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Parshas Ki Sisa

Raise Me Up

Volume 22, No. 21
17 Adar I 5768
February 23, 2008

Sponsored by
Harold and Gilla Saltzman
on the marriage of their son Yosef to
Deborah Abraham of Los Angeles

Eli, Rachel Adina, Daniel Avraham, Yonatan and Chana Rutstein
on the birthday of wife and mother Galit

Today's Learning:
Avodah Zarah 5:10-11
O.C. 90:21-23
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nedarim 64
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yevamot 2

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 wise'."

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 Cleveland) explains:

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) explains:

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 p.308)


"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)


Shemittah

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 business."

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 shevi'it.

One is permitted to give produce of shevi'it as a gift.


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