Parshas Ki Sisa
“Washing the Workweek Away – Part II”
Halachic sources state that one should bathe before Shabbat. At a minimum, one should wash his face, hands and feet before Shabbat. (Shabbat 25b; Shulchan Aruch O.C. 260:1)
What is the significance of washing one’s face, hands and feet? R’ Itamar Schwartz shlita (Yerushalayim) explains:
Kabbalists write that the first mention of any object or concept in the Torah reveals the essence of that entity. The first mention in the Torah of hand-washing is in our parashah (30:19), “From it [the kiyor], Aharon and his sons shall wash their hands together with their feet” before performing the avodah / Temple service. [Washing one’s feet is mentioned for the first time in Parashat Vayera and was discussed in Hamaayan for that parashah, as was washing one’s face.] Ramban z”l writes that, when a kohen washes his hands before the avodah, it is not for cleanliness; it is a sign of respect, just as the one who serves the king’s meals washes his hands even if they’re clean. On a deeper level, Ramban writes, washing one’s hands and feet symbolizes washing one’s whole being, since the feet are the lowest part of the body and the hands are the highest (when extended above the head). Similarly, R’ Schwartz writes, washing one’s hands and feet for Shabbat cleanses one’s whole being in preparation for Shabbat.
With this understanding, continues R’ Schwartz, we can understand also the halachah that a kohen who is preparing for the avodah must wash his hands and feet simultaneously. Washing the hands and feet is more than just an act of cleansing the hands and feet separately. Since it symbolizes the cleansing of the whole body from top to bottom, the kohen must wash the highest part of the body–the hands–and the lowest part–the feet–together. (B’lvavi Mishkan Evneh: Shabbat p.85)
- “The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain, and the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, ‘Rise up, make an elohim for us that will go before us, for this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt — we do not know what became of him!'” (32:1)/
R’ Yosef Bechor Shor z”l (France; 12th century) writes: “Elohim” in this verse means, “judge, leader, and spokesman,” as in (Shmot 7:1), “I have made you [Moshe] an elohim to Pharaoh.” G-d forbid! Bnei Yisrael did not intend to make an idol. This verse proves that their only intention was to find a substitute for Moshe. (Bechor Shor)
- “The Tablets were G-d’s handiwork, and the script was the script of G-d, charut / engraved on the Tablets.” (32:16)
Pirkei Avot (6:2) notes that the word “charut” can be read “cherut” / “freedom,” and comments: “There is no free person except one who occupies himself with Torah.”
What does this mean? R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania) explains that a person who occupies himself with Torah is free because he is not enslaved by his yetzer hara.
He continues: This spiritual freedom is what distinguishes the Exodus from all other redemptions that the Jewish People have experienced throughout history. In Egypt, not only were Bnei Yisrael enslaved physically, they were enslaved spiritually as well. After the Exodus, which culminated in the Giving of the Torah, the Jewish soul could never again be enslaved. All later persecutions were of the body only, not the soul, and all later redemptions were merely physical redemptions.
R’ Chaver adds: Another aspect of the freedom that resulted from the Exodus is that we acquired the ability to rise above the laws of nature–to live on the plane of miracles, where we rule over nature rather than to be ruled by it. Therefore, the ultimate goal of the Exodus, writes R’ Chaver, was to enter Eretz Yisrael, the land that exists on a miraculous plane where nature does not hold sway. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Yad Mitzrayim p.147)
- “Hashem, Hashem, Kel, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth . . .” (34:6)
This verse and the next contain Hashem’s 13 Attributes of Kindness. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17b) interprets the first two attributes as follows: “I am Hashem before man sins; I am Hashem after man sins.” R’ Moshe ben Yosef Trani z”l (Mabit; 1505-1585) offers several explanations for the first phrase, “I am Hashem before man sins”: (1) “I have mercy on a person before he has sinned, even though he is planning to sin.”
(2) “Even before a person sins, I resolve to forgive him when he repents.” This, writes Mabit, is the meaning of the statement that teshuvah was created before the world. Although G-d knew before Creation that mankind would sin, He resolved that He would forgive them.
(3) “I will accept the penitent back as if he had never sinned.” (Bet Elokim: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah ch.1)
- “Hashem said, ‘Behold! there is a place ‘iti’ / with Me; you may stand on the rock.” (33:21)
R’ Baruch Horowitz z”l (died 2011) writes in the name of R’ Yehuda Ashlag z”l (the Ba’al Ha’sulam; 1885-1954): We are taught that we are supposed to aspire to closeness to G-d. One might ask, however: How are we supposed to long for something that we’ve never even tasted? The answer is contained in our verse: The way to desire a place with Me is through “iti” (aleph-tav-yud), which is an acronym for emunah / faith, tefilah / prayer and yegiah / toil. He explains:
Emunah is the foundation for everything, and its holiness purifies a person’s senses so that he can enjoy Hashem’s light. To the same degree that one strengthens his emunah so he will attain understanding of the Torah, just as Bnei Yisrael received the Torah by declaring “na’aseh v’nishmah” — first we will do, then we will understand. Indeed, this is the trait that most distinguishes the Jewish People from all other nations. What is emunah? It does not mean to believe that there is a Creator who created the world. Only a fool thinks otherwise. This does not require faith, since any clear thinking person who observes the wonders of the universe will recognize the existence of the Creator. Rather, emunah means believing in the greatness of the King, in particular, that everything He does is for the best, though we often cannot see that.
Proper tefilah is an expression of longing for G-d. Through tefilah, one becomes a receptacle capable of receiving what Hashem wants to give. Our Sages say that “Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous.” What this really means is that Hashem desires that the righteous turn themselves into receptacles capable of receiving from Him.
Yegiah / toil also prepares a person to be able to receive spirituality. And, when a person has toiled to attain spirituality, he is less likely to let go of it. (Otiot D’liba p.46)
- “You will see My back, but My face may not be seen.” (33:23)
R’ Yitzchak of Volozhin z”l (1780-1849) explains: G-d’s “face” refers to His thoughts, while His “back” refers to His actions, for just as the face precedes the back, so thoughts precede actions. One can only see G-d’s actions and try his best to understand G-d through them, but no one, not even Moshe Rabbeinu, can fathom G-d’s thoughts.
The same parallel, writes R’ Yitzchak, is behind the statement of the Sage Rabbi Yehuda Ha’nasi, “The reason that I am sharper than my friends is because I saw Rabbi Meir’s back. Had I seen his face, I would have been sharper still.” He meant: I grew from seeing Rabbi Meir’s actions, but had I been privy to his thoughts, I would have grown even more. (Introduction to his father’s Nefesh Ha’Chaim)
Letters from Our Sages
- This letter was written by R’ Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900), chassidic rebbe of Lublin, considered to be one of the greatest scholars and thinkers of the chassidic movement, to a doctor in Manchester, England named Asher, described as a childhood friend of the author. The letter is dated a week after Pesach in 1864 and is printed in Sifrei R’ Tzaddok.
Your letter reached me on the 11th of the month [of Nissan], the day on which the prince of the tribe of Asher brought his offering [to the dedication of the Mishkan]. This is surely an omen that you are following in the ways of your ancestors. [R’ Tzaddok goes on to write that he had heard incorrectly that his friend had settled in America, where most people had thrown off the yoke of Torah, and he was happy to read that his friend was actually in England, where the Jewish community “was more loyal to the ways of Moshe Rabbeinu.” He continues:]
Perhaps you remember the days of old, when I was twelve years old–it is engraved in my memory that I wrote the year [5595 / 1835] in my letter [to you] as the gematria of the phrase, “Shaiv ba’aretz” / “Settle in the land.” As the Gemara (Bava Batra 12b) says, “Now that there are no prophets, prophecy was given to children.” I was hinting to you then that you should not wander to the ends of the earth . . . It also hinted to that which you were destined to ask me 29 years letter. [Ed. note: Although it is nowhere stated, Asher apparently asked R’ Tzaddok’s advice about settling in Eretz Yisrael.]
In truth, based on your station in life, there is no question. It is obvious to any thinking person that leaving England, which is rich in silver and gold, but poor in Torah and mitzvot, is an absolute obligation upon every loyal Jew, a believer the son of believers, who fears Hashem and loves Torah and mitzvot . . .
Even if you will tell me that it is not an obligation, nevertheless, no one denies that living in Eretz Yisrael is a great thing even nowadays . . . Go and succeed, and I pray to the Blessed Hashem that He will direct your heart and the hearts of your family members to fulfill this matter as soon as possible. . . [Ed. note: R’ Tzaddok himself attempted to leave Lublin to settle in Eretz Yisrael, but his chassidim dissuaded him.]
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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