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Posted on February 29, 2024 (5784) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Volume 38, No. 21
22 Adar I 5784
March 2, 2024

Sponsored by Nancy & David Broth and Rona & Aaron Lerner on the yahrzeit of their father, Alvin Cohen (Avraham ben Yaakov Hakohen a”h)

Our Parashah begins with the commandment that, when a census of Bnei Yisrael is taken, it should be done by collecting a half-shekel from each person who is to be counted. The Torah emphasizes (30:15), “The wealthy shall not give more and the destitute shall not give less than half a shekel.” Everyone is the same. Everyone is counted equally.

The Gemara (Bava Batra 10b) relates that Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem, “Master of the Universe! How will Yisrael be exalted?” Hashem answered, “Through Ki Tissa”–the opening words of the commandment described above (30:12). What does this mean?

R’ Avraham Zuckerman z”l (1915-2013; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Kfar Ha’ro’eh and chairman of the network of Bnei Akiva Yeshivot) explains: Moshe Rabbeinu was asking that the Jewish People be clearly distinguishable from other nations, as we read later in our Parashah (33:16), “How, then, will it be known that I have found favor in Your eyes . . . unless You accompany us, and I and Your people are made distinct from every people on the face of the earth!” What highlights the special nature of the Jewish People? Having each person donate a half-shekel, which simultaneously demonstrates that every person counts but also that no person is a “whole” by himself. Just as we were “like one man with one heart” when we received the Torah, so we are always–one united nation, with one Hashem, one Torah, and one Mishkan/Mikdash. That is our uniqueness. (Luchot Even)


“You shall speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying, ‘This shall remain for Me oil of sacred anointment for your generations. It shall not be smeared on human flesh . . .’” (30:31-32)

R’ Chaim Vital z”l (1543-1620; Tzefat and Damascus) writes: The real person is the soul, not the body, as we read (Iyov 10:11), “You clothed me with skin and flesh; you covered me with bones and sinews.” This indicates that skin, flesh, bones, and sinews are merely the clothing, the covering, of the person, not the person himself. Likewise, our verse says that the annointing oil shall not wantonly be smeared on “human flesh”–a construct that indicates that the “flesh” is not the “human,” but rather that the flesh belongs to the human. The body is merely the garment of the intellectual soul, which is the true identity of the person. (Sha’arei Kedushah 1:1)


“Hashem spoke to Moshe, ‘Go, ascend from here . . .’” (33:1)

R’ Mordechai HaKohen z”l (1523–1598; Tzefat, Eretz Yisrael; later, rabbi of Aleppo, Syria) writes: Before, Hashem said to Moshe (32:7), “Go, descend!” Now that Moshe sacrificed himself and prayed for them, Hashem said, “Go, ascend!” as if to say, “You have elevated yourself.” (Siftei Kohen)

R’ Chaim Zaichyk z”l (1906-1989; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet Yosef-Novardok in Buchach, Poland; later in Haifa, Israel) elaborates: Whenever the Jewish People stumble, the righteous become elevated through studying Mussar–i.e., paying attention to the causes of their brethren’s mistakes in order to avoid repeating them, by increasing their level of Yir’ah / reverence, by praying to Hashem to forgive the Jewish People, and by praying that they themselves not to be ensnared in the sins of the many.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s own elevation as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf was particularly noticeable, as we read (34:29), “The skin of his face had become radiant when He (Hashem) had spoken to him.” R’ Chaim ben Attar z”l (1696-1743; Morocco, Italy and Eretz Yisrael; the Ohr Ha’chaim Ha’kadosh) comments that the other righteous people in that generation were disappointed with themselves that they had not similarly grown through this episode. This is the meaning of the next verse, which tells us, “Aharon and all Bnei Yisrael saw Moshe, and behold!–the skin of his face had become radiant; and they feared to approach him.”

Following the sin of the Spies, we read (Bemidbar 14:38), “Yehoshua bin Nun and Kalev ben Yefuneh lived from among those men who were going to spy out the Land.” Through witnessing their colleagues’ errors, Yehoshua and Kalev grew–they gained added “life.” (Ohr Chadash)


“Hashem passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Hashem, Hashem, Kel, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger, and Abundant in kindness and truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who Cleanses’.” (34:6-7)

R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l (1772-1810; Ukraine) teaches: Know that a person has bundles and bundles of sins, for one sin draws another sin in its wake (Avot 4:2). When a person sins, he is drawn to perform related sins, and when he commits a different sin, he is drawn to perform additional sins similar to that second sin.

R’ Nachman continues: From each bundle of sins, destructive angels are created (see Avot 4:13). These destructive forces cry out, so-to-speak, “Give us life! Give us sustenance!” Even though a person is thus pushed, in a sense, to continue sinning, he is held responsible because he should have followed this original sin with a Mitzvah, and that would have protected him.

How does a person break this cycle once and for all? The solution, says R’ Nachman, is to practice the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy listed in our verses. In this way, a person awakens the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy above, which, in turn, subdue the destructive angels the person created. One of the Thirteen Attributes, our Sages say, is that Hashem “wipes out the first sin.” When the first sin in a bundle of sins is erased, says R’ Nachman, the rest of the bundle falls apart, because all of the later sins were merely the result of the first sin. (Sichot Ha’Ran #89)


“He was there with Hashem forty days and forty nights . . .” (34:28)

R’ Shlomo Wolbe z”l (1914-2005) notes: The statement, “He was there with Hashem,” is not written about any person in history other than Moshe Rabbeinu. (Shiurei Chumash)



“Moshe will rejoice in the gift of his portion: that You called him a faithful servant. A crown of splendor You placed on his head when he stood before You on Har Sinai. He brought down two stone tablets in his hand, on which is inscribed the observance of the Shabbat. And so it is written in Your Torah (Shmot 31:16–in our Parashah), ‘And Bnei Yisrael shall keep the Shabbat . . .’” (From the Shabbat morning prayers)

What is the “crown of splendor” that Moshe received? Also, why do we single out that Shabbat is mentioned on the Luchot?

R’ Chaim Menachem Yaakovson shlita (Bnei Brak, Israel) explains: Our Sages say that when Bnei Yisrael said, “Na’aseh ve’nishma” / “We will do and we will hear,” angels placed two crowns on each person’s head–one for “Na’aseh” and one for “Nishma.” However, when the Jewish People made the Golden Calf, they were stripped of those crowns, as we read in our Parashah (33:6), “So Bnei Yisrael were stripped of their jewelry from Mount Chorev.” (Har Chorev is another name for Har Sinai.) Along with those crowns, they also lost the first set of Luchot, which Moshe smashed when he came down from Har Sinai.

But Moshe, who had no role in that sin, remained on the level that Bnei Yisrael had attained before making the Golden Calf, R’ Yaakovson writes in the name of R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania). Thus, continues R’ Yaakovson, the Gemara (Sotah 13b) says that Moshe never died. Like Adam Ha’rishon before his sin, Bnei Yisrael were freed from the decree of death when they said Na’aseh ve’nishma, and, also like Adam, death was decreed on them when they sinned. But not so Moshe; since his existence was entirely spiritual, it can be said homiletically that he never died, though his physical body did expire.

In this light, explains R’ Yaakovson, we can understand the “crown of splendor” mentioned in our prayers as a reference to the crowns that the angels gave Bnei Yisrael when they accepted the Torah. When Bnei Yisrael lost their crowns, Moshe Rabbeinu received them all, says the Gemara.

R’ Yaakovson continues: The Gemara’s wording when it speaks about those crowns is that Moshe received “the crowns of all of Yisrael.” This description implies that the crowns still belong to all of the Jewish People in some sense. How so? Because there is one day a week when we can recapture the lofty spiritual level of the original Giving of the Torah and of the first set of Luchot. That day is Shabbat! And this, writes R’ Yaakovson is why we note in our prayers that Shabbat was inscribed on the Luchot. (Mei Be’er: Nehora D’Shabta p.121)