The parsha begins with the pasuk “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: When you will take a census of the Children of Israel according to their counts, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them, and there will be no plague among them when counting them. This is what they shall give—everyone, who passes among the counted—half of the shekel, by the holy shekel, the shekel is twenty geirah , half of the shekel as a portion to Hashem.” [Shemos 30:11-13]. The Torah here specifies the mitzvah of the “Half Shekel” and instructs what is to be done with the collected funds: “You shall take the silver of the atonements from the Children of Israel and give it for the work of the Tent of Meeting; and it shall be a remembrance before Hashem for the Children of Israel, to atone for your souls.” [Shemos 30:16]
Rashi [ pasuk 15] explains that there were actually three instances of “Half Shekel” collections. We are not going into the details of that explanation here. For our purposes, we are going to focus on what Rashi says in his commentary to pasuk 16: “You have learned from this that Moshe was commanded to count them at the time of the beginning of the contribution toward the Mishkan after the incident of the Egel Hazahav(Golden Calf) because a plague entered among them…. This can be compared to a flock of sheep that was precious to its owner, which had been stricken by pestilence. Once the pestilence had ended, the owner said to the shepherd, ‘Please count my sheep and ascertain how many of them are left,’ to make it known that the flock is precious to him.”
As many Rishonim say, the Torah here is written out of sequence. Parshios Teruma and Tetzaveh, which detail the building of the Mishkan , are followed by Parshas Ki Sisa, which contains the sin of the Egel Hazahav . Chronologically, according to many early commentaries, it did not happen that way. In actuality, the sin of the Golden Calf (in the middle of the month of Tamuz following the Exodus) happened first. Following the sin of the Golden Calf and their being forgiven for it, the Almighty gave them the command to build the Mishkan (the following Tishrei ).
Rashi, following this opinion, writes that they were commanded to be counted at the beginning of their contribution toward building the Mishkan . As it were, the Almighty “wished to know” following the plague caused by the sin of the Golden Calf , how many Jews remained, because of His love for the Jewish people.
This analogy is somewhat skewed. In the case of the person who owned the flock, the sheep were afflicted by an external plague. The owner of the flock did not cause it. He had no control over the pestilence. It is a misfortune that sometimes befalls herdsmen, people who own cattle. Now, nebach , he has lost so many sheep, and he wants to see how many of his beloved sheep remain.
In our case, however, the Master of the Universe Himself brought the pestilence. He brought the plague, and now He wants to see how many Jews are left? Can this be a demonstration of how dear they are to Him? If they were so dear, why did He bring the plague in the first place? Maybe you will argue that they needed the plague, but the analogy is not parallel.
In order to answer this question, let me present a beautiful Torah thought that I heard from the Tolner Rebbe, shlit”a. After the whole incident of the Egel , when the Almighty told Moshe, “Depart from Me that I might destroy them” [Devorim 9:14] we know that Moshe Rabbeinu pleads the with Almighty, “I implore! This people has sinned a great sin and they made for themselves a god of gold. And now, if You would but bear their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written.” [Shemos 32:31-32] Moshe Rabbeinu put his own life on the line, as it were.
Moshe was successful in his mission, and the Almighty forgave Klal Yisrael , despite the fact that “He sent a plague against the people for having made a calf that was made by Aharon.” [Shemos 32:35] Then, further on in the parsha, Moshe comes to the Almighty and says “And now, if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, make Your ways known to me, so that I may know You, so that ‘I shall find favor in Your eyes.’ And see that this nation is Your people.” [Shemos 33:13] Moshe asked—as it were—to get a glimpse of the Master of the Universe. The Almighty responds: “I shall cause all My goodness to pass before you, and I shall call out with the Name of Hashem before you; and I shall show favor when I shall show favor, and I shall have mercy when I shall have mercy… (however) You shall not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live.” [Shemos 33:19-20]
Although Moshe’s primary request could not be granted, the Almighty offered him a modified proposal: “Behold! There is a place with Me; and you will stand on the rock. When My glory passes by, I shall place you in a cleft of the rock, and I shall cover you with My palm until I have passed. Then I shall remove My palm and you will see My back, but My face may not be seen.” [Shemos 33:21-23]
The Sefas Emes asks a question: Up until this point, Moshe Rabbeinu has had an ongoing relationship with the Ribono shel Olam . Moshe never asked Hashem, “Show me, please, Your Glory?” Moshe never requested this intimate encounter with the Ribono shel Olam . Here, after the sin of the Golden Calf , and after the fact that Hashem very angry with Klal Yisrael and was tempted to destroy them, after Moshe pulls out all stops to beg Hashem not to destroy His people—now of all times Moshe advances his request “Please show me Your Glory”? It seems peculiar. Is this the time to ask for such intimacy? Why now?
The Sefas Emes cites an interesting incident with the Chidushei haRim and the Kotzker Rebbe, which relates to this matter. As we have said before, the Kotzker Rebbe was one of the great personalities of the Chassidic movement. He was a man of few but very sharp words. He had very few disciples and at the end of his life he had almost no disciples. One of his outstanding disciples was the Chidushei haRim (the first of the Gerer Rebbes and the grandfather of the Sefas Emes). The Chidushei haRim went to his rebbe, the Kotzker, and asked him, “How do I explain the following phenomenon? I feel more spiritually elevated and holy on the second day of Yom Tov than I do on the first day!”
Personally, I would never ever ask that question. I do not feel more spiritually elevated on the second day of Yom Tov than on the first day of Yom Tov. Of course, as it goes without saying, I am not the Chidushei haRim!
The Kotzker Rebbe explained to his student the following: When a husband and wife have a fight and their Shalom Bayis (marital harmony) has not been so good, many times when they make up they feel closer to each than they did beforehand. There was that tension, there was that rift, there was that break. But if they are successful in working things out and seeing their differences and putting aside their differences, then the husband and wife become closer than before the fight.
This is not to say that the way to enhance your marriage is to get into fights with your wife and then make up. But the reality is—the Kotzker Rebbe says—that husband-wife relationships often greatly improve after a dispute which comes out into the open has been resolved, over what they were before the dispute broke out. The Koztker Rebbe explained that that is why on Yom Tov Sheini someone might feel spiritually closer to the Almighty. What is Yom Tov Sheini about? It is about “Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land.” The Ribono shel Olam was angry with us and He threw us out of Eretz Yisrael . He took away the Beis HaMikdash . As it were, He had a “fight” with us! However, we got back together. Yom Tov Sheini is that getting back together. “Despite the fact that I kicked you out and you are in Galus , there is a second day of Yom Tov.” This second day of Yom Tov celebration represents “the couple after the spat.” The couple, when making up after the spat, feels a fresher intimacy, a more intense intimacy, then was present before the argument.
The Tolner Rebbe correlates this thought to an amazing Rambam in his Mishna Commentary [Parah Chapter 3, Mishneh 3]. The Rambam suggests something there which, on the surface, is counter intuitive.
Consider the following question: Who is more ” Tahor ” (ritually pure) – a person who never became ” Tameh ” (ritually impure) or a person who became ” Tameh ” but then went through a purification process? I would assume most people would say that a person who never in his life was ” Tameh ” is certainly more ” Tahor ” than a person who had experienced ” Tumah ” and then became ” Tahor ” once again.
The Rambam explicitly writes that, on the contrary, the person who had been impure and then went through a purification process is more ” Tahor ” than someone who never experienced ” Tumah “. The proof is that the Torah testifies about such a person saying (after he goes through the purification process) “And he will be Tahor ” (something never explicitly stated about a person who had never become ” Tameh “).
The Tolner Rebbe equates these two concepts. With this he says (and one needs somewhat of a Chassidishe bent to appreciate this) an interesting idea: The Rambam’s Mishna Torah consists of fourteen volumes, one of which is called, Sefer Taharah (the Book of Purity). One of the subdivisions of the Book of Purity is Hilchos Tum’as Meis (the Laws of Death Impurity); another is Hilchos She’ar Avos HaTumos (the Laws of the Balance of Major Categories of impurity); another is Hilchos Tum’as Tzaraas (the Laws of “Leprosy” Impurity). Virtually every subdivision of this volume is called “The Laws of X Category of Impurity.”
The question must be asked – why call it ” Sefer Tahara ” (the Book of Purity)? Call it “Sefer Tum’ah ” (the Book of Impurity). Now, we know that such a volume would not be a best seller; therefore, the Rambam’s publisher did not let him write ” Sefer Tum’ah. ” But, the Tolner Rebbe says, with the above explicated idea we can understand the name of this volume. It is ” Sefer Tahara ” because a person who was impure and then became pure is (according to the Rambam’s own words in his commentary to Mishna Parah) at a higher level of spiritual purity than one who has never been impure.
The Sefas Emes, based on the Torah of his grandfather (the Chiddushei haRim), and the Torah of his grandfather’s Rebbe (the Kotzker Rebbe), explains why Moshe Rabbeinu specifically found it to be an opportune time to request “Please show me Your Glory” after the sin of the Golden Calf , when the Almighty is so angry with Klal Yisrael. The Almighty had been ready to wipe them out, but then He forgave them. Moshe sensed that now, after the “machlokes” (argument), the “Shalom Bayis” moment had arrived. I want this moment of intense intimacy with You, and I want it specifically now because now that the tension is behind us, we can move on to even greater closeness than ever before.
This is the deeper interpretation, as well, of Rashi’s parable. The Almighty brings a plague on Klal Yisrael . Then he wants to count them now to show how dear they are to him. We asked the question – He brought the plague upon them! So now, He wants to count “the flock that is so dear to him?” The answer is “Yes. I brought the plague. You needed the ‘patch’ and it was administered. But now you can build a Mishkan and we can become even closer. Yes, I have punished you, but you are still very dear to Me—perhaps even more so after the punishment than before.”
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Ki Sisa is provided below:
- # 046 Dealing with Illness on Shabbos
- # 089 Returning From a Medical Emergency on Shabbos
- # 137 The Census: Can Jews Be Counted?
- # 184 You and the Seriously Ill: How Much of a Responsibility?
- # 230 The Mitzvah of Shekalim and Davening Musaf
- # 274 Saying Tehillim at Night
- # 320 The Melacha of Dyeing
- # 364 The Melacha of Memachek
- # 408 Fax Machines on Shabbos
- # 452 Kiddush Shabbos Morning
- # 496 Tallis: Bringing It Home On Shabbos
- # 540 Machatzis Hashekel
- # 584 The Meat Delivery At Your Door
- # 628 Mincha – How Early, How Late?
- # 671 Neigel Vasser- Washing Hands When Arising
- # 716 Shaliach Mitzva: Is He Always Safe?
- # 760 Can You Sell Your Aveiros?
- # 804 Great Grandchildren
- # 848 Oy! The Fridge Light Is On
- # 892 Borer: Can You Separate White Meat from the Dark Meat?
- # 936 The Obligation to Learn Tanach
- # 979 Chilul Shabbos to Save a Person Who Will Die Shortly
- #1023 The Onion That Was Cut With a Fleishig Knife
- #1067 Cleaning Plastic Tablecloths, Contact Lenses on Shabbos
- #1110 Washing Your Hands Before Mincha
- #1153 Rinsing Out Your Mouth On A Fast Day
- #1196 Taking a Choleh to the Hospital on Shabbos: You or a Non-Jew?
- #1240 Borer Shailos: Piles of Seforim, Pots in the Fridge and the Messy Freezer
- #1327 Nagel Vasser By Your Bed: Necessary?
- #1371 The Hazala Member Who’s NOT On Call On Shabbos: Can He Go On the Call Anyway?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.