Parshas Ki Sisa 5757 - 1997
Outline # 25
Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha
Most commentaries explain that the intent of making the Golden Calf was not idol worship, but to have a tangible entity for enhancing worship of Hashem (see Ramban, Kuzari). Why was it such an unforgivable crime?
Judaism maintains that G-d has no tangible components or aspects. With the verse "Shema Yisrael," we express this fundamental belief: Listen and understand, fellow Jews -- G-d is entirely one, has no counterparts or tangible aspects. The mitzvah to believe in Hashem alone was only given to the Jew; the nations of the world are not bound by this obligation, and it is not a crime for them to think that Hashem has partners. For the Jew, however, such a belief would be tantamount to idolatry. (Such a belief is called "Shituf," and a Jew may be required to give his life rather than admit to such a faith.)
For many people, it may be a quite a challenge to develop a faith and a service to G-d which is not dependent on any external need or craving. If the coffee helps you to concentrate, have your cup of coffee. But if you absolutely must have your coffee or you cannot serve, then the object of your service is no longer clearly discernible. Perhaps you are "serving" the coffee!
The generation that left Egypt did not intend the Golden Calf to be an object of idolatry. The image was merely symbolic of a spiritual force that could help direct their service to G-d. The fact that they required an intermediary, and could not serve Hashem directly -- caused that they lose the covenant that Moshe had negotiated, the Covenant of Israel.
This idea sheds some light on the difficult story of the "Akeidas Yitzchak" -- the Binding of Isaac on the altar. Avraham had to show that his devotion to his son was an aspect of his service to G-d, and not the reverse -- that he served because he wanted a son, or anything else.
It also helps to explain the forced servitude, exile and suffering decreed upon the Jewish People, all of which was told to Avraham.
Avraham, who began the Jewish nation, surely set the example for Israel. His life expressed the attitude of the continuation of the Shema: "You shall love Hashem you G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might..." As Pirke Avos states: "A love dependent on a material object is not a love."
Wine -- Or Happiness?
There are two laws regarding Purim festivities: drinking wine and rejoicing. One would think: surely, there is a connection between the two, as the verse says, "Wine causes man's heart to rejoice," and the Talmudic dictum: "There is no simchah other than wine."
The Sefer Halikutim found the Rambam's decision at odds with the Talmud. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Megilah 2:16): "One drinks until he becomes tipsy, and falls asleep." How is this compatible with the Talmud? "A person must imbibe on Purim until he cannot distinguish between 'Blessed is Mordechai' and 'Cursed is Haman.'"
The verses in the Megilas Esther (the Scroll of Esther) describing the decrees of Purim, mention "mishteh" and "simchah". "Mishteh" indicates festive eating, and of course, drinking -- all the miracles of Purim involved the "mishteh hayayin" the merry drinking of wine. "Simchah" means rejoicing. Why is it necessary to state both -- the merrymaking and the rejoicing? Surely the wine alone would bring about rejoicing, or the rejoicing alone should indicate wine?
From the repetition, the Sefer Halikutim deduced the following requirement: the "simchah" -- rejoicing -- must be independent of the "mishteh" -- festive eating and drinking. We must rejoice intrinsically, not because of an external stimulus.
This is why the Talmud says to drink until he doesn't know -- surely, this is not simchah! Similarly, the Rambam suggests to drink until he falls asleep -- sleeping, too, is not the simchah. Thus, the requirement of "simchah" is distinguished from the festive drinking.
In a similar manner, the Shev Shmaitisa explained ("b'derech drush" -- not the literal meaning of the verses) the complaints of the Israelites regarding the delicious mun (manna). The mun had a drug-like quality that intellectually stimulated. The people complained, and desired -- far from rebelling, they wanted to learn Torah out of their own free will and intellect, without the coerced impetus of the drug.
Why aren't there two days of Purim in the Diaspora, as there are for Yom Tov (festivals)? The legal compendium Mordechai (beginning of Tractate Megilah) provides a seminal answer. 1. It is considered that we are knowledgeable of the correct calendar. 2. There is a specific verse in the Megilas Esther (Scroll of Esther) that prohibits adding further days for the observance of Purim.
The Maharshal (quoted in commentaries to Shulchan Oruch, Orech Chayim 288) indicates that both points are necessary. (1.) We are knowledgeable of the correct calendar. If there had been a real doubt, we would nonetheless observe two days. Although (2.) the verse limits adding additional days, this is only where there isn't an actual doubt. Therefore (as discussed in the last issue), those dwelling in cities where there exists reasonable doubt as to whether they were walled in ancient days, indeed observe two days.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
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Last Revision: January 27, 1997