In this week's parashah we read of the sin of the Golden Calf,
of Hashem's stated intention to wipe-out Bnei Yisrael (G-d
forbid), and of Moshe's prayer that G-d forgive Bnei Yisrael. It
was at this time that Hashem taught Moshe the "13 Middot Shel
Rachamim" / "The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy," and told Moshe
that, for all time, Bnei Yisrael should follow the formula of the
Thirteen Attributes to achieve forgiveness.
R' Y. Hamburger shlita (a talmid chacham in Israel) notes that
this prayer is different from all other prayers, which begin with
praise of Hashem, but then go on to make specific requests. In
contrast, the Thirteen Attributes consist solely of praise of
Hashem. This is a prayer that does not say what we are asking
R' Hamburger writes that this prayer can be understood in light
of Ralbag's explanation of the mechanics of prayer: One cannot
achieve through prayer anything that Hashem is not theoretically
willing to do anyway. This is the meaning of the verse in our
parashah (33:19), "I will give to whom I will give, and I will
have mercy on whom I will have mercy." In short, Hashem is
unchanging, but prayer changes the one who prays, thus making him
a worthy recipient of Hashem's gifts, in general, and that which
he is now seeking, in particular. When a person prays, he
elevates himself, and thereby becomes worthy of Hashem's close
attention. (See Ralbag, Peirush Al Ha'Torah, p. 115b "Hato'elet
R' Hamburger continues: The very reason for man's creation is
so that he may study Hashem's ways and become close to Him. As
Ralbag notes, one who does so is worthy of Hashem's intervention
in his life. And, what better way is there to achieve
understanding of Hashem than by reciting and meditating upon His
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy? They are, after all, Hashem's
answer to Moshe's request (in our parashah, 33:13), "Show me Your
ways, and I will know You." Accordingly, one who perfects this
prayer will have his needs fulfilled, even if his prayer does not
specify those needs. (Sha'arei Rachamim)
"Every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul . . .
This shall they give -- everyone who passes through the
census -- a half shekel of the sacred shekel . . ." (30:12-
Our Sages say that the half shekel was given as an atonement
for the sin of the Golden Calf. Why specifically a half shekel?
R' Chaim Kanievsky shlita (a leading Torah scholar in Bnei Brak;
son of the "Steipler Gaon") explains:
The Torah says about the making of the Golden Calf (Shmot
32:3), "The entire people removed the gold rings that were in
their ears." An earing weighed a "beka" as we read (Bereishit
24:22), "The man [Eliezer] took a golden ring, its weight was a
beka . . ." How much is a beka? The Torah tells us (Shmot
38:26), "A beka for every head, a half-shekel in the sacred
Thus, since the donations that were given for the Golden Calf
weighed a half shekel, the atonement also was a half shekel.
[Ed. note: The Torah does not state that the jewelry that
Eliezer gave Rivka had the same weight as the jewelry that Jewish
women wore centuries later. Nevertheless, there must be a reason
why the Torah told us the weight of Rivka's jewelry. Indeed,
Rashi foreshadowed R' Kanievsky's explanation when he commented
on the verse describing Rivka's jewelry (Bereishit 24:22),
"Beka - a symbol of the shekels of the Israelites, of which it is
said, `A beka a head'."]
"The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the
mountain, and the people gathered around Aharon and said to
him, `Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us, for
this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt --
we do not know what became of him!'" (32:1)
R' Yaakov Charlap z"l (see page 4) explains how Bnei Yisrael
came to commit the terrible sin of trying to replace Moshe
Rabbeinu. He writes: Even before Moshe ascended to Har Sinai,
Bnei Yisrael saw him as half man and half angel. Then he was on
the mountain for forty days and forty nights, not eating and not
drinking. Bnei Yisrael said, "We can not relate to a leader who
has become super-human, who has become an angel." This is the
meaning of their statement: "For this man Moshe -- we do not know
what became of him!"
(Mei Marom: Nimukei Mikraot)
"Aharon said to them, `Parku / Cast off the rings of gold
that are in the ears of your wives, sons, and daughters, and
bring them to me'." (32:2)
Why did Aharon say "Parku / cast off" instead of "Hordeedu /
remove" (as in Shmot 33:6, where Hashem says, "Horaid / remove
your jewelry"? R' David ben Amram z"l (Aden, Yemen; 14th
century) explains that Aharon was hinting to them that they had
"cast off" the yoke of Heaven ("parku ohl"). He said, "It is
usual that a person who hears a beautiful tune is unable to get
the melody out of his head even as much as forty days later.
Yet you said `Na'aseh ve'nishmah' only forty days ago, and now
you have thrown off G-d's yoke!"
Thirty Days Before Pesach . . .
"I might think that the obligation to discuss the Exodus
commences with the first day of the month of Nissan."
(The Pesach Haggadah)
Why might I think this? R' Avraham ben Hagra z"l (died 1808;
son of the Vilna Gaon) explains: The ancient Egyptians worshiped
the sheep, and to counter this fallacious belief, Bnei Yisrael
were commanded to slaughter sheep for the Korban Pesach. Not
coincidentally, the sheep (Aries) is the astrological sign for
the month of Nissan. Therefore, I might think that the time to
speak of the Exodus and of Hashem's mastery over all other forces
begins on Rosh Chodesh, when the sign of the sheep first ascends.
For the same reason, the Haggadah states that I might think the
time to discuss the Exodus is on the afternoon of Erev Pesach.
That is the time when the Korban Pesach was slaughtered.
"It is this that has stood by our fathers and us."
(The Pesach Haggadah)
When we recite these words during the Seder, it is customary to
cover the matzah and to lift the cup of wine. Why? Is not the
matzah a mitzvah de'oraita / a Torah-ordained mitzvah, while the
Four Cups are only a rabbinically-ordained mitzvah? Why do we
seem to attribute more importance to the rabbinic mitzvah than to
the Torah mitzvah?
R' Menachem Mendel Kalish z"l (1819-1868; Rebbe of Vorka,
Poland) explained: What is it that has held the Jewish people
together and has stood us in good stead throughout the millennia
of exile and persecution? It is the Torah scholars of each
generation who have ensured the continuity of halachah and
mitzvah-observance, and it is our adherence to their words that
has preserved us as a nation. This is why we point out a
rabbinic mitzvah and say, "It is this that has stood by our
fathers and us."
When R' Aharon Rokeach of Bilgorai z"l (died 1948; father of
the current Belzer Rebbe) repeated R' Kalish's explanation to his
father, the Belzer Rebbe, R' Yissochor Dov Rokeach z"l (1854-
1926), the latter ordered that it be written down immediately.
When he was reminded that it was chol ha'moed, when writing
should be avoided if possible, R' Yissochor Dov responded that
such a thought is too important to forget. It must be written
down, even on chol ha'moed.
(Quoted in Mi'saviv La'shulchan No. 140)
R' Yechiel Michel Charlap z"l
R' Charlap was born in Yerushalayim on the second day of Rosh
Hashanah 5660 / 1899. He was the oldest son of R' Yaakov Moshe
and Pesha Charlap, and his father was his first teacher. (The
elder R' Charlap was destined to become renowned as rabbi of
Yerushalayim's Sha'arei Chessed neighborhood and as Rosh Yeshiva
of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav.)
Young Yechiel Michel studied in yeshivot Etz Chaim and Torat
Chaim in Yerushalayim. At age 16, he joined a select group of
young men who studied under R' Yitzchak Yerucham Diskin, son of
R' Yehoshua Leib Diskin. Before long, R' Yechiel Michel was
delivering a lecture in the yeshiva and holding private study
sessions with R' Diskin. R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook also
set aside time to study privately with the young R' Charlap.
In 1921, R' Charlap traveled to New York to study at Yeshivat
Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. At the same time, he served as rabbi
of Congregation Anshei Volozhin. Later, he obtained a rabbinic
post in Canton, Ohio and, still later, in Omaha, Nebraska. In
both places, he worked to increase the level of Torah study,
especially among the youth. He also became a popular speaker.
In 1926, R' Charlap became rabbi of the Bronx Jewish Center,
then the largest congregation in that borough of New York.
During the first half of R' Charlap's 48-year tenure, as many as
1,000 people davened at the Jewish Center on a regular basis, 700
came to hear R' Charlap speak every Shabbat afternoon, and 200
attended his Talmud shiur. The Talmud Torah which was under R'
Charlap's patronage served 800 children and was the largest
Jewish school in New York.
R' Charlap was involved in numerous Jewish organizations, and
was among the founders of the OU's Kashruth Division. In his
last years, he delivered a weekly parashat ha'shavuah lesson on a
New York radio station.
In 1951, after his father's death, R' Charlap was elected rabbi
of Yerushalayim's Sha'arei Chessed and Rechaviah neighborhoods,
but he declined the positions. Instead, he remained at the Bronx
Jewish Center until his death on 12 Cheshvan 5735 / 1974. He
was buried on Har Ha'zeitim.
R' Charlap's son, R' Zevulun, is a rabbi in the Bronx and a
rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He has
published many of his father's works.
the Yablok family
on the yahrzeit of father and grandfather
Shmuel Eliezer ben Osher Zev Yablok a"h
The Rutstein family
in memory of Dr. Leonard Schlossberg