Remember…The Golden Rule
by Rabbi Darren Blackstein
In his eagerness to be the best-qualified leader for his people, Moshe makes a bold request of Hashem. The Torah tells us in 33:18 that Moshe requests that Hashem “show him His Honor.” According to Seforno, Moshe wants to understand how in even the most distant and perhaps disastrous situations, Hashem’s Honor can still be perceived and understood. As we live in a new phase of dark times, we can perhaps identify and sympathize with Moshe’s request.
However, Hashem responds to Moshe in Pasuk 23 that he will see only Hashem’s back, but not His face. Rashi explains (quoting Masechet Berachot 7a) that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of His Tefillin Shel Rosh. The Chatam Sofer elaborates that the Tefillin on one’s forehead represents that which is present in his mind and in front of his eyes. The Tefillin knot on the back of the head, on the other hand, represents what the Chatam Sofer calls the “Mekom HaZikaron” – the place of memory. In a separate comment, he adds that seeing Hashem’s back as opposed to His front refers to our ability to understand Hashem only retroactively. When things are happening “in front of our face,” when we are directly seeing the front of the Tefillian Shel Rosh, as it were, we are at a loss to understand. Only after time has passed and other parts of the puzzle are in place – once we are looking back at the “knot” of the Tefillin, at our memories of what already happened – do we start to have a sense of what Hashem has in Mind. The Chatam Sofer refers to Purim as an example of this: only after the King’s decree can we see the death of Vashti and the taking of Esther as necessary steps towards our salvation. Before we have such understanding, however, we have to rely on our Emunah, our belief in Hashem. This, the Chatam Sofer says, is a “Zechut” – a merit for us.
What exactly do we believe about Hashem that brings us this merit? Perhaps one element of this belief is the idea that Chazal talk about in Masechet Megillah regarding the transition from Perek 2 of Megillat Esther into Perek 3. Mordechai appears at the end of the second Perek, and the third then begins with Haman’s promotion. Chazal (Megillah 13b) describe this as Hashem creating the cure before the disease. Our savior is in place before the enemy strikes. Thus, even in the midst of tragedy, we believe that Hashem has already prepared the salvation. Setbacks are not outcomes in and of themselves, but stepping stones towards higher plateaus from which we can perceive Hashem.
Using this idea, perhaps we can understand a phenomenon in the Torah’s account of the Mishkan and the Golden Calf. Rashi tells us in 31:18 that events in the Torah are not necessarily described in chronological order and that the incident of the Golden Calf occurred before the commandment to build the Mishkan. Why would the Torah see fit to present these events in reverse order? The Midrash Rabbah to Shemot 51:8 tells us that Hashem said, “Let the gold of the Tabernacle atone for the gold they brought towards the making of the Golden Calf.” In light of what we discussed above, this Midrash becomes even more revealing. Not only can the Tabernacle be seen as a source of forgiveness for our sin with the Golden Calf, but also as the cure for our transgression. Even though the laws concerning the Mishkan were given after the episode of the Golden Calf, these laws are nevertheless mentioned before that event to show us that Hashem has in Mind the cure before the disease. Our growth and development are what Hashem truly desires. Our involvement with the Golden Calf can teach us what would seem to be a “Golden” Rule – that the combination of our collective Emunah and memory can help us to look back and recognize the presence and mastery of Hashem.
What Goes Around
by Tzvi Atkin
At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the Torah discusses the Machatzit HaShekel, which each individual in Klal Yisrael gave every year for the upkeep of the Bait Hamikdash. The Pasuk states, “Venatenu Ish Kofer Nafsho,” “Each man shall give an atonement for his soul” (30:12).
The Baal Haturim points out that the word “Venatenu” is a palindrome – it is spelled “Vav Nun Taf Nun Vav.” He suggests that this is to teach us that in reality, the one who gives is also the one who receives, since he will eventually get back the money he gave.
The Vilna Gaon sees a different reason for the palindrome. He writes that this spelling teaches us that the one who gives may eventually come to need to receive, because his future generations will become poor. He quotes the Gemara (Shabbat 151) which states that poverty is a cycle that strikes everyone’s descendents at some point or another. However, says the Gemara, one may be able to prevent this from happening to his descendants if he gives Tzedakah. The Gaon points out that we can also see this principle from the fact that the trop, the cantillation note, for “Venatenu” is a “Kadma VeAzla,” which in Aramaic means “move quickly and go.” According to the Gaon, this indicates that if we are quick to give money to the poor while we still have money, poverty may go away from our descendents.
We see from the Baal Haturim and the Vilna Gaon just how powerful giving Tzedakah can be. Not only does one get back what he gives, but he may even spare his children and grandchildren from the harsh conditions of poverty.
by Marc Poleyeff
After the tragic incident of Cheit HaEigel, Moshe descends Har Sinai and smashes the Luchot. Consequently, Hashem commands Moshe (Shemot 34:1) to carve two new Luchot just like the first ones: “Pesol Lecha Shenei Luchot Avanim KaRishonim.” A question arises from these instructions: what created a need for the second Luchot to be carved out by Moshe, unlike the first Luchot, which were entirely made by Hashem?
To answer this, we must understand why Bnei Yisrael committed the Cheit HaEigel, which led to the destruction of the first Luchot and thus the need for the second ones. Bnei Yisrael knew that the first Luchot contained the essential part of the Torah they were given at Har Sinai and were entirely Hashem’s work. They therefore believed that they would only be able to understand the Torah with the help of supernatural powers. Therefore, Bnei Yisrael made the image of a calf, mimicking the one engraved on the Heavenly Chariot (see Chizkuni), thinking that by serving it they could come closer to Hashem and attain a greater understanding of His Torah. As long as Moshe was with them, they relied on him to teach them Hashem’s Torah. Now, as the Midrash tells us, they believed Moshe to be dead, so they desired another connection to Hashem and His Torah, and as a result built the Eigel.
However, the Torah was intended for mortals to understand by themselves without looking for other sources of help. We are able to achieve the highest levels of the Torah utilizing our own powers. Therefore, to teach this lesson, Hashem wanted the second Luchot to be, as much as was possible, the work of the mortal Moshe. This would show Bnei Yisrael that they could reach any level of the Torah if they worked hard enough. The Torah that was given through a human and is called “Torat Moshe,” “The Torah of Moshe” (Malachi 3:22), was also meant to be understood by humans using their own intellects.
It Wasn’t Me!
by Dani Yaros
In Parshat Ki Tisa, after describing the horrific events of the Chet HaEigel, the Torah states (32:28), “And there fell from the people on that day about three thousand men.” The Torah indicates that just 3,000 men participated in the sin of the Cheit HaEigel, a mere .5% of the people in a nation of 600,000 men. Even so, Chazal tell us that all of the misfortunes that befell Klal Yisrael for the rest of Jewish history stemmed in part from this sin (see Rashi to Shemot 32:34). Furthermore, after seeing the Eigel HaZahav that Bnei Yisrael built, Moshe Rabbeinu immediately shattered the Luchot. This is shocking, as so few of the Jewish people actually participated in this terrible sin. Why were these Luchot, which were actually carved and written by Hashem, and which were perhaps the holiest item that the Jewish people have ever received, destroyed for the sin of just a relatively small group of people?
To answer this question I would like to cite the words of Rabbi Chaim Jachter in one of his Shiurim at TABC. In relation to a different topic in Chumash (the Ir Hanidachat), Rabbi Jachter explained that tolerance is equivalent to acceptance. Even though just a few members of Klal Yisrael actually participated in this great Aveirah, because everyone else accepted what they were doing and did not stand up for Hashem or try to stop these Aveirot, everyone was punished along with the actual sinners.
We learn from this that if one sees an Aveirah occurring before him, he cannot just let it go or say, “I am not doing the Aveirah, so why should I bother myself with those who are?” If we see others speaking Lashon Hara or performing any other Aveirah, big or small, we must stand up for Hashem and the Mitzvot. We must follow the Torah’s command of “Hochei’ach Tochiach Et Amitecha” (Vayikra 19:17), correcting a fellow Jew who sins. --Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Thinking Outside the Box
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