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Posted on April 26, 2004 (5764) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Ki Sisa

Fulfill Your Potential

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Volume XVIII, No. 21
20 Adar 5764
March 13, 2004

Sponsored by
The Yablok family
on the yahrzeit of father and grandfather,
Shmuel Eliezer ben Osher Zev Yablok a”h

Today’s Learning:
Parah 11:9-12:1
O.C. 174:7-175:1
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Chullin 50
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Ketubot 37

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’m 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 Israel 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 instead of begrudgingly. (Darash Moshe)

“The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain . . .” (32:1)

Rashi writes: “Satan came and threw the world into confusion, giving it the appearance of darkness, gloom and disorder, so that people should say; `Surely Moshe is dead, and that is why confusion has come into the world’.”

Tradition records that the women of that generation did not participate in this sin, and they were therefore rewarded with a holiday of their own – Rosh Chodesh / the festival of the new moon. Why did they not participate, and why was their reward Rosh Chodesh?

R’ Ben Zion Rabinowitz shlita (the Bialer Rebbe in Yerushalayim) explains: It is well known that women possess a certain intuition that men lack. It was that intuition that told the women that Moshe was not dead. Therefore, they of course did not participate in making or worshipping the golden calf.

Rosh Chodesh is the only holiday mentioned in the Torah that has the status of an ordinary workday. However, a woman’s intuition can discern the holiness in even such a day. This is why Rosh Chodesh is a holiday for women.

(Mevaser Tov: B’zchut Nashim Tzidkaniyot p. 278)

“They said, `This is your god, O Israel, 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 testing mankind. However, those who saw the magicians thought they were using Ruach Ha’kodesh / a Divine power, just as Moshe was.

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)

“It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dances, that Moshe’s anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.” (32:19)

How are we to understand Moshe’s breaking the Tablets when he descended from the mountain only to discover the people worshiping the Golden Calf? Don’t our Sages say in the Zohar: “If one breaks dishes in his anger, it is as if he were involved in idol worship”?

R’ Dov Ber Friedman z”l (1827-1875; the Leova Rebbe) explains: A tzaddik who wishes to elevate sinners must be able to lower himself to their level. While this would be dangerous for most people, a true tzaddik does not have to fear, for he falls only in order to rise again.

In the episode of the Golden Calf, Bnei Yisrael fell so low that Moshe could not rescue them without descending to their level himself. This is why he broke the Tablets and exposed himself to an act akin to idolatry.

(Quoted in The House of Rizhin p.394)

The Making of a Gadol

How Bedikat Chametz Changed One Man’s Life

R’ Shimshon David Pinkus z”l (rabbi of Ofakim, Israel, and a prolific public speaker and author; died 12 Nissan 5761 / 2001) once told the following story about his own youth:

“When I was still single and studying in the Brisk Yeshiva [in Yerushalayim], I shared an apartment with several other boys. On the night of Bedikat Chametz, I was left all alone in the apartment. And so, at the appointed time, I took upon myself to fulfill the direction of our Sages: `At dark on the 14th [of Nissan], we search for chametz.’

“Searching the entire apartment took one hour, then another, and then several more. It was hard work, and I became tired. Very tired. When I finished the mitzvah, I sat down – exhausted but content.

“Suddenly, I shuddered. `The attic!’ I jumped up as if bitten by a snake. `There is no one here to check the attic. The neighbors won’t do it. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch says expressly that one must check the attic.’

“Naturally, a battle was raging within me. `Is it my responsibility to check the common attic that is shared by all the tenants in the building?’ Of course, my exhaustion was a major consideration. All kinds of thoughts raced through my head, but in the end I decided, `I will not give in. I will fulfill the mitzvah in its entirety.’ With that, I started to climb the steps.

“I opened the door of the common attic and turned on the light, and I was taken aback. It looked as if the space had not been cleaned in years. The ceiling was covered with thick layers of dust. It would be impossible to check the attic in that condition, even putting aside the halachah that one must clean each room before Bedikat Chametz. But it had to be checked, for there was no doubt that people sometimes brought food up there.

“I stood in the doorway, and tiredness washed over me. I was almost too exhausted to know what my real obligation was. But I said, `No matter; I will perform the mitzvah if it takes my last ounce of strength.’

“I went downstairs for a pail of water, and I came back up and started to work. Here I was, a yeshiva bachur cleaning years worth of grime from a common attic at midnight on the night before Pesach.

>From time to time, I paused and asked myself, `Am I sure that this is a mitzvah?’ And I reminded myself that, indeed, we are commanded by the Sages to check the whole house for chametz, including the attic. That knowledge gave me strength to go on. Close to dawn, I finally lit the candle and performed Bedikat Chametz in the attic.

“Needless to say, I could barely stay awake that morning, but there was too much to do to have time for a nap. I said to myself, `What kind of Seder will I have now that I am so tired?!’

“The Seder arrived, and I began to feel a great sweetness in the evening’s mitzvot. I also felt as if a bright light was shining before me. As I read the words of the Haggadah, they had a `flavor’ that I had never experienced. When I ate the matzah, I felt such a connection that I was ready to sacrifice my life for that one mitzvah. I experienced a closeness to G-d that I had never known. I felt so elevated, that I became another person. This feeling lasted through the entire Seder.

“I couldn’t sleep that night, and I stayed up performing the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim / relating the story of the Exodus. As mentioned, I felt a closeness to G-d that I had never known. At first, I assumed that this was a sensation that was possible only on the Seder night, but I was wrong. The next day, I felt the same way.

“In the afternoon, I wondered, `Can this feeling possibly continue through Chol Ha’moed?’ [There is only one Seder night and one day of Yom Tov in Israel.] But the feeling did continue throughout the festival. That year, the seventh [and in Israel, final] day of Pesach was followed by Shabbat. That week, I experienced for the first time in my life what Shabbat was meant to be.

“It was then, after that Pesach and Shabbat, that my real spiritual growth began. If I have any accomplishments to my name today, it is because of that one rabbinically-ordained mitzvah which I performed with true sacrifice.”

(Haggadah Shel Pesach Tiferet Shimshon p. 5)

Copyright © 2004 by Shlomo Katz and

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