Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 18
16 Adar 5758
Macrh 14 1998.
Mrs. Sylvia Friedman & family
in memory of father Leibel Zysman a"h
and husband Reuben Friedman a"h
Abbe & Adena Mendlowitz and family
in honor of
Malka's bat mitzvah
Perhaps one of the most difficult incidents to understand in
the Torah is the story of the golden calf. Not 40 days had
passed since Hashem's awesome revelation on Har Sinai, and Bnei
Yisrael, or some of them, appear to be worshiping idols!
The commentaries offer a number of interpretations that attempt
to lessen the gravity of Bnei Yisrael's sin. R' Yehuda Halevi
z"l (11th century) observes that only 3,000 people, about one-
half of one percent of Bnei Yisrael, participated in the golden
calf. Moreover, the golden calf was not idolatry. Imagine, he
writes, that someone among us wants to become closer to Hashem,
so he builds a building that looks like a synagogue and concocts
a new service which is performed in that building. While his
actions might not be what the Torah prescribes, we would at least
understand what motivated him.
Similarly, Bnei Yisrael had no intention of worshiping idols;
they intended only to introduce a new way to find G-d. It was
wrong, and those who participated died for it, but it was not
idolatry. Only because the calf was similar to idolatry and
because the concept of using physical objects in worship is
foreign to us is Bnei Yisrael's act so difficult to understand.
(Kuzari Part I, para. 97, quoted in Torah Sheleimah Vol. 21
R' Menachem Kasher z"l (20th century) elaborates: Immediately
following the Aseret Ha'dibrot/Ten Commandments, we read, "You
shall not make with Me gods of silver . . ." Why is this
prohibition, which was mentioned in the Aseret Ha'dibrot,
The midrash explains that this is, in fact, a new prohibition.
The second of the Ten Commandments prohibits making "other gods,"
while the verse, "You shall not make with Me," prohibits making
representations of G-d Himself. The golden calf was a
transgression only of this latter prohibition, which is much less
Moreover, R' Kasher argues (based on proofs that are beyond the
scope of this space), the prohibition of making representations
of G-d had not yet been taught when the golden calf was built.
Only because Bnei Yisrael, especially Aharon, should have known
better were they punished.
(Torah Sheleimah Vol. 21 p.207)
"Because it is a sign [of the covenant] between Me and
you . . ." (31:13)
A number of poskim/halachic authorities have dealt with the
question: Should Shabbat begin throughout the entire world at the
same time, specifically at sunset in Eretz Yisrael, or should
each person observe Shabbat according to sunset where he finds
R' Ben Zion Meir Chai Uziel z"l (see page 4) writes in the name
of Radvaz z"l (16th century): As the above verse states, Shabbat
is a sign of the covenant between Hashem and each Jew
individually. Accordingly, each Jew observes Shabbat according
to the local time where he is.
A proof of this, Radvaz states, is the fact that Hashem gave
Moshe the mitzvah of Shabbat at the place called Marah, which is
at a different latitude than Eretz Yisrael. Hashem wanted to
teach that wherever a Jew finds himself on Shabbat, he observes
Shabbat according to the time of sunset at that place.
R' Uziel adds: If Hashem did not intend each Jew to observe
Shabbat according to the "times" where one finds himself, how
could Jews throughout history have observed Shabbat? Certainly
they did not have the means to calculate when sunset would occur
in far-off Eretz Yisrael!
Just as we observe Shabbat at different times in different
places, so Hashem made each creation appear in different places
at different times. For example, light did not appear all at
once throughout the world. Rather, light appeared first at some
longitude and gradually made its way around the planet.
Similarly, when it was already Shabbat on one side of the earth,
Hashem was still "creating" on the other side.
R' Uziel cites a number of sages, among them R' Avraham ben
Chiya z"l (see page 4) who note that Shabbat is never postponed
for any reason. This is because the time of Shabbat is directly
tied to the progress of creation. If so, argues R' Uziel,
Shabbat must begin at the time that creation ended in each
Where in the world does Shabbat begin first, i.e., where does
halachah consider the international date line to be? R' Uziel
concludes (based on the works of the Ba'al Hamaor and Kuzari)
that the date line passes through Eretz Yisrael itself. Chazal
teach that Eretz Yisrael is where creation began, so that must be
where Shabbat came first. Moreover, in the era before the
calendar was composed, when the sanhedrin had to declare each new
month when the moon was seen, the new month began first where the
sanhedrin was, i.e., in Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, Shabbat should
begin there first.
(She'eilot U'teshuvot Piskei Uziel Be'she'eilot Ha'zman No. 21)
[Ed. Note: There are a number of halachic opinions regarding
the location of the international date line. Those traveling to
the quarter of the globe east of Israel should consult a
competent halachic authority.]
Chazal designed the Pesach Seder to revolve around questions
and answers. Indeed, the halachah states that if a couple has no
children, the wife should recite the "Mah Nishtanah" section.
And, if a person is all alone, he should ask himself the
R' Avraham Danzig z"l (author of the halachic compendium Chayei
Adam) explains: We do so many of our mitzvot by rote, without
giving them much thought, if any. However, the lessons of Pesach
are the centerpieces of our beliefs as Jews, and are much too
important to be done by rote. Therefore Chazal required us to
ask questions in order to slow us down and make us think.
Nor should the questions be limited to "Mah Nishtanah," Rav
Danzig writes. When the gemara describes the seder, it says, "We
pour the second cup, and then the son asks." Presumably the
question that the son will ask is, "Why are you pouring a second
cup of wine before washing for hamotzi?" which is not one of the
questions in "Mah Nishtanah."
Moreover, Rav Danzig notes, a child could not ask the questions
of "Mah Nishtanah" [unless he had been prepared beforehand]! One
of the questions is, "Why on all other nights do we eat chametz
and matzah, and tonight only matzah?" How can a child know at
the beginning of the meal that we will eat only matzah? Perhaps,
just as on all other nights we eat chametz and matzah, right now
there is only matzah on the table, but soon we will bring
Rather, "Mah Nishtanah" is a set of more sophisticated
questions, whose real meaning is, "Why will our actions tonight
combine signs of slavery, such as eating matzah, and freedom,
such as eating while reclining?" As for the children, they
should be allowed to ask whatever questions strike them.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Toldot Adam)
R' Shmuel Avigdor of Karlin z"l (19th century) observes that
the question and answer format is not merely a creation of
Chazal. It is a mitzvah de'oraita/Torah-ordained commandment,
mentioned no fewer than four times in the Torah.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Im Peirush Maharsha)
R' Avraham ben Chiya Ha'nassi z"l
R' Avraham lived in Barcelona, Spain. His work Hegyon
Ha'nefesh, deals with morals and penitence, and contains original
interpretations of Biblical verses. His work, Megillat
Ha'megaleh, is devoted to calculating when mashiach will arrive.
R' Avraham also wrote a number of works on astronomy, including
Tzurat Ha'aretz and Sefer Ha'ibbur. In the latter work, R'
Avraham takes the position that the day begins where the
easternmost settlement is, and that is the location of the
international date line. (This view was quoted in this century
by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, R' Ben Zion Meir Chai
Uziel, in his analysis of the same topic - see page 2.) [The
location of the international date line has important halachic
consequences. It should be noted that the International Date
Line recognized by the world at large is an arbitrary
international convention, and is not necessarily the location of
the halachic line.] Sefer Ha'ibbur also was quoted by later
works regarding what the correct year is.
R' Avraham was unusual among his contemporaries in using
Hebrew, not Arabic, in his scientific works. However, he was
fluent in several languages and he translated several basic Greek
texts from Arabic to Latin, thus making them accessible to
R' Avraham was known as "Ha'nassi"/"The Prince" because of his
influence in the royal court. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim,
p. 76; She'eilot U'teshuvot Piskei Uziel No. 21; She'eilot
U'teshuvot Maharalbach Nos. 142 & 147)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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