More on this Parsha

Ki Tisa

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Ki Tisa

17 Adar Aleph 5768

February 23, 2008

Vol.17 No.23

In This Issue:

The Wholy Half

by Dr. Joel M. Berman

Parashat Ki Tisa opens by discussing how Bnei Yisrael were to be counted. Each man was required to give "Machatzit HaShekel BeShekel HaKodesh," "A half-Shekel of the holy Shekel" (Shemot 30:13). The half-Shekalim then were counted by Moshe. The Midrash explains how Moshe Rabbeinu had difficulties understanding a deeper significance to both the Mitzvah of the half-Shekel and the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh. Rabi Meir asserts that Hashem finally explained the Mitzvah of the half-Shekel by showing Moshe a fiery coin that He removed from His throne. Similarly, Hashem showed Moshe the new moon that was to be the indicator of Rosh Chodesh. On our levels, these Mitzvot seem quite understandable. The half-Shekel was for the purposes of a census, since Klal Yisrael cannot be counted by direct means, and Kiddush HaChodesh fixes our calendar and symbolizes the waxing and waning of nations and ideas. What was Moshe's difficulty?

A few summers ago, I was learning in a local Beit Midrash in Monsey. It's a hard feeling to describe, but I felt two holes being "drilled" in my back. I turned around to see a former TABC student. I hadn't seen him in years. I'll be generous and say that he had a "colorful" four years at TABC, and both parties were relieved for the same reason upon his graduation. Now, however, he was a Mentch. He dressed, talked, acted, and lived like a Mentch. I was thrilled! What had happened?

That same summer, a parlor meeting was called to raise funds for SHUVU, the outstanding Israeli Kiruv organization. Rav Pam was the speaker. The room where Rav Pam was to speak was decorated with a series of SHUVU success stories, "before and after" pictures of some of their students. Side by side, there would be a picture of "Nikki" before, a pony-tailed hippy adorned with earrings, and of "Nachum" after, a frum accountant dressed like a Mentch with a growing family living in Holon. There must have been twenty such "before and after" pictures. Rav Pam entered the room, carefully stopping to look at the "before" pictures and totally ignoring the "after" pictures as he approached the podium to speak. What explains Rav Pam's behavior?

Moshe Rabbeinu is described as the humblest of men. He was "Tocho KeVaro," his insides and outsides mirrored each other. He said what he meant and he meant what he said. One of my Rebbeim once wondered out loud that perhaps Moshe found it difficult to understand how people or Mitzvot could have many contradicting facets. In other words, he found it puzzling that for this Mitzvah, a half-Shekel could be so different from a whole Shekel, and that one side of the moon was different from the other.

What had happened to change the young man I saw in the Beit Midrash that Summer afternoon? Why did Rav Pam look only at the "before" pictures? Rav Pam explained that he was trying to see the "after" that was always in the "before." The Mentch was always there! The young man in the Beit Midrash always had it in him! It is our job as teachers, mentors, and friends to see the "other half" of this coin, the "other half" of this moon, and encourage it to emerge and flourish.

The Accessibility of Torah

by Gilad Barach

In Parashat Mishpatim, Hashem instructed Moshe, "Aleih Eilai HaHarah VeHyeih Sham VeEtena Lecha Et Luchot HaEven VeHaTorah VeHaMitzvah Asher Katavti LeHorotam," "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there, and I will give you the stone Luchot and the Torah and the Mitzvah that I have written to teach them" (Shemot 24:12). It appears from this Pasuk that Moshe merely had to go up Har Sinai and learn the Torah from Hashem whereupon he would return with the Luchot, produced entirely by Hashem. Furthermore, in Parashat Ki Tisa, Hashem presented the Luchot to Moshe (31:18), and they are later described, "VeHaLuchot Maaseih Elokim Heimah VeHaMichtav Michtav Elokim Hu," "The Luchot were works of God, and the writing was the writing of God" (32:16). This Pasuk clarifies that Hashem not only wrote the words of the Luchot, but also designed and provided the stones of the Luchot.

As the events of the Cheit HaEigel unfolded, Moshe threw the Luchot to the ground by the foot of the mountain and shattered them. After Moshe successfully prayed for forgiveness of Bnei Yisrael's sin, he was commanded, "Pesol Lecha Shenei Luchot Avanim KaRishonim VeChatavti Al HaLuchot Et HaDevarim Asher Hayu Al HaLuchot HaRishonim Asher Shibarta," "Carve for you two stone Luchot like the first, and I will write on the Luchot the words that were on the first Luchot that you broke" (34:1). Why was the second set of Luchot carved by Moshe, unlike the first set?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains this change not as a negative effect of the Cheit HaEigel but rather as an encouraging reaction to the state of Bnei Yisrael at this time. One of the reasons that Bnei Yisrael committed the sin of Cheit HaEigel is that they felt so distanced from and numb to the concept of God. Yes, Hashem had taken them out of Mitzrayim "BeChoach Gadol UVYad Chazakah," "With great might and a strong arm" (32:11). But apparently, Bnei Yisrael still preferred to give credit to the more tangible middleman, Moshe Rabbeinu. When they approached Aharon with concern about Moshe's delay in coming down from Har Sinai, they referred to him, "Zeh Moshe HaIsh Asher He'elanu MeiEretz Mitzrayim," "This man, Moshe, that brought us up from the land of Egypt" (32:1). As much as the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim were designed to show Bnei Yisrael the might of Hashem, to a large extent, Bnei Yisrael remained ignorant to His involvement. Bnei Yisrael complained to Moshe when they were trapped at Yam Suf, he answered, "Al Tira'u," "Do not fear" (14:13), and they were saved. Three days later, when they arrived in Marah and the water was too bitter to drink, Bnei Yisrael again cried out to Moshe, and he fixed the problem. It therefore was relatively easy for Bnei Yisrael to misunderstand the hierarchy of their nation and to believe that Moshe truly was the one responsible for the miracles they recently had experienced. This was the mentality of "Zeh Moshe HaIsh Asher He'elanu MeiEretz Mitzrayim" - to Bnei Yisrael, Moshe was the man responsible for their redemption from Mitzrayim.

The fact that the second Luchot were formed by Moshe rather than Hashem was actually a way in which Hashem reached out to this generation of Bnei Yisrael. As they demonstrated via the Cheit HaEigel, they could not easily grasp the concept of divine law or authority without a human middleman. They couldn't learn Torah directly from Hashem, as they said following the Aseret HaDibrot, "VaYomeru El Moshe Dabeir Atah Imanu VeNishmaah VeAl Yedabeir Imanu Elokim Pen Namut" "They said to Moshe, 'You speak to us and we will listen, let God not speak to us lest we should die'" (20:15). However, Hashem wants everyone to be able to access Torah in his or her own way. Since the first Luchot were too spiritual and abstract for Bnei Yisrael to appreciate, the second Luchot were made with human involvement.

Torah does not require some sort of supernatural connection to Hashem in order to be studied. "Lo BaShamayim Hee" (Devarim 30:12) - each person has the ability and the requirement to connect to Hashem and to learn His Torah in his or her own way. May we all learn from the terrible Cheit HaEigel to be more receptive to God's Hand in our lives and to approach His Torah with our individual abilities.

Counting Confusion

by Moshe Kollmar

Parashat Ki Tisa begins with the Mitzvah to count Bnei Yisrael. The Torah states, "Zeh Yitenu Kol HaOveir Al HaPekudim Machatzit HaShekel BeShekel HaKodesh," "This is what everyone who will be counted should give: a half shekel of the holy shekel" (Shemot 30:13). Why were Bnei Yisrael commanded to give specifically a half shekel? The Torah explains that this census was to serve as an atonement, but what did this atone for?

Parashat VaYeishev records that Yosef was sold by nine of his brothers for twenty Dinars, which is equivalent to five Shekalim HaKodesh. Although only nine of his brothers sold him, according to Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat VaYeishev, number 3), ten brothers received the money of his sale, with each one receiving a Machatzit HaShekel. However, how is Mechirat Yosef related to the Mitzvah to take a census of Bnei Yisrael? In Parashat BeMidbar (3:44-51), the Pasuk states that the Leviim were to assume the Bechorim's positions of honor, and the residual Bechorim, who didn't have their Kedushah transferred to a Levi, would need to donate five Shekalim to the Mishkan. According to Rashi, this amount was to atone for the sale of Yosef, who was the Bechor of Rachel Imeinu. These Bechorim have a connection to the census of all of Bnei Yisrael, as they too were counted prior to the transferring of their Kedushah. Since both these Bechorim and Bnei Yisrael in the census mentioned in Ki Tisa donated Shekalim for use in the Mishkan and were counted, there is an indirect connection between the census of Bnei Yisrael and Mechirat Yosef. This illustrates how the census can be interpreted as a Kapparah for the Mechirah. May this time of year be a time of atonement for all of Bnei Yisrael, and may we all be Zocheh to be forgiven and to merit the coming of the Mashiach, BeMeheirah BeYameinu.

It's Not My Fault!

by Eli Lehman

Parashat Ki Tisa tells the story of the Eigel HaZahav, the golden calf. A major question that arises is why Aharon didn't stop Bnei Yisrael from building the Eigel. Surely he knew it was a grave sin. Rashi explains that Aharon did know that Bnei Yisrael were sinning, but if Aharon had attempted to stop them, Bnei Yisrael would have killed him, just as they killed Chur, which would make their sin even worse. Similarly, the Ohr HaChaim comments that when Aharon told Bnei Yisrael to gather gold (Shemot 32:2), he did not mean it in his heart; he knew that the golden calf was wrong. The problem with this approach is that Aharon actively assisted in the creation of the Eigel. If he simply wanted to stop Bnei Yisrael from killing him, he could have avoided participating. Why did he seemingly take the leading role?

Rashi himself deals with this issue. He explains that Aharon asked Bnei Yisrael to give the jewelry that their wives had. Aharon thought that the wives would not be so quick to give up their gold. By the time Bnei Yisrael could convince them to give it up, Moshe would return. Unfortunately, Aharon's plan failed, as Bnei Yisrael were quick to give Aharon their own gold.

The Ramban and Rashi add that Aharon delayed Bnei Yisrael in another way as well. After Bnei Yisrael finished building the calf, Aharon said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to Hashem" (32:5). Aharon specifically procrastinated in the hopes that Moshe would come before Bnei Yisrael sinned.

The Ohr HaChaim, Rashi, and the Seforno all understand that Aharon's feast was intended to celebrate Hashem Himself, not the Eigel. Thus, far from being the leader of the Cheit HaEigel, Aharon did his best to prevent the sin.