Parashat Ki Tissa
Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Shaul Rahamim Ben Mazal,
Chief Rabbi Shaul J. Kassin A'H
Parashat Ki Tissa
We just finished the beautiful holiday of Purim that celebrates the Hand of Hashem working in hidden ways. Rabbi Yaakov Mizrahi recounted a story about a remarkable instance of hashgacha peratit—Divine providence. There was once a rabbi who hosted a young woman who was no longer affiliated with religion. Over Shabbat, he told a devar Torah that he had heard from Rabbi Michoel-Dov Weissmandl about Megillat Esther, since Purim was approaching. He said, “There are 12,196 letters in Megillat Esther. It’s not random. Open the Tanach and look for the first alef in the Torah. You’ll find it in the first word, Beresheet.”
“Start from that first alef and count exactly 12,196 letters. The letter you land on will be a samech. Count 12,196 from there and you’ll find a taf. Do it once more and you will get to the letter resh, completing the spelling of Esther (alef - samech - taf - resh).” The woman was blown away. She couldn’t believe how counting the letters in one book, and then bringing that number to the Torah, would spell out Esther!
The rabbi continued, “Now do the same for Mordechai. The gemara explains that there is a hint to Mordechai “mor deror” which Onkelos translates into Aramaic as “mira dichya,” the same consonants in the same order as Mordechai. Now, count forward from the letter mem in mor dror the number of letters in the Megillah, and you come to a resh. And if you keep counting 12,196 letters successively you will get a daled and then a chof and then a yud from there, spelling out Mordechai!” The woman was visibly shaken, very interested in the chiddush.
The next morning, the girl came down to the table with bloodshot eyes, and she looked like she hadn’t slept. The rabbi and his wife apologized, afraid she was uncomfortable in their house. The guest told them, “I work with statistics and numbers. I was up all night trying to calculate the odds of the letters in the Torah lining up like that, to spell out Mordechai and Esther. I came to the conclusion that the odds of that happening are zero! The Torah is emet.”
Baruch Hashem, the girl made complete teshuvah, grew spiritually, and became religious again because she witnessed the unbelievable Hand of Hashem that orchestrated this entire thing. This story would have been incredible if it ended there. But what’s even more incredible is that she found a shidduch and got married to a man named Mordechai. And her name was Esther.
This week’s 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 as opposed to a whole is because each Jew on his own 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 Jews are responsible for 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 break up families and destroy business partnerships. Statistics even show that most divorces are a result of financial issues. Even lottery winners lose their winnings within a few years, and sometimes they lose their lives!
In Hebrew the word mahatzit is spelled with the letters mem het tzadi, yud, taf. The middle letter is a tzadi, which stands for tzedakah—charity. The two middle letters that surround the tzadi are het and yud, which spell hai—life. The outer letters are mem and taf, 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 teshuvah. He figured that it would be better to let them build the golden calf, and they could repent.
He tried 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 personal holiday, when it’s customary for women to refrain from work and housework.
Don’t Make Decisions When Fearful or Panicking
How could a nation who was at such a high level, after being saved by Hashem with open miracles and reaching the pinnacle of receiving the Torah, stoop to such a low level where they could erect an idol in the form of the golden calf?
The answer is fear. According to Rav Chaim Schmuelevitz, once the people began to worry and had become anxious, the Satan was able to find their weak spot and attack. Rabbi Twersky says that the antidote is not to make any important decisions when you’re in a worried state of mind. That was B’nei Yisrael’s mistake 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 het ha’egel—the sin of the golden calf. Every year we celebrate our holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, for a total of 15 days of Yom Tov. 15 days x 24 hours each day = 360 hours.
B’nei Yisrael miscalculated Moshe’s return from Har Sanai by 6 hours. There’s a known halachic 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 halachic concept is called batel beshishim. Similarly, those 6 “bad” hours would have to be nullified by 60 times the number of “good” hours. 360 hours of holiday / 6 miscalculated hours that led to sin = 60 batel beshishim.
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. Additionally, the Hebrew word for “engraved” is harut. According to our rabbis, 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 6:2).
When Moshe reached the bottom of the mountain, he saw with his own eyes how B’nei Yisrael had made a golden calf and begun to worship it. In his anger, he threw down the tablets and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.
Why did Moshe have to shatter the tablets? Chazal explained 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. Because they were unfaithful to Hashem, they deserved to be destroyed. Moshe saved them by throwing down the tablets or tearing up the contract between B’nei Yisrael and Hashem. If there was no contract, they couldn’t have violated it! Although a sin, it was not the ultimate sin, so they were still able to do teshuvah.
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.
In the aftermath of het ha’egel, Hashem referred to B’nei Yisrael as “Am kesheh oref—a stiff-necked people” in three separate pesukim (32:9, 33:3, 33:5) as His reason to destroy them and make a new nation from Moshe. The term is not one of endearment, it implies the stubbornness of the Jewish people is what led to the sin of the golden calf. However, a chapter later, Moshe uses this same term in his defense of B’nei Yisrael, when he tried to convince Hashem to spare them. “If I have found favor in Your eyes my Master, let my Master go among us [ki am kesheh oref hu] because it is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sins (34:9).” How could a trait that Hashem used as a reason for the sin possibly be used as the reason Moshe begs for the nation’s forgiveness?
Rabbi Scheinbaum explains this in his book Peninim on the Torah. Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, Shlita, clarifies that Moshe turned to Hashem, and said, “Ribono Shel Olam, You are reprimanding the nation because of their stiff-necked nature. Is this really a negative trait? Is this a reason to find them guilty? If anything, this very trait is what distinguishes the Jewish people from the rest of the world.”
‘Stiff-necked’ indicates that they have a backbone, an ability to withstand outside pressure and numerous difficult challenges to their faith. Every nation caved in under various pressures. When any of the others were under the slightest pressure, they wavered and resorted to a swarm of other beliefs, including Islam and Christianity. Why? Because they had no backbone. They were not stiff-necked; they were weak!
Moshe really said, “It’s true, the nation sinned gravely against You. But, because of their strong, stiff-necked nature, they will not only repent, but cling to You, and never renege on their commitment to Hashem.”
Traits are never inherently bad or good. They are just traits; the key is how they are implemented. Moshe turned stubbornness into something that could be used for good things, like clinging to Hashem and staying true to our word when we accepted His Torah.
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 our rabbis to stay calm, and not has veshalom panic and make mistakes as B’nei Yisrael did with the golden calf. May we also use all of our traits for good and turn stubbornness from a reason to sin, into a reason to cling to Hashem and never waver from our faith. Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Have we ever acted when we were in an agitated state of mind? How did that work out?
Did we ever wait until we calmed down, and then act? Was it worth the wait?
One reason for half a shekel as opposed to a whole is because each Jew on his own is incomplete, like half of something. All of B’nei Yisrael need to unite, because only then are we one whole.
Hashem showed Moshe a coin on fire to symbolize that like fire, money can be good when it’s used for good things, but it can also be very destructive.
Once the Jewish people began to worry and had become anxious that Moshe may not return, the Satan was able to find their weak spot and attack. Rabbi Twersky says that the antidote is not to make any important decisions when you’re in a worried state of mind.
Hashem refers to B’nei Yisrael as a stiff-necked people, which implied their stubbornness was the reason they commit the sin of the golden calf. But Moshe used the same term to defend the Jewish nation, to say that they will repent and stubbornly cling to Hashem through thick and thin. This shows us that any trait can be used for something positive.
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Avraham Ben Garaz
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Avraham Ben Mazal
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