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Parshas Ki Sisa

The Debt

By Shlomo Katz

Volume 28, No. 21
15 Adar I 5774
February 15, 2014

The Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parashah opens by citing the verse from which the parashah takes its name: “Ki tissa” / “When you take a census of Bnei Yisrael . . .” The midrash comments: Hashem said to Moshe, “Tell Bnei Yisrael that they have a debt they owe me, as it is written (Devarim 24:10), ‘Ki tasheh’ / ‘When you make your fellow a loan . . .’ [The midrash is making a play on the similarity between “tissa” (tav-sin-aleph) and “tasheh” (tav-shin-heh).] Tell them that they should repay me.”

R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (see below) explains: The makers of the Golden Calf didn’t intend to deny G- d; rather, their sin was in wanting to have an intermediary between themselves and Hashem. [Ed. note: This is the same motive that, according to Rambam z”l, caused idolatry to originate in the first place.] Hashem’s “desire,” though, is to give us His beneficence directly, without an intermediary.

Hashem’s direct beneficence can’t be obtained, however, unless the Jewish People are united. The reason is that this “flow” from Hashem comes as a result of mitzvah observance, and many of the mitzvot can’t be practiced unless one has assistance. For example, one can’t give charity if there’s no one to receive it. Likewise, one can’t teach Torah if there’s no one to learn it. [In addition, some mitzvot can be performed only by men, only by women, only by kohanim, only by non-kohanim, etc. Thus, we are all dependent on one another.] This is the message of the machatzit ha’shekel / half a shekel which Bnei Yisrael were instructed at the beginning of our parashah to give. “You are only half a person,” the Torah is teaching. Indeed, each person gave the same amount: “The wealthy shall not give more and the destitute shall not give less than half a shekel,” the Torah commands. This highlights that we are dependent on each other. When we learn this lesson, we have paid our debt to Hashem, i.e., we have atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf, because we have made it possible for Hashem’s direct beneficence to flow. (Tiferet Zion)

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“You shall make shemen mishchat kodesh / oil of sacred anointment.” (30:25)
R’ Avraham Shimon Halevi Ish Horowitz z”l hy”d (mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin; killed in the Holocaust) writes:
Every thinking person must remember constantly the immense kindness that Hashem did for us in giving us the ability to anoint High Priests and kings with oil and thereby imbue them with a Divine spirit. We are obligated to believe that the ability to imbue objects with spirituality is not lost forever. True, the tools [for example, the anointing oil] cannot reside in our coarse world, but we must hope for the time when Eliyahu Hanavi will appear to restore such gifts to us. Faithful longing for the restoration of the shemen ha’mishchah actually brings mashiach closer; indeed, it is no coincidence that mashiach and mishchah share the same root. (Naharei Eish Ch.5)

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“Moshe said to Hashem, ‘See, You say to me, “Take this people onward,” but You did not inform me whom You will send with me . . .’” (33:12)

Rashi z”l explains: “That which You said to me (33:20), ‘I will send an angel before you’ is not ‘informing me [whom You will send with me],’ for I am not satisfied with it.”

Why was Moshe Rabbeinu dissatisfied with having an angel lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael? R’ Yitzchak Binyamin Wolf Gottingen z”l (Poland and Germany; died 1686) answers:

Eretz Yisrael is the terumah / choicest of all lands. As such, it belongs to the greatest Kohen, here a reference to Hashem. The Jewish People have a right to enjoy Eretz Yisrael only because a kohen’s slave has the right to eat terumah just as a kohen himself does.

This explains as well why performing the mitzvah of brit milah is a source of merit which helps us hold on to Eretz Yisrael. Milah is a brand which marks us as Hashem’s slaves, which is the basis for our claim to the Land.

Of course, a slave may enjoy terumah only when he is doing the will of his master. If the slave would defile the terumah, he could not eat it, since terumah which is tamei may not be eaten and must be burnt. Similarly, if the Jewish People defile Eretz Yisrael, they may not enjoy it. Thus we read (Devarim 29:22), “Sulphur and salt, a conflagration of the entire Land.”

There is a halachah that a slave may not be given terumah except in the presence of his master. It follows that only in the presence of the Master, Hashem, could Eretz Yisrael be given to Bnei Yisrael. That is why Moshe rejected the idea of an angel leading Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. (Nachalat Binyamin, mitzvah 3)

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“Aharon said, ‘Let not my master's anger flare up. You know that the People is in a bad state.” (32:22)

R’ Dov Ber Schneerson z”l (1773-1827; second Lubavitcher Rebbe) explains: “You, Moshe, know that the nation is in a bad state, but Bnei Yisrael themselves do not know.” A person who has sunken into sin doesn’t even realize that he’s surrounded by darkness. This is what the Gemara means when it says, “Once a person has committed a sin and repeated it, it appears to him that it is permitted.” In this state, people commit inadvertent sins and don’t even know it. This comes from throwing off the yoke of Heaven, which in turn comes from not wanting to accept the yoke of Heaven.

R’ Schneerson adds: When we say in the Pesach Haggadah that Hashem took us out “from darkness to a great light,” this is the darkness to which we refer. (Derech Chaim: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah ch.5)

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“Moshe would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, far from the camp . . .“Hashem would speak to Moshe face to face, as a man would speak with his fellow; then he would return to the camp.” (33:7, 11)

Why did Moshe take the Ohel Mo’ed out of the camp? And, what did Hashem say to Moshe that made Moshe return to the camp?

The Gemara (Berachot 63b) answers the second question: Hashem said, “Just as I showed My face to you, so you should show your face to Yisrael and return the Tent to its place.” R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains:

There are two ways that one can attempt to transmit lessons to his students. One is to present the material on its appropriate level and hope that the students rise to that level. The second is to lower the material to the students’ level.

When Moshe took the Tent out of the camp after the sin of the Golden Calf, he was saying to Bnei Yisrael, “You have lowered yourselves; now you will have to travel a greater distance to attain the same level.” But Hashem rejected that approach. “I lowered Myself to speak to you,” He told Moshe, “and you must lower yourself to speak to them.”

Students must be taught on their level, not on the teacher’s or the material’s level. Therefore, Moshe returned to the camp. (Ain Ayah: Berachot ch. 9, no. 336)

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“Beware of what I command you today . . .” (34:11)

The verses that follow repeat a series of laws that were taught in Parashat Mishpatim, which we read only three weeks ago. Why?

R’ Chaim Kanievsky shlita (Bnei Brak, Israel) explains: The Gemara (Eruvin 54a) teaches that, if not for Moshe’s breaking the Luchot, one would never forget his Torah learning. Therefore, in our parashah, after the breaking of the Luchot, the Torah teaches the importance of review as an aid to memory. (Ta’ama D’kra)

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Memories of Yerushalayim

R' Ben-Zion Yadler z"l (1871-1962; "Maggid / preacher of Yerushalayim”), writes in his memoir, B'tuv Yerushalayim, about his father R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (1843-1917), author of a Torah commentary and a commentary on Midrash Rabbah, both entitled “Tiferet Zion.”

Once, a chassid came to my father’s shul and prayed minchah without a minyan, well after dark. My father became very emotional over this and spoke harshly to the man about his having missed the proper time for prayer, as was my father’s practice when he saw someone transgressing the Shulchan Aruch / Code of Jewish Law. Later, my father felt regret, for the man was merely doing what his ancestors did, and he had not transgressed wantonly. [Ed. note: Some chassidic groups daven outside of the halachically-mandated times because they are busy preparing themselves for prayer.] Therefore, my father asked the gabbai to go to the man’s house to tell him that he (my father) wishes to visit him so as to ask forgiveness. The gabbai went, but the man told the gabbai that my father has no need to come. “Of course I forgive him completely,” the man said. “However, you should know that you did not offend me alone, but also all of the tzaddikim whose practice it is to daven late.”

When my father received this message, he asked me to go and speak to the man and to ask that he forgive my father. I did so. I told the chassid that it is true that he followed the custom of his ancestors. Nevertheless, he needs to be able to judge favorably a person whose every action is in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch. Such a person can’t help but be angry when he sees someone praying after the time specified in the Shulchan Aruch, as our Sages have said (Ta’anit 4a), “It is the fire of Torah that burns within him.” Even after this, my father still was not satisfied. He asked me to invite the chassid to his shul so that he could appease him publicly, and so it was. The man came, and they had a drink together and blessed each other with “L’chaim!” as is customary. My father still was not satisfied, and he donated a container of kerosene to the shul fearing that he had insulted the shul by raising his voice at someone there.


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