Parashat Ki Tissa
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Abdo Jajati by his Grandson
Parashat Ki Tissa
The parasha begins with Hashem telling Moshe to take a census of B’nei Yisrael. Hashem said to Moshe, “Every man from twenty years and up shall give a half shekel as an atonement for his soul when counting them. They shall give mahatzit hashekel (half a shekel)....the wealthy shall not give more and the poor man shall not give less.”
One reason for half a shekel is because each Jew individually is incomplete, like half of something. All of B’nei Yisrael need to unite, because only then are we one whole. Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh — all of us are connected to each other — because Jews are supposed to help one another!
According to Chazal, Hashem showed Moshe a coin of fire and said to him “zeh yitnu ⸺ This you shall give.”Rashi explains that Hashem showed the half-shekel under the kiseh hakavod (Hashem’s throne) in a ball of fire to teach us that money is very similar to fire. Fire, like money, can be good, but it can also be very harmful. Fire can heat our homes and cook our food, but if we use fire in the wrong way, it becomes a destructive force that can burn everything. Money can be good when it’s used to help people and support Torah causes, but it can also be very destructive. Money has been known to cause conflicts that brake up families and destroy business partnerships. Statistics even show that most lottery winners lose their winnings within a few years, and sometimes they even lose their lives!
In Hebrew the word mahatzit is spelled with the letters mem het tzadi yod tav. The middle letter is a tzadi, which stands for tzedaka (charity). The two middle letters that surround the tzadi are het and yod, which spell hai (life). The outer letters are mem and tav, which spell met (death). The word mahatzit teaches that when you give charity, you will have life; but if you don’t, it may lead to the opposite, has veshalom. As the passuk says, “tzedaka tatzil mimavet — charity saves us from death!”
The Golden Calf
Moshe Rabbenu had gone up on Har Sinai to receive the Tablets. B’nei Yisrael waited eagerly for forty days for their leader to come back. But they miscalculated the time that Moshe was supposed to return, and were in a panic that he was late. After just six hours, they approached Aharon to make a golden calf as an intermediary between them and Hashem to replace Moshe.
According to a Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin (7a), Aharon saw that B’nei Yisrael had killed his nephew Hur for protesting the golden calf. Aharon calculated that if he would protest and they would kill him too, then they would be in violation of the sin of killing a kohen and a navi in Hashem’s Mishkan, for which they would not be able to do teshuva. He figured that it would be better to let them build the golden calf, for which they could do teshuva.
But he would try to drag the process out as much as possible, to stall for time until Moshe returned. Aharon told them “Bring me your wives’ gold jewels.” Aharon assumed correctly that the wives would be reluctant to give up their jewelry, especially for creating a golden calf. For refusing to participate in the golden calf, the women were granted every Rosh Hodesh as a holiday, which gives them a day off from their house work every month!
Don’t Make Decisions When in Fear or Panic
How could a nation that was at such a high level, after having being saved by Hashem with so many miracles, who reached the pinnacle of receiving the Torah, then stoop to such a low level where they could erect an idol in the form of the golden calf?
The answer is: Fear and Panic! According to Rav Chaim Schmuelevitz, once the people began to worry and had become depressed, the Satan was able to find their weak spot and attack. Rabbi Twersky says that the answer is not to make any important decisions when you’re in a worried state of mind. That was B’nei Yisrael’s mistake, that we’re still paying for to this very day.
Outweighing the Golden Calf
The Rabbi’s taught us that our holidays are an atonement for the sin of the golden calf. Every year we celebrate our holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot, for a total of 15 days of Yom Tov. 15 days X 24 hours in a day = 360 hours.
B’nei Yisrael miscalculated Moshe’s return from Har Sanai by 6 hours. There’s a known halachak concept that if a bit of not kosher food would fall into a pot of kosher food, it will become nullified if there is 60 times more kosher food. This halachik concept is called batel beshishim. Similarly, those 6 “bad” hours would have to be nullified by 60 times the amount of “good” hours. 6 hours X 60 = 360 hours.
The six hours that we miscalculated which caused us to sin with the golden calf are being nullified by the 360 hours of all our Yom Tov days.
There are No Compromises when it comes to the Torah...
There is another key lesson that we learn from the sin of the Golden Calf, and that is that we do not in any way suspend, compromise, or change our halachot to fit the needs of today, no matter what!
Rabbi Frand teaches us and which we have seen throughout the ages from the Gedolei Yisroel, that we do not compromise our Torah values. We do not bend the rules. If something can not be done the way it should be done, then we just do not do it!
The Netziv, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhiner Yeshiva — the grandfather of all Yeshivot, provided a classic example of this concept. In the very late 1800’s into the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian government wanted to impose a rule that Russian subjects would have to be taught in the Volozhiner Yeshiva. The alternative was that the Yeshiva would be shut down. [This is not to draw any parallels to today. We are not discussing the pros or cons of secular education. We cannot compare Russia in 1900 to the United States in 2019].
The Netziv was faced with the question: “Do I permit Russian subjects to be taught in the Volozhiner Yeshiva, or do I close the Yeshiva?” In order to understand the significance of that decision, we must remember that there were no other Yeshivot. Closing the Volozhiner Yeshiva did not mean that the students would switch to another Yeshiva because Volozhin, with its 400 students, was the only Yeshiva in Russia. The Netziv’s dilemma was: should he allow Russian subjects to be taught for a couple of hours a day, or should he close the Yeshiva?
What did the Netziv do? The Netziv decided to close the Yeshiva! But the people asked— “what’s going to be with Torah study?” The Netziv responded, “that is G-d’s issue! It’s His Torah. He knows He wants it learned so it’s His problem.” The Netziv had to do what was right, despite the ramifications. So the Netziv closed the Yeshiva. At the time when the Netziv made his decision, he did not know what the result would be. In actuality, as a result of closing Volozhin, many other Yeshivot were started across Russia, Poland and beyond. Closing the Yeshiva in Volozhin caused Torah to be spread. The entire Yeshiva movement today can be traced back to that one Yeshiva in Volozhin! But the Netziv did not know what the outcome would be. He only knew what was right. This approach can be traced back to Avraham Avinu, and was the continued approach of Gedolei Yisroel until this very day.
The lesson to be learned here is that one must do what is right, in accordance with the Torah, and“let the chips fall where they may”. The consequences are G-d’s business.
Tearing Up the Contract
Moshe finally descended from Har Sinai with the two sapphire tablets in his hands, which were the handiwork of Hashem. The very manner in which the tablets were inscribed were testimony to their Divine origin, because the letters could be read from either side. In Hebrew the word “engraved” is harut. According to our Rabbi’s it can also be read herut, which means “freedom,” to teach us that the only person who is truly free is one who engages in the study of Torah (Pirke Avot, perek 6:2).
When Moshe reached the bottom of the mountain, he saw with his own eyes how Beneh Yisrael had made a golden calf and begun to worship it. Because of his anger, he threw down the Tablets and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.
Why did Moshe have to shatter the Tablets? The Rabbi’s explain that Chazal said that breaking the tablets was like tearing up B’nei Yisrael’s ketuba with Hashem, which actually saved them. B’nei Yisrael was like Hashem’s bride, and making the golden calf was being unfaithful to Him. Therefore they deserved to be destroyed but Moshe saved them by throwing down the tablets, thereby tearing up the contract between B’nei Yisrael and Hashem. If there was no contract, they couldn’t have violated the contract! The sin was ultimately incomplete, so they were still able to do teshuva! Until today we are still atoning for that sin of the het ha’egel.
The Torah goes on to elaborate, “The Tablets were G-d’s handiwork, and the script was the script of G-d, engraved on the tablets.” (32:16) Rabbi Frand points out that when Moshe received the tablets from Hashem, the passuk simply stated “Hashem gave the two Tablets of Testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of G-d.” (31:18) Why doesn’t the Torah say much when the tablets were given to Moshe, but then it elaborates when Moshe destroyed them? Rabbi Frand answers that when we have something that’s precious to us, we don’t always appreciate it until we lose it.
The sanctity of our synagogue
The sanctity and decorum of our Synagogues can be compared to the Mishkan. Many years ago, a young man approached Rabbi Avigdor Miller for a Beracha. “Several months ago” he began “I was diagnosed with a serious case of cancer, and the doctors had no hope for me. They told me that it was just a matter of time.” “Where do you daven?” He asked me. When I told him where I davened, he asked, “do they talk during davening there?” I admitted that they did.
He responded immediately, “Don’t step into that shul ever again!!” Rav Miller instructed me that even if you daven perfectly, your tefilot are trapped by those people who talk during davening and they cannot ascend to the heavens! “Look for another shul where they don’t talk during davening and make that your place from now on.”
I followed the Rabbi’s advice, and several weeks later I went back to the Doctor...they thought I was a different person. The cancer was disappearing!
May we remember the lesson of the mahatzit hashekel to always feel closeness to all our fellow Jews, and help each other in times of need. May we also have faith in Hashem and and our Rabbi’s to stay calm, and not has veshalom panic, and make mistakes as B’nei Yisrael did with the golden calf. May we also keep the sanctity of our synagogue to the highest possible standards because that is the place where we speak to Hashem for all of our needs! Amen!
· Have we ever acted when we were in an agitated state of mind? How did that work out for you?
· Did we ever wait until we calmed down, and only then take action? Was it worth the wait?
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack RahmeyLeiluiy Nishmat....
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