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Parashat Ki Tissa
All the troubles that have fallen upon us over the last 3,300 years originate from the one event of the sin of the golden calf, of which we read in this week’s parashah.
At Matan Torah we rose to the level of correcting the sin of Adam, as the Gemara writes, “Yisrael, who stood at Mount Sinai - their filth ceased” (Shabbat 145b). This refers to the filth of the yesser hara, of the confusion between good and bad, that the snake injected into Adam through the sin of the tree of knowledge (as explained in a footnote in “Nefesh Hahayyim” 1:6) “Like wax melts from fire, so did the impurity melt from the immense sanctity of Ma’amad Har Sinai” (Alshich Hakadosh, Shemot 19:1). The yesser hara, as well as the angel of death that results therefrom (Baba Batra 16a), left us. Were we to have held on for just a few more hours until Moshe returned from the mountain, we would have remained on that level. We would have marched into Eress Yisrael led by our king, Moshe Rabbenu, who would have been our first and final redeemer. “Until Shiloh would come” - the Zohar, R’aya Mehemna and Tikkunim note that “Shiloh” has the numerical value of Moshe (Sha’ar Hapesukim, Vayehi - see there the underlying reason). He would have built the Bet Hamikdash, and whereas the handiwork of Moshe Rabbenu could never be undone (Sotah 9a), the Mikdash would never have been destroyed. We would have earned eternal redemption: we would not have fallen into the hands of Eglon, king of Moav or into the hands of Sisra, Zevah & Salmuna, the kings of Midian or the five princes of the Pelishtim, Sanheriv would not have led the ten tribes into exile or Nevuchadnessar the rest, Antiochus would never have issued his decrees, Titus would not have burned the Bet Hamikdash, Torquemada would not have lit the fires of the Inquisition, Chmelnitzki would not have unleashed the deadly riots of 5408-9, Hitler would not have brought on the Holocaust and Arafat would not have ignited the Intifada. All this occurred as a result of the sin of the golden calf!
More generally, as a result of the sin G-d issued a decree of annihilation, an edict only partially annulled: “But when I make an accounting, I will bring them into account...” (Shemot 32:34). As Hazal explained, “From then on, there is no decree that does not include a small measure of punishment for the sin of the calf” (Sanhedrin 102a).
How grave a sin this was, how much brazenness and stubbornness did it involve — dancing for a calf while the mountain still burned with fire; sacrificing before it while Aharon and the seventy elders were right there!
Nevertheless, they deserve credit for one thing. As grave a sin as they committed, as disastrous and destructive the results, when they saw Moshe Rabbenu - everything stopped! When they saw Moshe Rabbenu, they lost interest in what they were doing and lowered their heads in shame. By contrast, woe unto us! The “erev rav” who fashioned the calf retreated when Moshe appeared, but today their followers defy the Moshe Rabbenu of our generation, who restores the glory of Torah to its rightful place and shines with its glory!
All of Yisrael have a share in the world to come, except for a select few. Who would want to be counted among them? Who is prepared to have all his misvot considered nothing? Hazal list the “apikores” as one of those without a portion in the world to come. What is an “apikores”? Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, (cited in Masekhet Sanhedrin 99b), define the term as referring to one who puts another to shame in the presence of a Torah scholar. He is sentenced to Gehinnom for all generations (Rosh Hashanah 17a).
Woe unto us! The Zohar Hakadosh (3, 99:2) writes that a Torah scholar is sacred and one who serves him thus attains the status of an item that serves a sacred article, like the covering of a Sefer Torah or straps of tefillin (Megilah 26b). Who cannot tremble when seeing him put to shame, who cannot object to the degradation of the honor of the Torah and its faithful, the honor of our great leader, the head of the sacred movement!
In preparation for Pesah, we read as our maftir reading this Shabbat the section of the parah adumah (red heifer). If we are meritorious, and, as we hope and pray, Mashiah Ben David arrives in the coming days, we will all undergo the process of purification with the ashes of the parah adumah so that we can offer the korban pesah in its time and partake of its meat in Yerushalayim.
As we know, the ashes of the parah adumah are sprinkled on those who have become “tamei” (ritually impure) through contact with a dead body. (Today, we are all assumed to be tamei.) Hazal explained this procedure as follows: “Let the mother [i.e. the heifer] come and clean the filth of her daughter [i.e. the golden calf].” Meaning, death takes hold of us on account of the sin of the golden calf, after the yesser hara (evil inclination) and angel of death had ceased at Matan Torah. The Midrash relates that the Al-mighty called upon the angel of death and said to it, “Although I appointed you over everything in the world, over this nation you will not have control.”
However, with the sin of the golden calf the yesser hara and angel of death returned and once again took hold of us, as it says. “I had said, ‘You are like G-d,’ however, [now] you will die like men.” It thus turns out that the impurity resulting from contact with a dead body exists on account of this sin. The heifer thus “cleans the filth of its daughter,” as through its ashes one becomes purified from this impurity.
Upon closer reflection, we see a powerful, eternal lesson that emerges from this parashah, one which places an enormous burden of responsibility on parents to oversee the conduct of their children. Parents may never display any form of indifference, Heaven forbid, in this regard. “The mother must come,” the parent must keep a watchful eye, guide, lead, purify and educate the children; “the mother must come” and carefully monitor her children’s progress!
Sense of Smell Among Animals
Which animal do you think boasts the most developed sense of smell? No, not the dog; not even the whale. The most developed sense of smell among animals belongs to the European eel, which lives in fresh waters, and allows it to identify certain chemicals in remarkably low concentrations. This unique ability granted by the Creator allows the eel to swim thousands of kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean to the traditional spawning grounds of the Sargasso Sea. Other fish are capable of sensing secretions from the skin of a potential predator long before it ever reaches within a dangerous distance. If we are already talking about sensitive smell, we should note that the nostrils of most fish are created in such a way that the interior surface of the nasal passage liquefies and thus absorbs more. This brings to mind the nostrils of dogs, the folds in which are filled with olfactory cells. Several other mammals are also graced with strong senses of smell, including the white bear, which can sense a dead seal twenty kilometers away. The whale likewise received a very developed sense of smell particularly for blood. It can sense even a single drop of blood several kilometers away. Whereas it has such a great sense of smell, the whale uses much of its food to sustain this sense.
The sense of smell is among the central senses of some animals, assisting them in nearly all of life’s tasks. In this respect, they catch up with the crown jewel of creation, the human being. Nevertheless, there exists a far different method of smelling used by people which renders them far superior to even the animals with the most developed senses of smell. This method is the smell of action. Every action performed by a Jew is accompanied by an element of kindness or arrogance, joy or despondency, generosity or deception. Some people’s actions emit the foul odor of selfishness, arrogance and the like, and often they not only fail to regret what they do, but to the contrary, they also find all types of excuses. They may even bring others to join in their conduct, despite the putrid smell emerging therefrom. If at the first moment, when one’s sense of smell was sharp and sensitive and could detect the foul odor, he neglects to distance himself, then, just as occurs with the physical sense of smell, he grows accustomed to the odor and is not affected thereby.
A Jew is therefore warned not to treat sins lightly, for, as Hazal teach us, “Once a person committed a sin and repeated it, it seems for him permissible.”
Rabbenu Haim Vital zs”l
In honor of Parashat Parah that we read this Shabbat, we will mention the following stories about the remarkable figure of the sacred Rav Haim Vital zs”l, the greatest of students of the Arizal who transmitted his heritage for all generations.
At the instruction of Eliyahu Hanavi, the Ar”i Hakadosh moved the Eress Yisrael in order to transmit his Torah to his great student. Sure enough, Rav Haim Vital attached himself to the Ar”i in Sefat and over the course of less than two years, from the beginning of 5331 until the fifth of Av, 5332, he studied all his wisdom. It’s simply amazing - the great scholars of Kabbalah, sacred giants of mind and spirit, with minds as expansive as the sea, exert themselves throughout their lives to learn the hidden wisdom, the writings of Rav Haim Vital. And all this is but a drop in the bucket of what he himself learned in less than two years!
How did he absorb all this knowledge so quickly? Rabbenu Haim Vital himself tells that his sacred rabbi took him on a raft in the Kinneret, and when they reached a certain point, the Arizal drew water from Miriam’s well and gave it to his student to drink. In this way, all the divine wisdom was implanted within his heart!
However, the Hid”a zs”l adds that although he never heard or learned about this from his mentors, his heart tells him that the Ar”i knew through “ru’ah hakodesh” where the ashes of the “parah adumah” were hidden. He sprinkled it on his student, bestowing upon him an exalted level of purity that opened his heart and illuminated his eyes, allowing him to comprehend all the knowledge.
We long and yearn for the day when the Al-mighty will inspire us with heavenly spirit, and purity will once again abound among Am Yisrael!
a continuing saga
Taken from the Haggaddah, “Avotenu Sipperu Lanu”
FLASHBACK: A Jewish heretic converted out of the faith and became a priest. He used his newfound influence to incite the Christians in Barcelona with flaming hatred against the Jews. The tension rose, and the wealthy, prominent member of the Jewish community, Yaakov Philo, decided that rather than involving himself and intervening on behalf of his fellow Jews by calming the spirits of animosity, he would instead hide his fortune and flee. He escaped to nearby Portugal, leaving a dangerous situation behind him. A young Jewish man in Barcelona, Yaakov Banbanishti, felt very distressed over the plight of the community and thought long and hard how he can ameliorate the situation. One night his widowed mother had a nightmare, in which her deceased grandfather appeared to her and ordered her son to come to him. The son reassured her that her grandfather merely wanted him, the son, to pray at his grave for his soul.
The widow’s eyes sparkled in relief upon hearing her son’s explanation. “Of course, my son, this is undoubtedly what he meant! Go back to sleep, and tomorrow you will visit his grave and bring about salvation!” The young man returned to his bed but could not sleep. If he had been tossing and turning until now, with everything running through his mind, now he had the additional issue of the dream. At one point he thought to himself, dreams speak nonsense, but then he would think, perhaps there is a kernel of truth to them. On the other hand, he would reconsider, there is no dream without inanities. At first he said to himself, perhaps the grandfather’s words were literal, that he is being called to the upper world. But then he would think, this is just some kind of hint, and he would then break his head trying to identify the subtle allusion. After a sleepless night, he arose from his bed in the morning, washed his hands and proceeded to the Bet Kenesset for shaharit. After everyone had left, he poured out his heart before the aron kodesh, begging that the Al-mighty see the distress of His nation and the crisis threatening the community and grant them speedy salvation, bringing them from sorrow to relief and from darkness to light. He completed his heartfelt prayer and returned home to his mother. She set the table for him and told him that Rabbi Yaakov, the grandfather after whom he is named and who appeared to the mother in a dream, is buried in the old cemetery, near the wall, adjacent to a high monument. The monument stands in honor of Avraham Philo, the grandfather of Yaakov, the wealthy man who abandoned the community during its time of need. She gave him a wax candle to light over the grave, and blessed him that he should bring about salvation and compassion through his prayers.
Yaakov Banbanishti proceeded to the cemetery and saw from a distance the tall monument of which his mother spoke. As he passed by, he saw a small ledger. He bent down, picked it up, and saw the list of various sums of money. He immediately associated the ledger with the wealthy Yaakov Philo, who liquidated his assets and went for frequent visits to his grandfather’s grave, after which he fled the troubled community. The young man looked around him carefully and saw a small area of land without any grass, covered by smooth earth, near the grave. He removed the earth and discovered the hidden treasure.
to be continued
“Hashem, Hashem, a compassionate and gracious G-d”
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 10b) says that the double expression, “Hashem, Hashem” indicates that Hashem — the Divine Name referring to the Al-mighty’s attribute of mercy — is the same, compassionate G-d both before the committal of a sin as well as after the sin and the performance of teshuvah.
The Rosh z”l asks, why does an individual require the Divine attribute of mercy before the sin? He answers that the Al-mighty treats one with compassion even though He knows that he will sin in the future.
The Hid”a zs”l explained that this Gemara implies two distinct forms of Divine compassion. Before an individual sins, Hashem judges him based on the current state of affairs, ignoring the sins of the future. By contrast, after the committal of a sin, when we would expect Divine wrath, Hashem instead looks to the future. If He foresees that the sinner will perform teshuvah, then He takes that into consideration and saves him, just like Benei Yisrael had sunken to the forty-ninth “gate of impurity” in Egypt but were redeemed in the merit of their future acceptance of the Torah.
“Hashem, Hashem, a compassionate and gracious G-d”
Wherein lies the precise difference between “rahum” (compassionate) and “hanun” (gracious)? Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra zs”l explained that the Creator has compassion for us the way a father has for his children, protecting them from falling and getting hurt. Sometimes, however, the son pulls his hand away and runs to a pit, falling straight in. The attribute of graciousness then comes to pull up the fallen child.
Rabbenu Don Yis’hak Abarbanel zs”l explained these attributes in reference to Hashem’s kindness to a person from the very moment of conception. “Rahum” comes from the word “rehem,” womb, and hence refers to the kindness Hashem bestows upon a fetus. He protects the unborn baby and feeds him, raising the child until he comes out into the world. “Hanun” may be understood from the context of the berachah in Amidah, “You grace [‘honen’] a person with knowledge.” The birth of a child constitutes an undeserved kindness from Hashem, who continues treating the child kindly with the next attribute, “slow to anger,” not holding a child accountable for his misdeeds until he reaches the age of misvot.
“Slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness”
The Rambam zs”l (Moreh Nevuchim, 3:53) explained that “hessed” (kindness) means performing remarkable favors, generally without any merit warranting such; the benefactor performs the kindness purely out of his sense of goodness. The Creator, who created the world only to bestow goodness upon His creatures, bring upon them a unique level of kindness, and is thus referred to as, “abounding in kindness,” as the pasuk states, “The world is built upon kindness.”
“Moshe hurried, kneeled to the ground and bowed”
Rabbenu Haim Vital zs”l (Sefer Halikuttim 41) writes that we learn from here that when sounding the recitation of the thirteen attributes, they should be said with awe, trepidation and great intensity.
Rabbenu Bahya zs”l writes: “You must know that whoever understands the thirteen attributes and knows their explanation and essence, and prays with them intently, his prayer does not return empty-handed unless he has sins that prevent [the efficacy of his prayer]. Nowadays, when we are submerged in exile and have no kohen gadol to atone for our sins, nor an altar on which to offer korbanot or a Bet Hamikdash in which to pray, all we have before Hashem is our prayers and His thirteen attributes of mercy.
A Letter of Encouragement from Rav Aryeh Deri shlit”a
Whoever is For Hashem - Come to Me!
Dear Brothers -
The “erev rav,” the peoples who joined Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt, brought about disaster several times throughout the nation’s sojourn through the wilderness. They were the ones who fashioned the golden calf, they were the ones who worshipped it and danced around it with great fervor. They were overjoyed at the opportunity to return to the idolatry to which they had grown accustomed in Egypt. The entire nation stood dumbfounded and helpless, Hashem’s fury was ignited and He wished to destroy them. Even after the sin was forgiven, we lost our unique stature: the yesser hara returned, the angel of death and political oppression came back. The troubles continue even until today: the Gaon of Vilna writes that in the tumultuous period before the Mashiah, the descendants of the “erev rav” will lead the nation and cause them to sin with all types of strange “calves.”
Fortunate is the “tribe of Levi” who follow the Moshe Rabbenu of the generation and turn their backs to the calves and pagan worship.
We must, however, understand: the “erev rav” return to their old, idolatrous ways, fashion a golden image, and dance with great enthusiasm. Suddenly, Moshe appears, breaks the tablets, and cries, “Whoever is for Hashem - come to me!” The tribe of Levi gather around him and pass from gate to gate, killing the worshippers of the calf. Why did the perpetrators make no attempt to defend themselves? Moshe Rabbenu takes the calf, grinds it to dust and casts it into the water. How did all the worshippers sit there with their arms folded? How did they sit idly as they watched their idol ground into smithereens?
The answer emerges from a parable taught to us by the Hafess Haim zs”l, which appears in the “Haggadat Hafess Haim” published just one year ago. A villager once set out to fulfill his lifelong dream: he took all his savings, packed his finest clothing, and headed for the first time in his life to the big city. He stepped onto the train, took a seat, and began questioning his fellow passengers about the wonders of the city, what there is to see and where is worthwhile to lodge. A group of jesters were present in his carriage and, in their crooked hearts, decided to pull a prank on him.
“Do you really intend to walk through the streets of the city in farmer’s clothes?” they asked.
“Of course not!” he declared. “I brought with me my finest holiday clothing, and when I reach the motel I plan on changing.”
“In these clothes,” they informed him, “you will be denied entry into any motel; you look worse than a beggar!”
“Well,” he asked, “what should I do?”
They offered their suggestion: “Change your clothing here, on the train!” “Here,” questioned the villager, “in front of everyone?”
Deceitfully, they told the man that the train will soon enter a long, dark tunnel. He would have plenty of time to change his clothing without anyone seeing.
And so, the villager opened his bag, removed his holiday clothing and waited. Sure enough, the train entered a tunnel and the villager quickly took off his clothes. However, just then the train left the tunnel into the sunlight, before he had a chance to put on his holiday clothing... Similarly, the entire incident of the golden calf, the tragic folly of idolatry, could occur only when “the Satan came and confused the world,” when he cast darkness upon the hearts and minds of people. This is when people can fashion a golden calf and dance around it. However, as soon as Moshe Rabbenu comes, the fog clears, the light shines, and the shame of the calf becomes exposed to everyone, together with the embarrassment of its followers.
Very soon, “suddenly He will come to His palace.” The light will suddenly shine, and everything will seem so false, fabricated and inauthentic. We must ensure that we are not caught with embarrassment, we must ensure that when the darkness leaves we are already wearing our beautiful, festive clothing. Every Torah class, every inspiring Shabbat, educating our children along the path of Torah and faith, every misvah and every avoidance of an averah - supply us with points of merit for when the light ultimately arrives.
A Series of Halachot
According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a
by Rav David Yossef shlit”a
The Halachot and Customs of the Month of Nissan
One begins inquiring about the halachot of Pesah thirty days before the onset of the festival. It is therefore worthwhile for everyone to learn and review the halachot of Pesah in order to familiarize himself with them. Nevertheless, those involved in other curriculums of Torah study, such as Torah scholars and yeshivah students who learn as part of their studies Talmud and poskim, as well as communities who conduct a regular class on a given topic of halachah, need not interrupt their regular sequence of study in order to learn the halachot of Pesah. In any event, everyone should learn the halachot of Pesah before the holiday in order that he knows how to conduct himself properly on Pesah.
The month of Nissan is one of joy for Yisrael in both the past, present and future. On Rosh Hodesh Nissan on the second year of Benei Yisrael’s departure from Egypt the mishkan was erected. Over the course of the next twelve days, the twelve “nesi’im” (tribal leaders) offered their sacrifices for the dedication of the altar, one tribal leader each day. On the day of his offering, each “nasi” would observe a “yom tov” of sorts to celebrate.
Then, the thirteenth of Nissan was observed as the “Isru Hag” of the twelve-day dedication festival. The next day, the fourteenth of Nissan, is Erev Pesah, which is of course followed by the days of the holiday itself and “Isru Hag” on the day after the conclusion of Pesah. The construction of the third Bet Hamikdash, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days, will occur on Pesah, since “In Nissan they were redeemed and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the future.” This is alluded to in the pasuk, “Like the days when you left Egypt I will show them wonders.” The dedication of the Bet Hamikdash will last for seven days, beginning after Pesah, as we may not combine the joy of the Yom Tov with the joy of the dedication of the Mikdash. It thus turns out that the entire month of Nissan consists of days of great joy and celebration for Am Yisrael.
In light of this, we omit “viduy” and “tahanun” throughout the month of Nissan. The custom of the Sefaradim and communities of Eastern descent is to omit the chapter of Tehillim, “Lamenasee’ah mizmor leDavid ya’ancha Hashem…” from the shaharit service throughout the month of Nissan. Since this chapter discusses crisis and trouble, we do not include it as part of our tefilot during Nissan, a month of redemption and joy. We likewise omit the chapter of Tehillim, “Tefilah leDavid, hateh Hashem oznecha… “ throughout Nissan, whereas it includes the words, “Beyom sarati ekra’eka” (“on the day of my trouble I will call to you”). The Ashkenazim, however, are accustomed to reciting “Lamenasse’ah” during Nissan, except on Erev Pesah and Hol Hamoed.
Shlomo Ben Liza
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