Parshas Ki Sisa
1. The Negative Side of Individuality
The Torah states, "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying," 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. This shall they give...a
half shekel (Machtzis HaShekel)..." Rashi cites Chazal who explain that
the reason the census of the Jewish people was conducted through the
medium of the Machtzis HaShekel (half-silver coin) for every male above
the age of twenty, rather than simply counting them, was to prevent "a
plague" that would be caused by ayin ha'rah (evil eye). Whenever people
are counted as individuals, they are subject to ayin ha'rah, which brings
about plague. Therefore, the Jewish people needed the Machtzis HaShekel
for the purchase of communal offerings for atonement in order to ward off
the ayin ha'rah when they were counted.
The blessing that Yosef's children, Menashe and Ephraim, received from
their grandfather, Yaakov our Patriarch was, "May you proliferate
abundantly like fish in the midst of the land." Chazal explain that the
reason Yaakov chose a term which refers to the proliferation of fish
rather than simply giving them the blessing to increase abundantly, is for
one of two reasons: Firstly, there is nothing comparable to the
proliferation of fish. Secondly, since fish are concealed by the water and
are not seen by the human eye they are not subject to the evil eye. The
blessing to Yosef's children was that they should multiply at an unlimited
level and not be susceptible to the evil eye. One could say that the first
interpretation of Yaakov's blessing is contingent on the second. This
means that the reason they are able to increase in unlimited numbers is
that they are not subject to the human eye.
The Torah tells us that when Esav approached Yaakov's family, each of
Yaakov's wives came forth and bowed to Esav, followed by their children.
However, Yosef went before his mother Rachel to shield her from the gaze
of Esav, the rasha (evil person). He did not want him to gaze upon the
beauty of his mother. Chazal tell us that because Yosef shielded his
mother from the gaze of Esav, he merited the blessing from Yaakov of "Alei
ayin - You are above the eye," meaning that he was not susceptible to the
Another reason given by Chazal why Yosef merited the blessing of "Alei
ayin - You are above the eye," was because as the Viceroy of Egypt, he
would pass through the city in his chariot and all the women would gaze at
his beauty (he was the most handsome man who had ever lived). However, he
did not return their gaze. Chazal tell us, "Since his eye did not benefit
from anything that was not his, no eye could affect Yosef's existence."
In order for the aayin ha'rah (evil eye) to effect something the person
who is bring it about must have a semblance of an understanding of what he
is gazing upon. However, if a person looks upon something and does not
perceive or understand what he is seeing, he cannot affect it with the
evil eye. This is because what he is affecting, in essence, is not
actually what he is seeing. For example, if one gazes upon copper and
believes it to be gold, he will not affect it because the item is in fact
different from what he believes it to be. Yosef's being was of such a
dimension that it could not be comprehended nor understood because of his
Whatever one could perceive in Yosef was not even close to the reality.
Relatively speaking, Yosef was an unlimited person. Furthermore, anything
that Yosef associated himself with assumed a similar quality. For
example, as we see regarding the gathering of the grain in Egypt. The
bounty reached a point that it could no longer be quantified.
The Torah tells us that before the Jewish people entered into the Land of
Israel Moshe forewarned them not to be negatively affected by the great
bounty that they will have when they settle in the Land. The Torah
states, "Take care lest you forget Hashem, your G-d, by not observing His
commandments, His Ordinances, and His Decrees, which I commanded you
today..." The Torah is warning that one may come to forget Hashem as a
result of prosperity. After one has achieved great success he may say,"My
strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!" This is
something to which every human being is susceptible. When one experiences
great success, one wishes to attribute his accomplishments to his own
initiative. This will ultimately lead to one's downfall.
By attributing one's success to oneself and not to G-d, he is assuming a
position that is quantifiable because he and his success are one in the
same. By taking on this persona he is allowing himself to be susceptible
to the ayin ha'rah, because he has equated his success to himself.
However, if on the other hand one attributes his success to Hashem's
blessing, which is unrelated to himself but rather to an unlimited source,
he is not subject to the ayin ha'rah. He is not the basis for his
There is a Positive Commandment to accept upon oneself the yichud (unity)
of Hashem twice a day. This is brought about through the recitation of the
Shema in the morning and in the evening. The mitzvah of declaring the
unity of Hashem is in actuality a declaration that everything emanates
from Him because all existence exists only because of His Will. There is
nothing in existence that is not directly connected to Hashem. The
essence of everything is "echad" which is the concept of unity. If one
truly internalizes the reality that his very existence and all he
possesses are only because G-d Wills them, then one cannot be affected by
the ayin ha'rah.
Torah states in the Book of Devarim (Portion of Ki Savo), "Hashem will
remove all illness from you." In Tractate Bava Metzia, Rav explains that
this verse is referring to the removal of the ayin ha'rah. When G-d will
remove the ayin ha'rah from the Jewish people, they will no longer be
subject to illness. The susceptibility to all illness begins with the evil
eye. When will Hashem remove "all illness" (the evil eye)? The Torah
states that it will be removed only when the Jewish people observe and
study the Torah and walk the proper path. When one lives his life as
prescribed by the Torah one understands that everything emanates from
Hashem. The Zohar states, "Yisroel, Torah, and Hashem are all intermingled
(are one entity)." Thus, if one has an appreciation of this concept that
is stated by the Zohar then one will not be susceptible to the ayin
2. The Shabbos Experience
The Torah states, "Hashem said to Moshe saying, "You shall speak to the
Children of Israel, saying, However, you must observe My Sabbaths, for it
is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am
Hashem, Who makes you holy..." Rashi explains in his commentary "a sign
between Me and you" means that Shabbos is a sign of greatness which
indicates to the nations of the world that Hashem has chosen the Jewish
people by giving them His day of rest.
The Gemara in Tractate Beiah says that if one gives a gift, he must inform
the recipient who the benefactor is. (Rashi explains the reason for this
is to increase love among Jews). The Gemara cites an example of this,
which occurred when Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish people about the
Shabbos. The Gemara states, "I want you to tell the Jewish people that I
have a hidden treasure in my treasury which is the Shabbos that I am
giving to them." The Gemara asks, "The gift of Shabbos was already
transmitted to the Jewish people in Marah (before the giving of the Torah
at Sinai) - if so what gift was Hashem referring to when he told Moshe to
inform the Jewish people about the Shabbos?" The Gemara answers that the
precious gift that G-d was referring to was not the Shabbos itself but the
reward that they would merit for observing it. This explanation seems to
be difficult to understand because reward is a consequence of every
mitzvah and one of the tenets of Jewish belief is the principle of reward
and punishment. Therefore, what is so special about the merit of the
The Midrash tells us that every day of the week has its "mate." For
example, the mate of the First Day (Sunday) is the Second Day (Monday).
The Midrash asks, "What is the mate of Shabbos?" Chazal answer that the
Jewish people are its mate. How do we understand this? Shabbos is a day
and we are a people. What is the meaning that we are the "counterpart" to
the Seventh Day, which is the Shabbos? One may answer that since the
Shabbos is a day that is innately holy and the Jewish people are innately
holy, then it is logical to say that they are "mates."
The Yalkut says that the Mishkan was a microcosm of creation/existence.
Everything that is in existence was reflected in the structure of the
Mishkan. The Midrash tells us that Menorah itself (which is a source of
light and radiance) corresponds to the Seventh Day of Creation when G-d
entered into existence and caused it to radiate. This is represented
through the light of the Menorah. The basis for the sanctity of the
Shabbos is not that Hashem merely "sanctified" it as one consecrates an
offering, but rather, the sanctity of the Shabbos emanates from G-d
permeating it with His Presence.
The Talmud tells us that the Shabbos day is a semblance of the World to
Come. The World to Come is a state of being in which one's relationship
with G-d is based on his spiritual worthiness. The greater the worthiness
the more one is able to cleave to the Omnipotent Being - Hashem Himself.
Thus, one who experiences the Shabbos properly experiences a degree of
intimacy with Hashem, which is the essence of the World to Come. Shabbos
radiates with the same holiness that was present at Sinai. Hashem
descends into existence every Shabbos and imbues it with His holiness.
With this understanding, we are able to appreciate the meaning of Shabbos
being "a sign" between Hashem and the Jewish people so that the world
should understand their specialness.
The only way a Jew has relevance to this relationship with Hashem is if he
observes the Shabbos properly - as a day of rest. If one does not, it is
the equivalent of disgracing Hashem's Presence. Engaging in creative
activity (any of the 39 classifications of creative activity) on Shabbos
is the antithesis of the representation of the essence of the day. The
desecration of the Shabbos is a disregard and an affront to G-d Himself
and is therefore punishable by death.
On the Shabbos one must light a minimum of two lights, which correspond to
the "Zachor (You Shall Remember the Shabbos) and Shamor (You shall observe
the Shabbos)" which are found in both sets of Tablets. The kindling of
light is in honor of the Shechina (Divine Presence). It is when the
Shabbos lights are kindled (which is a representation of the "Zachor and
the Shamor") that one becomes a beneficiary of G-d's Presence.
We are now able to understand the Gemara in Beiah, which says that Hashem
told Moshe to inform the Jewish people about the merit and reward of the
Shabbos. The reward of Shabbos is not something for which one needs to
wait to experience in another dimension of time; rather, the Shabbos
itself (which is G-d's Presence imbuing existence) is the reward.
3. How Does One Recognize Opportunity?
The Torah tells us that Moshe informed the Klal Yisroel (the Jewish
people) that he was going to ascend to heaven to receive the Torah on
their behalf and that he would return after forty days. Due to a
misunderstanding, the Jewish people miscalculated and believed that Moshe
was not meant to return. They thought he had passed away. Because of their
sense of insecurity (being left without a leader to guide them), the
rabble took the initiative and made a Golden Calf. They said to the
Jewish people, "This is your G-d that took you out of Egypt."
At that moment when the Jews engaged in the Chet Ha Agle (sin of the
Golden Calf), Hashem said to Moshe," You must go down because your people
who you have taken out from Egypt have become corrupt." Rashi cites Chazal
who explain, "You must go down" means that Moshe must descend to a lower
status because his only worthiness for that special relationship with G-d
was that he represented the Jewish people. Now that the Jewish people
themselves were no longer worthy (because of the Golden Calf), Moshe was
The Midrash explains that the reason Hashem used the term "your people"
rather than "My people" is because He is referring to the erev rav - the
rabble who were permitted to accompany the Jews out of Egypt as a result
of Moshe's consent. This was considered a failing on the part of Moshe
because he did not consult with Hashem prior to the Exodus. He justified
his decision that it was for the sake of bringing people who were pagans
under the wings of the Divine Presence, i.e. conversion. If Moshe could
have consulted with G-d beforehand, then why did he not do so?
The Gemara in Tractate Nedarim tells us that one of the reasons the Jewish
people were exiled and enslaved in Egypt was because Avraham, our
Patriarch, had an opportunity to convert a group of pagans to monotheism
and he did not. After Avraham's victory over the four mightiest kings who
had taken the Sodomites captive, the King of Sodom approached Avraham and
said, "Give me the people and the possessions shall be yours." Avraham's
response to the King of Sodom was,"I will not take from you as much as a
thread or a bootstrap." At this moment, Avraham, as the victor, had the
opportunity to take the people of Sodom and convert them from paganism to
monotheism, but he did not. Hashem said to Avraham, "Just as you have
allowed these people to remain pagans, and not bring them under the wings
of the Divine Presence your children in the future will be put in a
situation that will allow them to become pagans." (Measure for measure.)
Moshe, as the Redeemer of the Jewish people, understood that the atonement
for the sin of Avraham was finally completed after the 210 years of exile
and bondage. Appreciating the initial failing of Avraham that brought
about the Egyptian experience, Moshe was not about to repeat the same
mistake. Moshe was now in a position to either reject the rabble of Egypt
or accept and allow them to become part of a monotheistic people. The
obvious choice was to convert them. If Moshe's justification for his
decision was so cogent and obviously correct then why did Hashem rebuke
Moshe and Avraham's situations cannot be compared. When Hashem chastised
Avraham for missing the opportunity to convert the Sodomites to
monotheism, the Jewish people did not yet exist. It was a time when the
world was totally paganistic. Thus, there was no justification for Avraham
not to convert these people to monotheism. However, regarding the rabble
of Egypt, their conversion to monotheism as part of the Jewish people
would introduce a foreign element that could undermine the spirituality of
the Klal Yisroel. Therefore, Moshe's choice without consulting with Hashem
was considered a failing. This is why Hashem refers to the rabble
as, "your people" to indicate that Moshe carries the full responsibility
for their behavior.
From Moshe's failing, we are able to understand that regardless of how
valuable it is to influence others in a positive manner ...
... we be to consult with Torah sages before making decisions that could
affect the spirituality of our family and community.
4. How is One Endowed with Torah Knowledge?
The Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to heaven for forty days
and forty nights to receive the Torah. Moshe was taught the Torah in its
entirety by Hashem during this period. Scripture tells us regarding the
Torah," There is no end to the breadth and depth of Torah." Midrash tells
us that during this forty-day period Hashem would teach Moshe the Torah in
its entirety every day. At the end of each day, Moshe would forget all
that Hashem had taught him. This process was repeated consecutively for
thirty-nine days. On the fortieth day, Moshe retained the Torah that He
was taught. What lesson is Hashem teaching Moshe through this forty-day
process of learning and forgetting? If G-d had wanted Moshe to
retain the Torah in its entirety, he would have been able to so.
We find the number forty reoccurring continuously throughout the Torah.
The number forty signifies the completion of a process. For example, at
the time of the Great Flood, the Torah tells us that it rained for forty
days and nights. Only after forty days when the mountain peaks were seen
did Noach send out the raven to see if the world was habitable. The Jewish
people wandered in the desert for a period of forty years before entering
into the Promised Land. It is a forty-day process from the time of
conception for life to begin. Identically, only after a forty-day study
period was Moshe able to retain the Torah that was taught to him by G-d.
What was the significance of Moshe's forgetting the Torah for thirty-nine
consecutive days and retaining it only after the fortieth? G-d should have
taught Moshe the Torah in its entirety over the forty-day period.
The Gemara in Tractate Nedarim tells us based on a verse in the
Torah, "The Torah itself is a gift of G-d." In other words, the Torah is a
gift from G-d to the Jewish people. The Gemara asks - why did the most
profound and momentous event in history, the giving of the Torah, take
place in a location of total desolation - the desert? One would think
that such an important occasion would have taken place on a grander and a
more aesthetically pleasing location. Why did G-d choose the desert?
The Gemara explains that in order for one to be worthy of receiving and
comprehending Hashem's gift - the Torah. One must allow himself to become
as "desolate" as the desert. Meaning, one must be agreeable to negating
himself and selflessly dedicating himself to its study. One must assume
the characteristic of humility. If one is able to achieve this level of
humility and self-negation then one is worthy of receiving Hashem's gift -
the Torah. One's innate intelligence and ability are not the primary
consideration in one's ability to achieve the spiritual grasp of Torah.
The Torah is a gift of G-d and not merely a process of accumulating
information based on one's intellect. The Torah itself is a spiritual
entity; it is G-d's Wisdom. Therefore, its acquisition is contingent on
one's spiritual level.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (The Ethics of Our Fathers) tells us, that there
are forty-eight criteria that must be met for one to become a "vessel"
that has the capacity to acquire and retain the Torah. This again
reiterates the fact that understanding and retention of Torah is not
determined by one's intellectual capacity but rather it is a gift of G-d
that is only granted to one who is spiritually worthy.
The Gemara in Tractate Megillah states that if one says that he has toiled
in Torah and has "found it" (the understanding of what he was studying) he
is to be believed. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin z'tl points out that the Gemara
should have used the term "understood" rather than "found." Why does the
Gemara use the term "found?" He answers that the understanding of the
Torah is not solely an intellectual process but rather a gift endowed to
the person who toils sufficiently. This was the lesson that was taught to
Moshe during his forty-day stay in heaven.
5. How Does one Merit G-d's Protection
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos, (Ethics of Our Fathers), states "The world
stands on three principles: Torah (Torah study), Avodah
(Offerings/tefillah), and Gemilas Chasadim (acts of loving kindness)."
The Gemara in Tractate Berachos explains that the three daily prayer
services (shacharis, mincha, aarvis) correspond to the daily communal
offerings (timeedim) that were brought in the Temple. Shacharis (the
morning prayer service) corresponds to the tamid shel shachar (the morning
communal offering). Mincha (the afternoon prayer service) corresponds to
the tamid shel bein ha'arbaim (the communal afternoon offering). Aarvis
(the evening prayer service) corresponds to the burning of the fats and
the limbs that were burnt on the altar at night.
Today that we no longer have the Bais HaMikdash to offer the communal
sacrifices, tefillah (prayer) is equivalent to the Avodah of the Temple.
We read in Shema, "You shall serve Hashem b'chol l'vavchem (with all your
heart)." The Gemara asks, "What is the service of the heart? - It is
tefillah (prayer)." Even though the Bais HaMikdash was available for all
nations to come and pray, and is referred to as "a house of prayer for all
nations," nevertheless, the power of the Jewish people is derived through
their verbal expression, which is tefillah, and the study of Torah. The
Torah states, "Ha kol kol Yaakov v'ha yadayim yidei Esav (the voice is the
voice of Yaakov, the hands are the hands of Esav)." Yitzhak our Patriarch
had given this blessing to his son Yaakov. "The voice of Yaakov" is
referring to Torah study and tefillah, which is an expression of
the "voice." Chazal explain that as long as the Jewish people engage with
their "voice," as the "voice" of Yaakov, (symbolic of Torah study), and
then the hands will not be the hands of Esav. Meaning, that Esav will not
have the ability to dominate, detract, or threaten the Jewish people.
However, if the Jews do not properly utilize their voice for Torah study
and tefillah, then the hands will be the hands of Esav. Meaning we will
fall victim to the oppression and cruelty of Esav - G-d forbid.
In these difficult times, every Jew needs to understand his ability to
affect the world. The tefillos (prayers) of the Jewish people are
essential and offer greater protection than the weaponry. If G-d is
responds to our beseeching and watches over us, we have nothing to fear.
The Gemara in Tractate Bava Basra tells us that if a community needs to
build a wall to protect its city, the Torah sages of that community are
not obligated to participate financially. The Talmud cites a verse to
support this position, which states, "The Torah itself is the wall."
Meaning, one who possesses Torah is protected. The security of the Jewish
people is the study of Torah.
The opening blessings of the Amidah (silent prayer) are those of praise.
In the first blessing, we identify Hashem as "The G-d of Avraham, G-d of
Yitzchak, and G-d of Yaakov; the great, the mighty, and the
awesome...etc." In addition, we say, "Who recalls the kindness of the
Patriarchs..." Meaning Hashem is not only identified as "the great,
mighty, etc." but is also the One who remembers the kindness of the
Patriarchs "and brings a Redeemer to their children's children, for His
Name's sake, with love." Just as He is great, mighty, and awesome, He is
the One who brings the Redeemer to the Jewish people. This not a
prediction of the future but refers to one of the characteristics of G-d.
We say in Ashrei (Psalm 145), "Hashem protects those who love Him; but all
the wicked He will destroy." If the verse concludes - that Hashem will
destroy the wicked - should it not have begun with Hashem will protect the
righteous? This is not the case. Instead, it begins - Hashem protects
the ones who love him. When a person "loves" he is motivated by his love
and not because he is obligated. The only one who merits Hashem's
protection is the one who loves Hashem.
However, if someone does not have that innate feeling of love towards G-d,
how does he achieve it? In the Laws of the Foundation of Torah, Ramban
states that there is a Positive Commandment to love G-d and asks - if one
does not have that feeling of love how does one come to that level? He
states, that if a person recognizes the awesomeness of G-d through seeing
his creation, he will be overwhelmed. This will generate within him a
sense of love. Regardless of all that we have, when we see our own
limitations in terms of security and material things, we begin to realize
that everything is in the hands of G-d. If one understands and appreciates
that he is a beneficiary of G-d's goodness, this realization will also
generate a sense of love out of seeing His concern for us; thus, we will
merit His protection. As King David says in psalms - "G-d protects those
who love him." our relationship is eternal because He initially
demonstrated His love and affection for us.
Copyright © by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Torah.org
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.