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 am 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 rather than
begrudgingly. (Darash Moshe)
"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 of
testing mankind. However, those who saw the magicians thought they
were using Ruach Ha'kodesh / a Divine power, just as Moshe was doing.
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."
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
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
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' Mordechai 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' Moshe Feinstein z"l
Shortly after Purim 5681 (1921), R' Moshe Feinstein was offered
the rabbinate of Lyuban, Belarus (White Russia). He assumed the post
before Pesach and immediately impressed his congregants by acting
firmly in the matters that came before him. Less than two months
later, on the night of Lag Ba'omer, the pogroms spawned by the Russian
civil war reached Lyuban. One night, the home where R' Moshe was
staying was ambushed, apparently with the intent to assassinate the
rabbi. Miraculously, R' Moshe escaped into a nearby corn field.
Adding to the miracle, R' Moshe noted that the corn stalks were
unusually tall for that time of year.
After a hiatus of close to a year, R' Moshe returned to Lyuban
and served as its rabbi for 15 years. In R'Moshe's collected
responsa, Igrot Moshe, there are halachic decisions written during
that period. Throughout the Lyuban years, R' Moshe had to deal with
many challenges from the Communist government, including closure of
the mikvah and the cheder and repeated confiscations of R' Moshe's own
home. Nevertheless, unlike many other Russian citizens, R' Moshe made
clear that he recognized the Communists as the legitimate government
of Russia. For example, when relatives sent him money from America, a
fact that was known to the government, he always asked at the post
office to have it converted to rubles, which was the only legal
currency. In this way, he was saved from even greater persecution.
R' Moshe would also relate that he saw clearly the hand of Hashem in
his ability to deal with the authorities. For example, when one of
his congregants was caught possessing ten dollars, R' Moshe was asked
if he thought the man was concealing more money. R' Moshe answered,
"How much money could a worker have saved under the reign of the
Czar?" The Communists, who were happy to hear such criticisms of the
Czar, who they considered an "enemy of the workers," let the man go.
In 1922, R' Moshe married Sima Kostonowitz, the daughter of one
of the leading citizens of Lyuban. They had two sons and two
daughters who survived to adulthood.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship - only $18 - has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.