More on this Parsha

Ki Tisa

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Ki Tisa

20 Adar 5767

March 10, 2007

Vol.16 No.23

In This Issue:

Take It To Heart

by Rabbi Scott Friedman

The sin of the golden calf described in Parashat Ki Tisa comes as a great surprise considering all the Jewish people had just witnessed. How could a person who saw Hashem send all the plagues against the Egyptians, walk the Jewish people to freedom out of the most powerful nation in the world, and then split the Yam Suf possibly participate in this sin?

In his Sefer Sichot Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir in Yerushalayim, states that to understand the answer to this question we first need to understand a seemingly strange statement made by Chazal. Chazal tell us, "At the splitting of the Yam Suf, even a maidservant was able to perceive of the Divine what Yechezkel ben Buzi was unable to grasp." If a maidservant was capable of such clarity, why refer to her as a maidservant? Wouldn't "prophetess" be a more appropriate title? Rav Shmulevitz answers that a person may experience a clear perception or incredible awareness for a moment or have an experiential uplifting from a specific event in his/her life. Nonetheless, if a person doesn't commit to allowing that moment to change his/her thinking forever, then he will remain completely unchanged no matter how great the experience was at the time. Similarly, we often learn new things or realize how bad habits might hurt us, but it is still difficult to translate that information into concrete, substantive changes in our lives. A maidservant at Keriat Yam Suf may have experienced prophecy during those moments, but after the excitement subsided she remained but a maidservant.

When I was learning in Eretz Yisrael for the year, I went with my Yeshiva to Poland on a trip called Heritage. The purpose of the trip was to see and learn about the calamities which befell our people in Poland as well as to remember the great Torah that was cultivated in many communities and Yeshivot there. While singing and dancing with a group of about 100 boys in what had been the Gerrer Yeshiva, our Rabbis told stories about the great Jews who had lived and learned there before the Holocaust. Standing there feeling that we were connecting with our heritage was incredibly inspiring. Rav Moshe Taragin from Yeshivat Gush Etzion spoke to us as we stood in a circle moments before davening Maariv. I remember being surprised at what he chose to tell us at that very intense moment. He said that feeling connected to our people and Hashem at that moment was nice, but that in truth many of us would leave and remain unaffected by our trip. We would have an important memory to reminisce about, but the feelings would die. He told us that it was important to learn lessons and ideas from these moments in order that the experience and messages never get lost. Rav Taragin was expressing the same idea as Rav Shmulevitz. If we were to grow, it would be through ingraining within ourselves over and over again all of the lessons we had taken out of our inspiring trip.

Similarly, the Yalkut Shimoni (74) says that the statue of Michah crossed the sea with Israel, and yet the sea split. We all sometimes act contrary to what we know to be true. A Chassidic Rebbe once said that his job was to help Jews connect their heads to their hearts. Despite the awesome miracle of Keriat Yam Suf, the statue of Michah remained.

My father-in-law told me that when he was a student at the Albert Einstein Medical School there was a world-renowned oncologist who would smoke a cigarette while lecturing on the harmful effects of smoking! The sixth of the Mitzvot Temidiot (constant Mitzvot) is "VeLo Taturu Acharei Levavchem VeAcharei Eineichem," "Don't stray after your heart and your eyes" (Bemidbar 15:39). The Torah is telling us to allow our knowledge and beliefs to guide us as opposed to our impulses dictating right from wrong.

Now we can answer our original question. The Jewish people fell prey to their momentary feelings as opposed to internalizing the great miracles they had witnessed. The intellectual knowledge of the events did not translate into concrete changes which would have precluded such a sin.

We must all work at aligning our impulses with our thoughts so that making the right choices in life becomes closer to being completely natural. Through learning Torah and working on our Middot, we can connect our heads and hearts and live in harmony with our ideas and goals.

Vessel for Fire

by Tzvi Atkin

In Parashat Ki Tisa (Shemot 31:3), Hashem tells Moshe regarding Betzalel, "VaAmalei Oto Ruach Elokim," "And I will fill him (Betzalel) with the 'Spirit of Hashem.'" How is it possible to be or not be filled with the Spirit of Hashem (the Shechinah)? Isn't Hashem's presence all-encompassing, as we say each day in Kedushah, "Melo Chol HaAretz Kevodo," "The entire world is full of his glory" (Yeshayah 6:3)?

The Aruch LaNeir (quoted in Praying with Fire) compares the Shechinah to the sun. Rav Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav MeiEliyahu uses this comparison to explain why most people don't feel the Shechinah in their everyday lives. We, the receivers of the "rays of the sun," have polluted windows (hearts). Therefore, the more one cleans his heart by improving his character, the more the light of the sun will enter. It therefore makes sense to say that Betzalel, who was a great Tzaddik, was able to be filled with the Shechinah because he did an excellent job improving himself.

Perhaps this idea of self-improvement can explain a puzzling Midrash in the Parasha. The Midrash, quoted by Rashi (30:13 s.v. Zeh), states that Hashem showed Moshe the Machatzit HaShekel as a "coin of fire." Why would Hashem show the appearance of the coin in fire? Couldn't He just have showed it to him as a regular coin? A possible reason for this is that one of the main purposes of fire is to burn an object until it melts or evaporates, leaving its true essence. Hashem was telling Moshe that Bnei Yisrael cannot just give the Machatzit HaShekel; rather, they first have to "burn" all other obstacles that may harm their quality of giving the Shekel, so as to be able to do the Mitzvah with a Leiv Shaleim, a full heart.

The message is clear. We, like Betzalel, have to probe ourselves and our actions so as to improve our characters. As a result of this, we will not only live happier lives, but also merit to feel the presence of the Shechinah with us at all times.

Benefiting as a Whole

by Binyamin Segal

In Parashat Ki Tisa, Hashem commands all men in Bnei Yisrael who are at least 20 years old to give the Machatzit HaShekel. We often pose the celebrated question - why half a Shekel and not a full Shekel? While there are many answers to this question, the one that is most well known is that a Jew is not complete without having care and concern for his brethren. We give only half a Shekel to show that we can be whole only when we are together with someone else. Everyone is equal; no one can give more and no one can give less.

I would like to suggest an extension of this approach. A Pasuk in Parashat Mishpatim (Shemot 23:25) states, "VaAvadtem Et Hashem Elokeichem UVeirach Et Lachmecha VeEt Meimecha VeHasiroti Machalah MiKirbecha," "If you (plural) worship Hashem your God, He shall bless your (singular) bread and water and He will remove all illness from you." Why does this Pasuk start in the plural and end in the singular? The answer is that when one small group that is committed to Torah and Mitzvot serves Hashem, all of Bnei Yisrael benefit; Bnei Yisrael receive all of Hashem's blessings as one people. The plural reference in the Pasuk refers to the members of the small group, and the singular reference represents the entire Jewish people. A similar use of pronouns can be found in Hallel. When the Kohanim (House of Aharon) praise Hashem, the Pasuk says (Tehillim 118:3), "Yomeru Na Veit Aharon," referring to the group in plural. Also, the Pasuk for God fearers (118:4), "Yomeru Na Yirei Hashem," is in plural. However, when referring to Bnei Yisrael in general, the Pasuk says (118:2), "Yomar Na Yisrael," in singular. This is further proof that those dedicated to the worship of Hashem are referred to in a plural sense, and those receiving the reward - Bnei Yisrael - are a singular entity.

This Pasuk in Mishpatim upholds the idea that we learned from Ki Tisa. A Jew is dependent on his fellow. When Jews who are careful to observe Mitzvot do so, then the entire nation reaps the benefits of Hashem's blessings.

Be Tough for Torah

by Eitan Westrich

When the Luchot were broken, a decree was made that the Jewish people would learn Torah in times of suffering and oppression. Hashem will reward us at the time of Mashiach for this learning through suffering. The Steipler Gaon notes that if the Luchot had not been broken, we wouldn't be learning in times of anguish. This is because our Torah learning would not be affected by forgetfulness. However, when the Luchot were broken, a new phenomenon appeared: forgetfulness among those who study the Torah. One way to counter it is to learn Torah in painful and difficult conditions because this ensures that one will remember what he learns. This is the first reason for us to learn Torah under difficult conditions; it is human nature to forget things but one will never forget what he learned through sweat and toil. The second reason to learn through adverse conditions is supernatural. One is greatly rewarded for the effort one puts into learning Torah. We can all take this to heart and learn Torah even when it seems difficult for both of these two reasons.

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