“Kiyemu VeKibelu”: Purim as a Rectification of the Cheit HaEigel by Shmuel Ross


While the holiday of Purim has four Mitzvot HaYom, namely Keriat HaMegillah, Mishteh, Mishlo’ach Manot, and Matanot Le'Evyonim, the main theme of the day is Kabbalat HaTorah (the acceptance of the Torah). The Gemara (Shabbat 88a) explains that at Ma’amad Har Sinai, Hashem held the mountain over the Jewish people and told them that if they didn’t accept the Torah, they’d be killed on the spot. The Gemara continues that BneiYisrael reaccepted the Torah willingly during the time of Achashverosh, based on the phrase “Kiyemu VeKibelu,” “They upheld and they accepted” (Esther 9:27).

This Gemara can give us a better understanding of the account of Cheit HaEigel found in Parashat Ki Tisa. After the ten Makkot, Keriat Yam Suf, and Matan Torah, how could BneiYisrael commit such an abominable sin? Perhaps it was because the original acceptance of the Torah was forced upon them. Since this wasn’t a genuine acceptance, once the moment passed, Bnei Yisrael returned to their lowly, idolatrous ways which they had practiced in Egypt. Therefore, a later generation of the Jewish people needed to reaccept the Torah in order to amend the original Kabbalat HaTorah.

A much stronger connection exists between the two events, and it further elaborates how the events of Purim rectified both Matan Torah and the events that followed it. The Pasuk in Ki Tisa explains that the reason for the Cheit HaEigel was due to Moshe’s “delaying” on Har Sinai: “VaYar Ha’am Ki Vosheish Moshe LaRedet Min HaHar” “When the nation saw that Moshe was late in coming down from the mountain” (Shemot 32:1). Bnei Yisraelwere unaware of Moshe’s whereabouts. Consequently, a group of people approached Aharon and asked him to create new “gods” to replace Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah recounts the details of the construction of the Eigel HaZahav, along with BneiYisrael’ssubsequent sin of dancing, eating, drinking, and offering Korbanot around it.

As the Pesukim explain, it was the delay of Moshe Rabbeinu that caused the episode of the Cheit HaEigel. (Whether Moshe was actually delayed, or the nation merely became impatient is a separate discussion.) Clearly, when action is delayed, unfortunate events occur. The converse motif is found in Megillat Esther. Once Mordechai heard about Haman’s evil decree, he explained to Esther that if she did not act as soon as possible, she, her family, and the entire Jewish nation would be murdered. Esther jumped into action immediately and eventually sabotaged Haman’s plan, thus saving the Jewish people. While Moshe Rabbeinu’s delay led to the nation’s spiritual downfall, Mordechai and Esther’s awareness and Zerizut (agility) saved the entire nation from destruction. It also resulted in the new and improved Kabbalat HaTorah.

      While the Cheit HaEigel undid the original Kabbalat HaTorah, the holiday of Purim accomplished the exact opposite. Moshe’s perceived delayed behavior is contrasted to Mordechai and Esther’s swift action in a time of desperate need. The Rama (ShulchanAruch O.C. 695) explains that unlike the food and wine in which BneiYisrael indulged during the Cheit HaEigel, Bnei Yisrael drink wine and enjoy food at the Purim Seudah LeSheim Shamayim (for the sake of heaven). The Rama also writes that prior to the Seudah, one should learn Torah to actualize the theme of the day: the re-acceptance of the Torah. In a sense, the Talmud Torah corrects the sins of our ancestors who failed to truly accept and internalize the Torah’sideals and values.

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