When you take a census of the children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them (30:12). Reb Meir Schapiro ZT"L explained in a novel way why making everyone contribute half a shekel when taking the census, saved them from any mishap which might have happened to them. The gemara relates, that originally there was no lottery carried out in the morning to decide which Kohen would merit the privilege of beginning the daily service in the Beis Hamikdash - the temple. The rule was, whichever Kohen reached the top of the Mizbeach (altar) first, would be the one to remove the ash from the altar, which was the first service of the day. This was replaced with a lottery system, when one morning, a Kohen who was overeager to win the race, pushed the Kohen who was ahead him off the altar, and in doing so, he broke his leg. When chazal saw that the old method was getting dangerous, they replaced it with a safer lottery system. When Moshe was instructed to count the people, there was a possibility that there would be a stampede towards Moshe's tent in order to fulfill the mitzvah of being counted. This would have been far too dangerous for the elderly and the general public who could get hurt in a tight crowd. Moshe was therefore instructed to tell everyone, that they should pay a half shekel in order to be counted. It is the nature of people, that they exercise care and caution before they part with their money. This ensured that they came in an orderly manner removing the possibility of any tragedy befalling the people when they were counted.

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