Post Archive for February 2013

Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah recounts the sin of the golden calf. Moshe said to Hashem (Shemos 32:31-32): “I implore! This people has committed a grave sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now, if You will but forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out of the book that You have written.” The Maggid raises the question of why Moshe stressed the gravity of the sin. He offers several explanations.
One explanation is that Moshe sought to undercut the Adversarial Angel’s accusations against the Jewish People by adopting the role of prosecutor himself. Moshe acknowledged the gravity of the sin, but at the same time argued that the Jewish People were not to blame, for they had just come out of Egypt – a land riddled with idols. We have presented this explanation in detail previously (
A second explanation builds on an earlier verse, which states as follows (Shemos 32:11): “And Moshe pleaded (ויחל משה) before Hashem his God, and he said: ‘Why, Hashem, should Your anger flare against Your people?” In Shemos Rabbah 43:3, the Midrash notes that the word ויחל for pleading is similar to the word חילוי, a term that signifies sweetness – related to the Arabic word chalvah, meaning “sweet” and used to denote a sweet confection. The Midrash explains that Moshe was asking Hashem to “sweeten the bitterness of Yisrael and heal them.” Afterward, Moshe stressed the gravity of the Jewish People’s sin to show how much they needed Hashem to heal them.
The Maggid illustrates the point with a parable. Two paupers traveled together from city to city to beg for alms. One of them was extremely sick. Wherever the pair went, the healthy one would caution his companion to exert all possible effort to conceal his illness, for if people would know how sick he was, they would shun him and not let him come near their homes. Once the pair visited an inn where an expert doctor was also staying. The healthy pauper then told his companion: “Now is the time to exhibit openly all your ailments, so that the doctor will recognize them clearly. The more you exhibit your ailments and describe them to the doctor, the more complete your cure will be.” Similarly, Moshe deliberately expanded on the Jewish People’s sin, to bring out forcefully how spiritually ill they had become and how desperately they needed a cure.
In a third explanation, the Maggid says that Moshe was telling Hashem that the Jewish People had injured their souls so severely through the sin of the calf that it was impossible for them atone for this sin in the usual way – there was no way the people could bear the afflictions needed to purge them of the harmful effects of the sin. Moshe’s argument was along the lines of David HaMelech’s plea (Tehillim 25:11): “For Your Name’s sake, Hashem, pardon my sin, for it is great.” The sin of the calf was so great that it was beyond the usual correction measures – the only available course was to seek an outright pardon.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Tetzaveh

This week’s parashah describes the consecration of Aharon and his sons to serve as Kohanim in the Mishkan. Hashem introduces His description to Moshe of the consecration ceremony by saying (Shemos 29:1): “This is the matter that you shall carry out unto them to sanctify them to minister for Me.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 38:2):
Thus it is written (Havakkuk 1:12): “Are You not from primeval times, O Hashem, my Holy God? Let us not die! O Hashem, You have ordained him [the murderous Babylonian enemy] for judgment.” Before Adam arose and ate from the tree, You would tell him not to eat from it, so he would not die. As it is written: “Are You not from primeval times, O Hashem, my Holy God? Let us not die!” But because he violated Your command, You brought death upon man, to smite him, as it is written: “You have ordained him for judgment.” You decree (cf. Vayikra 19:2, Bamidbar 15:40): “Be holy unto your God!” And similarly here: “This is the matter that you shall carry out unto them to sanctify them to minister for Me.” [Man pleads:] “Master of the Universe! If you are asking us to be holy, take death away from us, as it is written [reading the verse from Havakkuk homiletically]: ‘Are You not, from primeval times, Hashem the God who sanctified me? Let us not die!’” [Hashem responds:] “It is impossible, as it is written: ‘O Hashem, You have ordained him for judgment; [and the verse concludes: O Rock, You have established him to admonish].’”
The Maggid explains this difficult Midrash with a parable. A father warned his son not to eat a certain food. The lad disobeyed and ate the food, and he got sick. The father summoned a doctor, who treated the lad with harsh medicines until he finally cured him. From that day on, the father kept this doctor as permanent guest in his home, with a special room set aside for him, and supplied him meals and other needs. Why did the father keep the doctor in his house? He had two aims in mind. His first aim was to have a safeguard in place in case his son would again eat the food that made him sick. His second aim was to deter his son from eating the food again – by seeing the doctor in his home, the lad would constantly recall the harsh medicines, and the father hoped that this would keep him from repeating his mistake.
The parallel is as follows. Adam was initially created as purely intellectual being, with no urges for physical pleasures. He cared for his physical needs with composure, giving his body only what it needed for good health. Hashem knew that if Adam would eat from the tree of knowledge, he would be stricken with physical urges. So Hashem told Adam not to eat from the tree, and created death to deter him from doing so. Ultimately, however, Adam ate from the tree, and was stricken with physical urges as Hashem had anticipated. Death now served man as a treatment, to purge him of the corroding effects of physical urges.
Later, in the days of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, we were in a state similar to the state Adam was in before the sin. Our souls and our bodies were in harmony. As we ate from the meat of the offerings, our souls would be nourished by the offering’s holiness, while our bodies would be nourished by the meat. Our souls and our bodies would join in a song of praise to Hashem, as it is written (Tehillim 84:3): “My heart and my flesh shall sing praise to the Living God.” This was the state of affairs that was brought into being through the inauguration of the Mishkan. Hashem decreed: “Be holy!” We then thought that since Hashem had sanctified us and brought us to the primeval state of Adam before the sin, death was no longer a necessary element of the world, for there was no defilement within us that death was needed to purge. We were infused with the sanctifying influence of Torah, as it is written (Tehillim 40:9): “Your Torah is in my innards.” So we said: “Are You not, from primeval times, Hashem the God who sanctified me? Let us not die!” But Hashem answered that it was impossible. Why? Because death served not only as an instrument of judgment to purge us of the effects of sinful thoughts and acts (“You have ordained him for judgment”) but also has an instrument of admonishment to keep us from falling into sin again (“You have established him to admonish”).
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Terumah

A Midrash on this week’s parashah, in Shemos Rabbah 33:4, teaches that in parallel with every creation that Hashem placed in heaven, He placed a corresponding creation on earth. The Midrash presents a long list of examples, including examples of components of the Mishkan – the topic of this week’s parashah – that Hashem designed in parallel with components of the celestial realm. The Maggid notes that many early commentators elaborate on how the Mishkan is a microcosm of the upper worlds. He then presents a new angle of his own on the matter, which he develops with a parable.
A certain king had a kingdom encompassing several provinces. In each province, he had a splendid palace, as befit his honor, along with a company of servants, attendants, and coachmen with their coaches. His practice, when he wanted to visit one of his provinces, was first to order that a contingent of coaches, servants, and attendants be brought from that province to his capital city, and he then had them come along with him on his journey to the province. When asked about this practice, he explained as follows: “If I would journey to another province with coaches, servants, and attendants from my capital city, then upon my arrival in the province I would be happy but those with me would be sad over being so far from home. I therefore travel with coaches, servants, and attendants from my destination, so that when we arrive we will all be happy – I will be happy over reaching my destination and those with me will be happy over returning home.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem occasionally sends agents from heaven to carry out missions on earth. These agents, since their habitat is in heaven in Hashem’s presence, might find it against their nature to travel around in the lowly earthly realm.  Hashem therefore arranged for Himself an abode on earth – initially the Mishkan, later the Beis HaMikdash – in which He could infuse His presence. As the Torah states at the beginning of our parashah (Shemos 25:8): “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them.” The composition of the Mishkan/Mikdash paralleled that of the Hashem’s celestial abode; as our Sages put it, the Beis HaMikdash on earth is parallel to the Beis HaMikdash in heaven (Bamidbar Rabbah 4:13). Accordingly, when Hashem dispatches agents from heaven down to the earth, they can, so to speak, race to earth with joy, for they have a place on earth that is just like their home.
The Maggid draws support for his explanation from a homiletical reading of Tehillim 147:15. Rendered in the usual way, the verse states: “He who sends His utterance down to the earth – swiftly runs His word.” However, the word for “His utterance,” אמרתו, can be read as meaning “His royal robe,” as in Eichah Rabbah 1:1, expounding on Eichah 2:17, based on the similarity between the word אמרתו and the Aramaic word for garment, אימרא. The Maggid understands “Hashem’s royal robe” to be the Beis HaMikdash, which serves as a “case” for Hashem’s presence. The Maggid thus interprets the verse in Tehillim saying that Hashem sent “His royal robe,” meaning His abode, the Beis HaMikdash, down to the earth, and as a result, His word runs swiftly, for the Beis HaMikdash provides a link between earth and heaven, allowing Hashem’s word to run directly down from heaven to earth with nothing intervening.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mishpatim

In this week’s parashah it is written (Shemos 22:24-27):
When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act toward him as a pursuing creditor; do not lay interest upon him. If you take your fellow’s garment as a pledge, you must return it to him before sunset, for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin – in what will he sleep? And it will come to pass, when he cries out to Me, that I will hear, for I am gracious. You shall not revile God, and you shall not curse a leader among your people.
The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 31:8):
What does the law of returning a garment taken as a pledge have to do with the command not to curse leaders? Our teachers said: “Let us relate an episode about a person’s dealings with a judge. Once he had a case before the judge and got a ruling in his favor. He then praised the judge, saying: ‘There is none like him in the whole world.’ A while later, he was before the same judge in another case, and the judge ruled against him. On leaving the courthouse, he exclaimed: ‘There is no judge more idiotic than this one!’ People said to him: ‘Before he was praiseworthy, and now he is an idiot?’” Therefore the Torah admonishes: “You shall not revile God, and you shall not curse a leader among your people.”
The Maggid explains that the Midrash is discussing the following situation, in which a judge seemingly issues opposite rulings in the very same dispute.  Someone loaned money to a poor person. The borrower was unable to pay. The lender took the borrower to court, and the judge ordered a sheriff sent to the borrower’s home to take a suitable item as a pledge and bring it to the lender. The sheriff took some clothes as the pledge, and brought them to the lender as the judge ordered. Later that same day, as evening approached, the borrower went before the judge and pleaded for his clothes back, and the judge ordered a sheriff sent to the lender’s home to take the clothes and bring them back to the borrower. The lender might be tempted to curse the judge and call him an erratic idiot. The Torah therefore admonishes: “You shall not revile God, and you shall not curse a leader among your people.” Even though the law of pledges lays down a seemingly peculiar rule calling for a pledge to be passed back and forth between a lender and a borrower, we must recognize that Hashem in His Divine wisdom legislated this rule, and we must accept it with equanimity.
David Zucker, Site Administrator