Our parashah opens: "When you raise the heads of Bnei Yisrael
according to their numbers, every man shall give an atonement for his
soul when counting them . . . a half shekel[.]" Why, asks R' Moshe
Feinstein z"l, was the command to take a census phrased as "raising
the heads of Bnei Yisrael"? He explains:
If you ask a typical person why he does not study more Torah or do
more mitzvot, he will answer, "Who am I? I'm not capable of being a
Torah scholar or a tzaddik." To counter this misplaced "humility,"to
"raise the heads of Bnei Yisrael," Hashem said that every person
should give exactly one half of a shekel, no more and no less, toward
the census. In this way, each person will realize that he is on par
(at least potentially) with the greatest scholar and the greatest
tzaddik. All that one needs is determination, effort and commitment.
There is another lesson in these words. The Gemara (Bava Batra 10b)
asks, "How will the honor of Israel be uplifted? Through `Ki tissa' /
`When you raise'." Commentaries explain that the Gemara is actually
referring to the end of the verse, which alludes to the mitzvah of
tzedakah / charity. Why, then, did the Gemara quote the beginning of
the verse? R' Feinstein explains that it is not enough to give
charity. Rather, the honor of the Jewish people is uplifted when we
are able to "raise our heads," i.e., to hold our heads high after
giving tzedakah. This depends on how we give tzedakah - for example,
whether we give an honorable amount in relation to our means and
whether we give it with the right attitude instead of begrudgingly.
"The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the
mountain . . ." (32:1)
Rashi writes: "Satan came and threw the world into confusion, giving
it the appearance of darkness, gloom and disorder, so that people
should say; `Surely Moshe is dead, and that is why confusion has come
into the world'."
Tradition records that the women of that generation did not
participate in this sin, and they were therefore rewarded with a
holiday of their own - Rosh Chodesh / the festival of the new moon.
Why did they not participate, and why was their reward Rosh Chodesh?
R' Ben Zion Rabinowitz shlita (the Bialer Rebbe in Yerushalayim)
explains: It is well known that women possess a certain intuition that
men lack. It was that intuition that told the women that Moshe was
not dead. Therefore, they of course did not participate in making or
worshipping the golden calf.
Rosh Chodesh is the only holiday mentioned in the Torah that has the
status of an ordinary workday. However, a woman's intuition can
discern the holiness in even such a day. This is why Rosh Chodesh is
a holiday for women.
(Mevaser Tov: B'zchut Nashim Tzidkaniyot p. 278)
"They said, `This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up
from the land of Egypt'." (32:4)
Were they really so gullible as to think that a golden calf that had
just been formed before their eyes had taken them out of Egypt?
R' Chizkiyah ben Manoach z"l (Provence, southern France; 13th
century) explains: The slaves in Egypt had seen that Pharaoh's
magicians could mimic many of the miracles that Moshe had performed.
In reality, the magicians' abilities were the result of the koach
ha'tumah / "power of impurity" that Hashem created for the purpose
testing mankind. However, those who saw the magicians thought they
were using Ruach Ha'kodesh / a Divine power, just as Moshe was.
When the nation at Har Sinai saw the golden calf emerge on its own
out of the furnace, they likewise did not realize that a koach
ha'tumah was at work in order to test them. They thought that the
same Ruach Ha'kodesh that had enabled Moshe to take them out of Egypt
had also made this calf. Thus they said, "This is your god, O Israel,
which brought you up from the land of Egypt."
"It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the
dances, that Moshe's anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets
from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain."
How are we to understand Moshe's breaking the Tablets when he
descended from the mountain only to discover the people worshiping the
Golden Calf? Don't our Sages say in the Zohar: "If one breaks dishes
in his anger, it is as if he were involved in idol worship"?
R' Dov Ber Friedman z"l (1827-1875; the Leova Rebbe) explains: A
tzaddik who wishes to elevate sinners must be able to lower himself to
their level. While this would be dangerous for most people, a true
tzaddik does not have to fear, for he falls only in order to rise
In the episode of the Golden Calf, Bnei Yisrael fell so low that
Moshe could not rescue them without descending to their level himself.
This is why he broke the Tablets and exposed himself to an act akin to
(Quoted in The House of Rizhin p.394)
The Making of a Gadol
How Bedikat Chametz Changed One Man's Life
R' Shimshon David Pinkus z"l (rabbi of Ofakim, Israel, and a
prolific public speaker and author; died 12 Nissan 5761 / 2001) once
told the following story about his own youth:
"When I was still single and studying in the Brisk Yeshiva [in
Yerushalayim], I shared an apartment with several other boys. On the
night of Bedikat Chametz, I was left all alone in the apartment. And
so, at the appointed time, I took upon myself to fulfill the direction
of our Sages: `At dark on the 14th [of Nissan], we search for
"Searching the entire apartment took one hour, then another, and
then several more. It was hard work, and I became tired. Very tired.
When I finished the mitzvah, I sat down - exhausted but content.
"Suddenly, I shuddered. `The attic!' I jumped up as if bitten by a
snake. `There is no one here to check the attic. The neighbors won't
do it. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch says expressly that one must check the
"Naturally, a battle was raging within me. `Is it my responsibility
to check the common attic that is shared by all the tenants in the
building?' Of course, my exhaustion was a major consideration. All
kinds of thoughts raced through my head, but in the end I decided, `I
will not give in. I will fulfill the mitzvah in its entirety.' With
that, I started to climb the steps.
"I opened the door of the common attic and turned on the light, and
I was taken aback. It looked as if the space had not been cleaned in
years. The ceiling was covered with thick layers of dust. It would
be impossible to check the attic in that condition, even putting aside
the halachah that one must clean each room before Bedikat Chametz.
But it had to be checked, for there was no doubt that people sometimes
brought food up there.
"I stood in the doorway, and tiredness washed over me. I was almost
too exhausted to know what my real obligation was. But I said, `No
matter; I will perform the mitzvah if it takes my last ounce of
"I went downstairs for a pail of water, and I came back up and
started to work. Here I was, a yeshiva bachur cleaning years worth of
grime from a common attic at midnight on the night before Pesach.
>From time to time, I paused and asked myself, `Am I sure that this is
a mitzvah?' And I reminded myself that, indeed, we are commanded by
the Sages to check the whole house for chametz, including the attic.
That knowledge gave me strength to go on. Close to dawn, I finally
lit the candle and performed Bedikat Chametz in the attic.
"Needless to say, I could barely stay awake that morning, but there
was too much to do to have time for a nap. I said to myself, `What
kind of Seder will I have now that I am so tired?!'
"The Seder arrived, and I began to feel a great sweetness in the
evening's mitzvot. I also felt as if a bright light was shining
before me. As I read the words of the Haggadah, they had a `flavor'
that I had never experienced. When I ate the matzah, I felt such a
connection that I was ready to sacrifice my life for that one mitzvah.
I experienced a closeness to G-d that I had never known. I felt so
elevated, that I became another person. This feeling lasted through
the entire Seder.
"I couldn't sleep that night, and I stayed up performing the mitzvah
of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim / relating the story of the Exodus. As
mentioned, I felt a closeness to G-d that I had never known. At
first, I assumed that this was a sensation that was possible only on
the Seder night, but I was wrong. The next day, I felt the same way.
"In the afternoon, I wondered, `Can this feeling possibly continue
through Chol Ha'moed?' [There is only one Seder night and one day of
Yom Tov in Israel.] But the feeling did continue throughout the
festival. That year, the seventh [and in Israel, final] day of Pesach
was followed by Shabbat. That week, I experienced for the first time
in my life what Shabbat was meant to be.
"It was then, after that Pesach and Shabbat, that my real spiritual
growth began. If I have any accomplishments to my name today, it is
because of that one rabbinically-ordained mitzvah which I performed
with true sacrifice."
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
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your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
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