does or gives little are equal when they both have the intent in their heart that the sacrifice is for the sake of Heaven (Menachot 110a). Why, then, in this context, is it necessary that the Machzit HaShekel donation be given with a very specific coin, of a very specific value? If a person only has the amount in smaller coins, why should he have to go to the bank and get the right coin in order to give this donation?
The answer lies in the essence of this donation. This money is used to buy the daily offerings, sacrifices that the whole nation shares equally. In order for the whole Jewish people to share this offering completely, everyone gives the exact same amount in the identical form. Every Jew, no matter how poor, knows that through this donation, he is the equal of the richest of the nation; the wealthy, likewise, know that they are not innately better than the poorest of Israel.
The truth is that we are all equal and we are all essential parts of the whole that is Am Yisroel, the Jewish nation. This awareness of our part in the oneness of the Jewish nation is integral to the concept of the daily, public sacrifices, and symbolizes our unique national relationship to service of Hashem.