Parshas Ki Sisa
Moshe returned to God, and said, “This people has erred greatly, and have
made a god of gold. However, please tolerate their error, and if not, remove
me from Your book which You have written.” (Shemos 32:31-32)
Huh? Was this a bluff? Of course not. No one bluffs God, because He read our
hearts and minds better than we can. In fact, we’re more likely to fool
ourselves before we fool God, because as they say, “You can fool yourself
some of the time, others, most of the time, but God, none of the time.”
Actually, that’s what I say. I don’t know if anyone else says it, but it is
true nonetheless. And, if Moshe Rabbeinu was not bluffing, and we can
certainly assume that he wasn’t, then what was he thinking? He had done his
best to save the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf; if God
still wanted to wipe them out and leave him alive, who was he to argue? If
that was God’s plan, wasn’t it also the best way?
God said to Moshe, “Whoever erred against me, I will remove. Go now and lead
the people to the place which I told you about.” (Shemos 32:33)
God’s response is equally puzzling. God could have easily told Moshe, “It is
not you who dictates the terms of this arrangement. I chose you to lead the
people to Eretz Yisroel whether I wipe out the nation or not. Now, get back
This little dialogue is actually a lesson within a lesson. The overall story
is about the sin of the golden calf, and God’s response to it. However,
within this account is an important lesson about free-will and what it means
to be a Jewish leader, and how God deals with our decisions.
Nothing pleases God more than when we take responsibility for His Creation.
Obviously, we can never take ourselves so seriously as to think that we are
in place of God, as many seem to do. But, on some level, we are supposed to
take responsibility for as much of the world as we can, and act as if it
depends upon us to survive.
In fact, if we are negligent, we’re held responsible even if the crisis did
not occur, if it would have occurred without Divine intervention. No damage
can occur from someone if something is not meant to be damaged, and no one
can stop something from being damaged if it is meant to be damaged, as Yosef
reminded his brothers at the end of Parashas Vayechi. But, someone can be
held responsible if it could have occurred but didn’t, or be credited with
saving something even if he didn’t, as a long his intentions and actions
were designed to accomplish one result or the other.
Thus, when Moshe Rabbeinu made his remark to God, he was showing to what
extent he was prepared to take responsibility for the future of the Jewish
people. This was not something that could anger God, but something to make
him find favor in God’s eyes. Therefore, God didn’t reprimand Moshe in the
end, He just told him that no matter how much he cared for the Jewish
people, he could not be excluded from the Torah.
But, he was left out of one parshah: Tetzaveh. Some learn this to have been
a punishment, kind of along the lines that a curse that comes out of the
mouth of a talmid chacham has to have some kind of fulfillment, somewhere.
Therefore, though Moshe was not excluded from the Torah completely, he was
excluded from one parshah.
However, was it actually a punishment, in light of the above? If Moshe
Rabbeinu did something positive, can his words be considered a curse in need
of some kind of fulfillment? After all, the entire Torah is called Toras
Moshe, and there are many parshios in which Moshe Rabbeinu’s name is not
even hinted to, at least as far as most of us see. So, the real question is,
to whose detriment is the exclusion of Moshe from Parashas Tetzaveh?
It’s like what happened with respect to the laws of karshus, after the war
against Midian in Parashas Mattos. For sending their women in (on Bilaam’s
advice), in order to draw the Jewish men into sin, the Jewish people went to
war against Midian on the command of God. Successful in battle, they later
returned to the Jewish camp with plenty of booty — and Midianite women!
Moshe Rabbeinu couldn’t believe his eyes! The very source of the sin that
just caused such unmitigated destruction was being brought back as part of
the spoils of war? Moshe became so angry with the Jewish people that he was
denied the opportunity to teach the Jewish people the laws of kashering the
utensils that they brought back from the war. Eliezer, the Kohen Gadol,
taught them instead.
However, in the end, who was the real loser, Moshe Rabbeinu, or the Jewish
people? The Jewish people, of course. As great as Eliezer HaKohen was,
learning from him was not on the same level as learning from Moshe Rabbeinu
himself, especially the laws of kashrus, since they have clues to redemption
built into them. However, proving themselves unworthy, Moshe Rabbeinu was
not the source of these unique laws.
As the Maharsha says, Jewish leaders are directed by Heaven based upon the
merits of the people (Gittin 56b). Yes, they should tell us what we need to
do, or what we shouldn’t do. Yes, Heaven should direct them to direct us,
but only, explains the Maharsha, if we, the people, are worthy of such
So, whose loss is it that Moshe Rabbeinu is not mentioned in Parashas
Tetzaveh, especially being such an important parshah (as I explained in my
other parshah sheet, Deeper Perceptions), his, or or ours?
In fact, Parashas Tetzaveh often comes out right in advance of Purim, making
it Parashas Zachor as well, when we recall the attack of Amalek in he desert
(and often the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu himself), right before arriving at
Mt. Sinai. At first there seems to be little connection between the two
parshios, other than the timing, but as I explain in Deeper Perceptions,
that is definitely not the case.
Therefore, it is more than interesting that Moshe Rabbeinu did not go to war
against Amalek, as he did against other enemies along the way. He was
certainly there, but in the background, perhaps like in this week’s Maftir,
adding the spiritual component to a physical battle: As Yehoshua led the
troops in war against Amalek, Moshe Rabbeinu kept his hands held high to
keep the Jewish people focused on their Source of success.
Perhaps there is a different message in all of this than simply the
fulfillment of words that Moshe Rabbeinu uttered in earnest, and for all the
right reasons. How much more so since we see shortly after that God tells
Moshe how much He likes him. Instead, maybe it has to do with the nature of
the battle against Amalek itself, something that, perhaps, we take for
granted and ought not to, a lesson, perhaps, we can learn from the Spies.
According to Rashi in Parashas Shlach, the Spies had been important men,
kosher men. But then again, would Moshe have sent anything but on such an
incredibly important, historical, and dangerous mission. Look how much was
riding on their success, so how could anyone but people of the caliber of
Yehoshua and Caleiv go to spy God’s monumental gift to the Jewish people?
And yet, shortly after, Rashi mentions that, just as their return from the
mission had been with bad intentions, so too had their going on the mission
been with bad intentions! Does that not sound as if Rashi is contradicting
himself, and in such close proximity of his original statement?
That is what it may sound like, but that is not what is happening. Rather,
both statements are true, and the only things in close proximity of each
other is how quickly 10 of the 12 Spies changed from being kosher to treif,
pretty much immediately after getting their instructions from Moshe
Rabbeinu and leaving him to carry out their mission. Indeed, not only is it
true that, when that cat is away the mice will play, but when the mice leave
the cat and go out on their own, they can also lose it as well.
In the case of the Spies, the problem was that they had still been dependent
upon Moshe Rabbeinu for their connection to God, and to remain connected to
the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people. It wasn’t that, even while around
Moshe, they had thoughts of rebellion and only took advantage of the
opportunity of spying to make good on mutinous plans. As Rashi said, until
leaving Moshe Rabbeinu, they had been kasherim.
However, away from Moshe Rabbeinu, doubts creeped in. As the went out on
their own into a foreign land ruled by 31 hostile kings with plenty of
fighting experience, and they had none, they couldn’t help but question the
events destined to occur once they tried to take what they considered to be
their land. And, the way it usually goes is that small doubts lead to bigger
doubts, and bigger doubts lead to even bigger doubts, until they cross the
point of no-return, causing a total loss of perspective and capitulation to
the intellectual void that is Amalek, the gematria of which is suffek — doubt.
A large part of the problem wasn’t a lack of belief in God or His ability to
miraculously conquer the nations of Canaan; they didn’t the ability of Moshe
Rabbeinu to lead them in battle and to victory. Rather, as the Leshem
explains, the problem was a lack of belief in themselves, which made them
feel unworthy of victory, miraculous or natural, and that made them
entertain other options that previously would have been unacceptable.
With the exception of some of the leaders at the top, we are all vulnerable
to the same kinds of doubts in various different situations in life. It’s
nice when your spiritual leader is close by, and you can call him up or run
to his house to get advice and straighten out the confusion, but life is not
always so convenient, as the Holocaust and even lesser crises have proven.
Life can come down to life-and-death decisions, with no one to rely upon but
ourselves to decide. A person has to be ready, or at least as ready as possible.
What does it mean to be ready? The first thing a person has to do is learn
as much halachah as he can, and create as sophisticated a Torah data base as
possible. At the same time, he has to work on himself to become as much of a
God-fearer as possible, inasmuch as he has to develop self-honesty and
integrity; honesty has to matter more to a person than self-interest.
We need this in order to be open to siyita d’Shemaya — Heavenly help. After
all, we have limited learning time, and self-perfection is a lifelong
project. Crises come at us far more often than we are usually ready for
them, which is why we are often not pleased with the results. Success,
physical and especially spiritual, is not a one-man job. As the Talmud
writes, to succeed in life, from a Torah perspective, we need to enlist the
help of Heaven:
Everyday the yetzer hara gets up to kill a person, and would succeed if
Heaven did not help. (Kiddushin 30b)
It is not about getting lucky. It is about getting Divine guidance, which
can be something as basic as a hunch after we have done all we can to
understand a situation, but it is still not enough. Life, and often history,
does not wait for us to catch up. Like a swiftly moving river, it keeps
moving downstream despite the obstacles in its path, including misinformed
and misguided people and leaders.
With God, we can bridge the gap. Given over to truth and the Torah way, God
has no problem lending a helping hand to help us to rise to the occasion,
and accomplish greater things than our own personal assets might otherwise
allow. That is what siyita d’Shemaya is all about.
In fact, explains the Arizal, one of the ways that God lends us that helping
hand is something called ibur, a form of reincarnation that happens while
we’re actually already alive. It is not the return of our own soul in a new
body, but the return of the soul of another person in our current body, to
help us out (Sha’ar HaGilgulim).
Usually, explains the Arizal, it is a soul that excelled at what we need to
accomplish, but can’t on our own. It’s as if our soul gets a turbo-charge,
greatly increasing our personal capacity, and it remains that way as long as
the extra soul — or souls, since three additional souls can be added to our
main soul — remains with us, which is as long as we merit it.
Don’t worry: It won’t make you schizo, just spiritually uplifted. In fact,
prophecy worked the same way, on an even higher level. What was prophecy? It
was God giving the prophet extra information, knowledge he previously had
not, and probably could not, accumulate through his own efforts. It may have
been reward for the prophet’s pursuit of Torah and closeness to God, but it
resulted in revelations beyond any data base someone could personally construct.
Even insights work the same way. How many times, after much thought and
effort, do we all of sudden get a flash and find solutions to problems
previously thought unsolvable, or achieve new levels of understanding that
we can’t explain how we reached? It’s as all of a sudden if it just showed
up in our brain, which it may very well have done.
Either way, it is the result of Heavenly help to go beyond our personal
capacity, something we have to merit through our efforts to advance our
level of Torah understanding, and our level of sincerity and integrity. It
might not make us into Moshe Rabbeinu, or even put us on par with the Torah
leaders of our generation. But, it can certainly help us out in a bind, and
protect us from bad influences when we are away from our spiritually secure
environments, something that can occur as soon as you walk out your front door.
Until Moshiach comes, Amalek will continue to be on the prowl, looking for
spiritual stragglers. He will continue to hunt for people who are weak in
their Torah learning and make little effort, if any, to change their
situation. He will even take advantage of Jews who know much Torah, but who
lack sincerity and spiritual integrity. He will create situations that take
advantage of people who are overly dependents on their leaders, to cause
them to stumble, and then tumble, from being Torah-true Jews, especially in
such a face-paced and easily-distracting world like the one in which we find
In truth, all Torah flows through Moshe Rabbeinu to each and every Jew in
every generation. However, to be open to it, we have to be
spiritually-independent as well, so that we can maintain our Torah-integrity
even in times when we are without leaders to whom to turn. Then we are
invincible against Amalek and his tricks, and can even be leaders for others
who are less independent in their Torah observance.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.