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 Yisrael 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)
"I have endowed the heart of every wise-hearted person with
wisdom." (Shmot 31:6)
The Gemara (Berachot 55a) states: "Hashem gives wisdom only to those who
have wisdom, as it is written (Daniel 2:21), `He gives wisdom to the
How then does one acquire wisdom in the first place? R' Elya Meir Bloch
z"l (1894-1955; founder and rosh yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in
The Gemara (Niddah 30b) teaches that a fetus in the womb is taught the
whole Torah. This means that wisdom is not external to a person; rather,
one must first be "wise-hearted" (in the words of our verse), i.e., he
must awaken the wisdom within him. Only after one has done that can he
acquire wisdom from the outside, for example, from teachers.
Accordingly, when our Sages say that "Hashem gives wisdom only to those
who have wisdom," they are not describing some kind of vicious cycle.
Rather, they mean that to the extent that a person has awakened himself to
discover the wisdom that Hashem has implanted within him, to that extent,
will Hashem give him additional wisdom. (Peninei Da'at)
"They said, `This is your god, O Yisrael, 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." (Chizkuni)
"Hashem said to Moshe, `I have seen this people, and behold! It is a
stiff-necked people'." (Shmot 32:9)
This verse introduces a new discussion between Hashem and Moshe in which
Hashem speaks of destroying Bnei Yisrael, not because of the Golden Calf,
but because of Bnei Yisrael's stubbornness. Why does the Torah focus on
this trait of Bnei Yisrael and seem to downplay the sin itself?
R' Yerucham Levovitz z"l (mashgiach ruchani of the Mir Yeshiva; died 1936)
There are two types of sinners and two types of sins. Some people commit
sins of opportunity. Such people do not have flawed characters; rather,
sins come their way and they happen to succumb. Other people commit sins
that are the result of flawed characters. These are not people who happen
to have stumbled; rather, these are people whose character is warped in
some way and that specific flaw leads to sin.
The repentance required of each of these groups is different. The former
group must focus on their specific sins and regret them. In contrast, the
members of the latter group accomplish nothing by focusing on their sins;
their repentance comes from making fundamental changes in their characters.
Hashem's message to Moshe was that the Golden Calf was not a sin of
opportunity, but rather was the result of a character flaw. Thus, Bnei
Yisrael's repentance would have to be tailored to address that flaw, not
merely to regret the sin.
R' Levovitz adds: In this light, we can understand why Rosh Hashanah
precedes Yom Kippur and not the other way around. (One might argue that
we should repent before we are judged, not after.) Rosh Hashanah is the
day when we crown Hashem as king. By subjugating ourselves to Him, we
address the stubbornness the causes us to sin. Only thereafter can we
address our individual sins on Yom Kippur. (Da'at Chochmah U'mussar I
"Aharon and all Bnei Yisrael saw Moshe, and behold! -- the skin of his
face had become radiant." (Shmot 34:30)
Our Sages say: What made Moshe's face radiant? The ink that was left in
the pen when he was finished writing the Torah.
R' Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer z'l (19th century rabbi and rosh yeshiva
in Pressburg, Hungary) explains that this refers to the secrets of the
Torah that were not written down. Because Moshe understood these secrets
more than anyone, including Aharon, his face appeared radiant to them, as
the verse says (Kohelet 8:1), "A person's wisdom will enlighten his
countenance." (Ktav Sofer)
This week we discuss the prohibition on transacting business with the
produce of shemittah. The source of this prohibition is the verse
(Vayikra 25:6), "The Sabbath produce of the land shall be yours to
eat," from which our Sages understood: "`To eat,' but not to transact
The halachot below are taken from chapter eight of Sefer Ha'shemittah by
R' Yechiel Michel Tikochinski z"l.
It is prohibited to transact business with the produce of shevi'it, which
is defined as gathering them or buying them in order to sell them for
profit. [Ed. note: When produce is distributed through an otzar bet din,
this prohibition is avoided because the charges that one pays are not for
the produce itself; rather, they are intended to cover distribution costs.
Also, an otzar bet din is a not-for-profit organization.] It is permitted
to sell small amounts of produce of shevi'it, which some authorities
define as the equivalent of three meals and other define as any quantity
ordinarily purchased at retail.
Some say that the prohibition applies only to the individual who gathered
the produce from the field. Thus, if several people gathered produce,
that produce may be combined and sold as one lot.
Even in circumstances in which selling is permitted, produce of shevi'it
may not be sold by volume, weight or number, only in estimated quantities.
When one sells produce to a retailer - in circumstances in which it is
permitted to do so - one should not sell to the same retailer with whom he
does business in other years. Also, one should designate the money as
payment for one's labor and not for the produce itself so that the money
will not have sanctity of shevi'it.
One who sells produce must remind buyers that the produce has sanctity of
One is permitted to give produce of shevi'it as a gift.
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.
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