Thursday, March 16, 2006

Parshas Ki Sisa

ויאמר ד' אל משה קח לך סמים נטף ושחלת וחלבנה סמים ולבנה זכה ... ועשית אתה קטרת (30:34-35)

At the end of the morning prayers on Shabbos, and daily according to some customs, we recite a passage describing the contents and making of the incense which was brought in the Beis HaMikdash, but we precede it with a declaration of faith in the Unity and Might of Hashem known as אין כאלקינו. As beautiful as this passage is, it is curious to note that there is no similar introduction to be said before the numerous sections recounting other sacrifices which were brought there.

The Gemora in Yoma (26a) relates that no Kohen was allowed to offer the incense more than once in his entire life. Because this service contained a special power to bring riches to whoever merited to perform it, nobody was permitted to do so a second time. Based on this, the Noda BiYehuda (Orach Chaim 1:10) posits that because – in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash – one who recites the passages dealing with the sacrifices is considered as if he actually brought them, this daily recounting of the incense service contains a unique potential to bring wealth to the one reciting it. The Rabbis were afraid that he may naturally attribute his good fortune to כחי ועוצם ידי – his own hard work and intelligence – and therefore required that before doing so, he must declare to himself and to the entire world the Oneness of Hashem as a reminder of the true Source of the wealth he is about to merit!


ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל בן אורי בן חור למטה יהודה ואמלא אתו רוח אלקים בחכמה

ובתבונה ובדעת ובכל מלאכה לחשב מחשבת לעשות בזהב ובכסף ובנחשת (31:2-4)

A fundraiser for the Volozhin yeshiva once returned from his rounds and informed the Rav Chaim Volozhiner, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva, that a certain wealthy benefactor had ceased his donations. Rav Chaim made a point of going to visit the supporter to find out the cause. The man explained that he was happy to share his wealth in order to assist the yeshiva in paying for necessities which allow the students to learn properly, but he had no interest in using his money to purchase frivolous luxuries such as the new clothes and wagon being used by the yeshiva’s collectors.

Rav Chaim responded by quoting our verses and asking the man to explain a difficulty. After Hashem says that He will fill Betzalel with Divine wisdom, which our Rabbis teach us includes the deep mystical knowledge with which Hashem created the universe, what purpose is there in adding on that He will also teach him the mundane skills to work with metals? Relative to the aforementioned ability, what kind of praise is this? The man was at a loss to answer.

Rav Chaim continued and explained that every single contributor to the Mishkan wished that his individual donation should find its way into the most holy components, such as the Aron. However, Hashem recognized that not all of their intentions were equally for the sake of Heaven, and desired that the holiness of the use of each donation should correspond to the purity with which it was given. It is this profound wisdom which the Torah refers to in relating that Betzalel additionally knew how to discern the intentions of each item’s contributor and to assign its use and location accordingly, something which is indeed a tremendous praise.

Similarly, Rav Chaim concluded, everybody wants his individual donation to the yeshiva to be used for the loftiest purposes. Unfortunately, nobody today is on the spiritual level of Betzalel in order to determine the purity of motive of the supporter. Nevertheless, Hashem in His ultimate wisdom, continues to insure that every ruble is directed in accordance with the motivation of the benefactor. Hashem will see to it that if your intentions are truly noble, then your generous contribution will surely be put to use for holy purposes, if only you will reconsider your decision – something the man was happy to do!


סרו מהר מן הדרך אשר צויתם עשו להם עגל מסכה וישתחוו לו ויזבחו לו ויאמרו

אלה אלהיך ישראל אשר העלוך מארץ מצרים ויאמר ד' אל משה ראיתי את העם

הזה והנה עם קשה ערף הוא ועתה הניחה לי ויחר אפי בהם ואכלם (32:8-10)

Rav Meir Chodosh and Rav Moshe Sternbuch point out that even the terrible sin of making and appearing to worship the golden calf didn’t arouse enough Divine wrath to warrant the annihilation of the Jewish people. Only after Hashem adds that they are also a stiff-necked people does he conclude that they are deserving of eradication. This is because no matter how grave a sin one may commit, it is always possible to repent one’s actions and correct one’s ways. No matter how wicked a person may have been until now, the gates of repentance are never fully closed to him. However, this is dependent on his open-mindedness and willingness to critically consider his actions and examine his ways. Once Hashem notes that besides having committed a terrible sin, the Jewish people are additionally stubborn and inflexible, there is no longer a chance that they will be willing to admit the error of their ways and correct their misdeeds. Only at this point is their fate sealed.

Similarly, when looking into a person who has been suggested as a prospective match, the Chazon Ish advised that it is impossible to fully examine every attribute, viewpoint, and philosophy of the person in question (though that doesn’t stop many from trying). Therefore, in addition to making a good-faith effort to clarify the most important issues, it is also critical to find out whether the person is intransigent in their thinking. No matter how similar and appropriately-matched two people may seem to be, there will inevitably arise differences of opinion and style in confronting life’s issues and challenges. As long as each person is open-minded and flexible, willing to honestly listen to and understand the viewpoint of the other and then reconsider his own, this needn’t be a cause for concern. However, if one spouse is stubborn and set in his ways, refusing to even consider alternate viewpoints, this presents a tremendous danger to the future peace and harmony in his home, and the Chazon Ish advised that one should stay far away from such a match!


ויפל מן העם ביום ההוא כשלשת אלפי איש (32:28)

The Torah states that the Levites killed 3000 Jews for their role in the sin of the golden calf. There is a very perplexing Medrash on our verse, which states that our verse illustrates that which the Torah rules (21:37) חמשה בקר ישלם תחת השור – when a person steals an ox and subsequently slaughters or sells it, he must compensate the owner five times the actual value of the ox. On the surface, the Medrash seems to make no sense, as this latter verse has no apparent connection to ours.

The Vilna Gaon beautifully explains that our Medrash can be understood based on a second Medrash. Shlomo HaMelech cryptically writes in Koheles (7:28) אדם אחד מאלף מצאתי ואשה בכל אלה לא מצאתי – one man out of each 1000 I found, but not a single woman did I find. The Medrash elucidates that he is referring to the sin of the golden calf, in which one out of each 1000 men sinned, yet not a single woman participated. However, we know that there were roughly 600,000 men, and if only one out of 1000 of them transgressed, that translates to only 600 sinners. The Medrash is therefore bothered how our verse could relate that 3000 people died if only 600 participated. To that, it answers that when the sin occurs through forbidden actions involving a cow – in this case, the golden calf – the Torah prescribes that the punishment must be five times the actual crime, and in this case five times the 600 sinners is precisely the 3000 people who were killed!


ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת (32:32)

The Arizal writes that Moshe Rabbeinu contained within him a spark of the soul of Noach, and part of his life mission was to rectify certain mistakes made by Noach. The Zohar HaKadosh notes that the Haftorah for Parshas Noach curiously makes reference to מי נח – “the flood-waters of Noach” (Yeshaya 54:9). Noach was the only one found righteous and worthy of salvation in his generation, so it would presumably have been more appropriate to refer to it as the flood of his wicked contemporaries. However, during the 120 years that he spent building the ark, he neglected to pray for their repentance, nor did he successfully influence even a single person to repent his evil ways. Had he been more concerned about them and not sufficed with his own personal piety, he likely could have prevented the flood and its accompanying destruction; hence, it is memorialized as “the flood of Noach.”

Moshe, containing some element of Noach’s soul, came to correct this misplaced lack of concern for others. Moshe Rabbeinu was the antithesis of Noach. Although Divine Providence brought him to Paroh’s palace where he was spared the fate of his fellow Jews, he nevertheless felt their pain from his youth and embarked upon his mission as their communal leader, often sacrificing his own personal growth and honor for their sake.

The 120 years that Noach spent absorbed in ensuring his own personal salvation through the building of the ark were perfectly rectified during Moshe’s 120 years of living for others. We witness Moshe’s ultimate dedication to his people after the sin of the golden calf. Hashem desired to eradicate the current Jewish population and to create a new nation consisting solely of Moshe’s descendants. The Darkei Mussar notes that Moshe had every right to be upset with his stiff-necked people, whom he found not mourning but celebrating what they perceived as his death and their replacement of him with an inanimate object. Nevertheless, he beseeched and implored Hashem to forgive their actions, adding that should He refuse to do so, then He should also erase Moshe from the entire Torah. This selflessness represented the ultimate correction of Noach’s errors, and not surprisingly this is hinted to as the letters in מחני (“erase me”) also spell מי נח!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The seven aliyos into which each parsha is subdivided are generally somewhat evenly spaced. However, this week’s parsha contains 139 verses, yet the first two aliyos contain a highly-disproportionate 92 verses, or two-thirds of the entire parsha. Why is this? (Chiddushei HaRim)

2) The Torah forbids us (30:32) to make an exact replica of the anointment oil made by Moshe Rabbeinu. However, the Gemora in Kerisos (5b) states that even Moshe wasn’t able to make it by natural means and required miracles to successfully produce it. If so, anybody attempting to duplicate his formula will surely fail, so how is the Torah’s prohibition ever applicable? (Darash Moshe, Kuntres Kol Torah Nissan 5762 pg. 70 quoting Rav Shach, M’rafsin Igri)

3) Rashi writes (32:29) that through their righteousness during the sin of the golden calf, the tribe of Levi earned the right to serve in the Temple instead of the first-borns. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that even today, it is a great merit to be a first-born and this is still considered to be a spiritual advantage relative to other Jews. Where do we find that this is legally taken into account to give a first-born precedence due to his additional holiness? (Mishnah Berurah 128:22)

4) Rashi (32:34) quotes the Gemora in Sanhedrin (102a) which states that all suffering which befalls the Jews throughout history is partially a punishment for the sin of the golden calf. How can this be reconciled with that which Rashi writes later in the parsha (34:7), that even when one’s descendants continue in his evil ways, they will only be punished for their forefather’s actions for a maximum of four generations? (Yad Av)

5) Rashi writes (34:29) that Moshe descended from Mount Sinai with the second Tablets on Yom Kippur. If so, how was Moshe permitted to carry the Tablets, which is one of the creative labors forbidden on Yom Kippur? (Rinas Yitzchok and Tzafnas Paneiach Devorim 10:5, Panim Yafos)

6) According to the opinion that the reading of Parshas Parah is a Torah obligation, is a woman required to come to the synagogue to hear it as she customarily does for the reading of Parshas Zachor? If not, what is the difference? (Moadim U’Zmanim 2:168)


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