Parshat Ki Tisa Vol.10 No.24

Date of issue: 22 Adar 5761 -- March 17, 2001

This week's issue has been sponsored by 
Yocheved and Donald Liss, 
in memory of Rev. Mendel Moshe Klein, 
beloved grandfather of 
Yoni, Yaakov, Hillel, Sara, and Moshe.

How to sponsor

This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Ezra Weiner
David Tessler
Yair Manas
Moshe Westrich
Rabbi Howard Jachter
-*Chadash Observance Today*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *Dani Gross*

Why?
by Rabbi Ezra Weiner

There are individuals who occasionally distinguish between a proficient, meticulous Baal Korei and an inexperienced, careless one based on one aspect of this week's Parsha. Vayechal Moshe Et Penei Hashem Elokav Vayomer Lama Hashem Yechere Apcha Bi'amecha..., "And Moshe supplicated before Hashem and said: 'Why should Your wrath wax hot against Your people…?'" (32:11)

There are only a few occasions in Tanach when the stress and accent of the word Lama is Merula (on the last syllable). In most instances Lama is pronounced Meliyaal, with the emphasis on the Lamed. What is the meaning of this quite uncommon pronunciation of the word lama?

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests as follows: The word lama, which is usually translated as "why," can essentially be broken down into two parts - Le and Ma - which when literally translated means "to what," i.e., to what purpose. When one asks "why" in response to an individual's action, he is essentially questioning two aspects of the action: 1) For what reason did you perform this action, and 2) What objective did you plan to achieve by your performance of this action? Frequently, both aspects are intended. When stressing the Lamed, one is questioning the pertinence of the entire matter - both the reason and objective. However, when stressing the Ma, one accepts that there is good reason for an action or response but questions whether that action will truly accomplish anything. For example, if a father sees his son hit a friend, and asks, "Why did you hit your friend?" the father is interested in ascertaining if his son's friend did something that even warranted a response. However, if the father sees his son's friend teasing him and asks, "Why did you hit your friend," the father understands that there was a reason for a response but is questioning whether hitting is really going to accomplish anything.

Moshe was not challenging Hashem's anger when he declared Lama. The Jews had been warned by the Torah's command to refrain from idol worship, but they chose to disobey by worshipping the Eigel Hazahav. Moshe, however, was inquiring whether Hashem's proposal to annihilate the Jews would really achieve anything. Moshe therefore declared: Lama Hashem Yechere Apcha. For what purpose are You so angry? What will You achieve by maintaining such an excessive degree of anger?

The Pasuk is immediately followed by the common Lama in Lama Yomru Mitzrayim Leimor Beraah Hotziam Laharog Otam Beharim. Moshe asks: "Hashem, You certainly have the right to be infuriated with Your people, but there is no rhyme or reason to generate a Chillul Hashem." This question therefore uses the Lama form.
Similarly, in Parshat Shemot (5:22) when Moshe proclaims: Lama Hareiota La'am Hazeh Lama Zeh Shelachani, Moshe is implying the following: I understand that You have some reason for making the lives of the Jews more difficult in Egypt before You redeem them. However, as is evident from Paroh's most recent decree of Tichabed Haavoda (let heavier work be laid upon them), my incompetence as a leader has been confirmed. I have only made matters worse and I question your very reasoning for specifically selecting me in the first place.

The Door is Always Open
by David Tessler

The Torah tells us that Moshe prayed three separate times during the episode of the golden calf and its aftermath. We see this in Parshiot Ki Tisa and Eikev. The Rav explains that Moshe asked Hashem for three things: to forgive the people and save them from total destruction, to reaccept the Jewish People, and to give the Luchot a second time (according to some, Moshe destroyed the Luchot willingly to save the people). By destroying the Luchot, Moshe severed the obligation of the people to follow the commandments, including the commandment forbidding the creation of an idol. Chazal compare this to a case of a woman whose was betrothed on a condition (Kidushin Al Tenai) and committed adultery. To save her from the death penalty, her husband breaks the condition, thus nullifying the marriage. Moshe was begging Hashem for a new "marriage" to the people, now that the Luchot were broken.

After Moshe successfully saves the people, receives the Luchot again, and has a new "wedding" with Hashem, he makes a strange final request. In Parshat Eikev, Moshe says he prayed for forty days when he went to receive the second set of Luchot. This last prayer was for Hashem to travel in the midst of Bnai Yisrael instead of sending an angel to lead the way. The Rav explained this in the following way: The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 17b) point out that the word Hashem appears twice among the thirteen attributes revealed to Moshe during his forty days on the mountain. The Gemara explains that one refers to Hashem before man sins, while the other refers to Hashem after man sins and repents. Hashem promises to return the sinner who repents to the status he enjoyed before his sin as if the sin never happened. The second name of Hashem teaches that Hashem never forsakes man in a state of sin and always is nearby, pushing man to repent.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin says that Hashem is referred to as both a father and a mother in Tanach. Why are both attributes necessary? After all, both parents love their child, and it is impossible to say whose love is greater. He answered that when a father comes home from work he takes his child and plays with him. As soon as the child soils his diaper, some fathers will hand the child to the mother and say, "Here, take him." The mother will instinctively take the child and wash him, and once he is clean he will be handed back to the father. Rav Chaim said that if Hashem treated mankind only from the perspective of the father, He would discard us the moment we dirtied ourselves with sin. It is the motherly attribute of Hashem that pushes the Jew to repent. It is the motherly attribute that expresses itself through the God Who dwells with Bnai Yisrael even in the midst of their defilement, Who is willing to cleanse the Jews from their spiritual impurity.

Hashem said that an angel would lead Bnai Yisrael. Moshe responded that Hashem should lead them. What was so terrible about being led by an angel of God? Moshe said that while Hashem forgave the people and returned them to their original status after this episode, what would happen the next time they sinned? What would happen after Moshe disappeared from the scene; who would stand behind the Jews and whisper in their ears "repent!" if Hashem was not right there? Moshe asked Hashem to travel in their midst, because not only did they need Hashem with them when the Luchot were intact, but they would need Hashem in their midst because they are a stiff-necked nation. Such a problem would happen again, and Bnai Yisrael would need Hashem to push them to repent. The Rav explained that the reason we say Ata Notein Yad Laposhim, "You offer a hand to those that have sinned," and not Ata Mekabel Shavim, "You accept those who repent," is because Hashem comes to a Jew while he is still in the depths of sin and offers him a way out of the abyss of sin even before the Jew looks for help. Hashem comforts him with the thought that He will be with him every step of the way on the road to repentance.

This is seen throughout Jewish history. The Jews worshiped idols, but they always repented. In the time of Achashveirosh, 12,000 Jews enjoyed the hospitality of the king's party, but a short while later, they all repented when faced with the decree of death. (From a Shiur given by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik February 26, 1957)
There is a Midrash that says that the world was created like the letter Hey. Just as the letter ä is open on the bottom, it is very easy for Hashem's creations to sin and fall through the big opening. The Hey, though, also has an opening towards the top. This connection between man and Hashem is a never-ending connection; we just have to remember that Hashem's door is always open.

Everyone Counts
by Yair Manas

When a census of Bnai Yisrael is taken, the Pasuk says that each man shall give a ransom for himself to Hashem in order to avoid a plague (Shemot 30:12). Seforno says that when a group is counted, the counting is a sign that this group is undergoing a change and requires constant inspection. This change is the result of sin; therefore, this tally must be accompanied by atonement.

Rabbeinu Bachya has a different approach. He says that this tally draws out the individuality of the people, establishing them as separate units independently watched over by Hashem. Therefore, any plague will affect an individual more severely than it would affect him if he were just a part of the greater whole.

The Sefer Hachinuch views the census as Hashem's method of creating equality within the nation. He says that in order to maintain Bnai Yisrael's welfare and increase their merit, Hashem gave each person, rich or poor, an equal share in this Mitzva.

In singling out individuals from a group, a census creates division where there was once unity, so atonement is necessary. Why was a half-Shekel chosen for this purpose? According to Chassidic literature, the half-Shekel teaches us that no Jew can be complete without other Jews, that one Jew alone is only part of what he can become with others.

According to the Chatam Sofer in his Rosh Hashana sermons, this is what Hashem taught Moshe: Moshe knew that when a community is divided into separate groups, conflict arises. Hashem commanded Moshe to take this census to unite Bnai Yisrael.

Sounds of Distress
by Moshe Westrich

Bnai Yisrael were about to receive the Torah from Moshe, but instead they strayed from the will of Hashem. After forty days, they began to worry and they created a new leader, the golden calf. Hashem commanded Moshe to descend from Har Sinai to establish order and eliminate corruption. On his way down, Moshe heard the shouts of the people who were celebrating with their new god. Yehoshua also heard these sounds and said, Kol Milchama Bemachaneh, "the sound of battle is in the camp" (32:17). In the next Pasuk, Moshe tells Yehoshua, "It is not the sound of victory, nor the sound of defeat: I hear the sound of distress." What is strange about this story is the contrast between the sounds made and the sounds heard. If the people were celebrating, why did Yehoshua hear sounds of war, and why did Moshe hear sounds of distress?

There is a story about Rav Chaim of Sanz, who would test children on Mishna or Gemara and reward them with money and candy. Once a group of secular Jews thought they would trick Rav Chaim. They taught Gemara to a gentile and dressed him as a Chasidic child. He related the Gemara perfectly to Rav Chaim. Rav Chaim told this gentile that there are better ways to make money. The secularists asked Rav Chaim how he knew that this boy was not Jewish, and he responded that this boy learned the Gemara as if it was a burden to him, while the other boys had true joy and spirituality.

Moshe and Yehoshua knew the difference between true joy and confusion. Although it might have looked like a celebration, Moshe knew that there were no true sounds of joy. Those with insight can determine that sounds of fake joy and celebration are truly sounds of battle and distress.

Halacha of the Week

One should recite Bitul Chametz in a language that he understands (Rama Orach Chaim 434:2).

Food for Thought
by Dani Gross

1) Parshat Para says that the Mitzvah of Para Aduma is Chukat Hatorah. Rashi says that this is so that the Umot Ha'olam will question the reason for Para Aduma. Rashi says in Parshat Bereishit (1:1) that the reason we start with Sefer Bereishit is to show the Umot Ha'olam that Bnai Yisrael have a strong claim to the land of Israel. Why is Rashi so concerned with the thoughts of the Umot Ha'olam?

If you have a response to this question, please contact us at koltorah@hotmail.com Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editor: Moshe Glasser
Publication Editor & Webmaster: Daniel Wenger
Business Manager: Ilan Tokayer
Staff: Josh Dubin, Zev Feigenbaum, Shuky Gross, Michael Humphrey, Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter
Consultant: David Gertler
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

Subscription information

Report an error

Back to the home page

This publication contains Torah matter and should be treated accordingly.