Post Archive for February 2016

Parashas Ki Sissa

1. This week’s parashah relates the sin of the golden calf, which occurred while Moshe was still atop Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from Hashem. After telling Moshe what the people had done, Hashem declared (Shemos 32:9-10): “I have seen this people and – behold – it is a stiff-necked people. And now desist from Me, and let My anger flare up against them and I will annihilate them, and I will make you a great nation.” Moshe pleads with Hashem to show the people mercy, and in the end Hashem agrees to do so. The Torah relates (ibid. 32:14): “And Hashem recanted from the evil that He declared He would do to His people.”
The Gemara teaches (Berachos 7a): “Every single word that goes out from Hashem’s mouth for good, even on condition, He never retracts.” The Gemara proves this point from the case of Moshe. In the quote above, Hashem told Moshe He would make him into a great nation, and the Gemara states that, indeed, Moshe was the forebear of a group of over 600,000 descendants.
The Maggid remarks that we see an indication of this in the Torah’s report that “Hashem recanted from the evil that He declared He would do to His people.” It was from the evil that He declared He would do to His people that He recanted, but He did not recant from His promise to make Moshe into a great nation.
2. In the aftermath of the sin, Hashem proclaimed before Moshe His thirteen attributes of mercy (Shemos 34:4-7): “Hashem, Hashem, God, Merciful and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Who Preserves Kindness for thousands of generations, Who Forbears Iniquity, Rebellious Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses.” Afterward, Moshe pleads with Hashem (ibid. 34:9): “If now I have found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, let my Lord go in our midst, for it is a stiff-necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your estate.” Moshe’s justifying his request by saying that the Jewish People is a stiff-necked people is very strange, for this was the very reason that Hashem had previously given for sending an angel with them rather than going with them Himself (ibid. 33:2-3): “I shall send an angel ahead of you …. I shall not ascend among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I annihilate you on the way.” The Maggid explains the matter with a parable.
There was a merchant who sold small pieces of silk and other fine cloth suitable for repairing clothes with places that had worn out or torn. He once traveled to a province where there was no silk or similar cloth at all, and people wore only clothes of linen or wool. He went from city to city and from county to county but no one bought from him. The merchant was very surprised with his lack of success. People told him: “Didn’t you know that in these parts people don’t wear clothes made of the type of material you sell? That is why there is no need for your merchandise here. You should travel only to provinces where people wear clothes of this type of material, and then you will do very well.”
The parallel is as follows. Moshe heard Hashem proclaim before him His thirteen attributes of mercy, attributes suited to repairing the spiritual damage people do to themselves by sinning. This proclamation gave Moshe an opening to make his request. He told Hashem: “If you send an angel with us, and You Yourself remain in Heaven, You will not have the chance to put these atttributes of mercy into action. There are no sinners in Heaven, and thus no need for spiritual repairs. So, instead, travel among us, for we are a stiff-necked people prone to sin from time to time. Then You will have ample opportunity to deploy Your attributes of mercy – You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

A Parable on Parables

This week’s parashah describes the clothes the Kohanim wore when they served in the Mishkan/Mikdash. The Torah says these clothes were “for glory and splendor,” and we well know that clothing has an enhancing effect. In this connection, I present the following Dubno Maggid parable, which relates to this enhancing effect. This parable appears in the Yiddish anthology Alle Mesholim fun Dubner Maggid, and the English translation was kindly provided by Dr. Mitchell Ginsberg. Dr. Ginsberg contacted me this very week asking if I knew where the parable appears in the Hebrew compilations of the Maggid’s commentaries. So far, I have not been able to locate it. If anyone has any information about this, we’ll be happy to have it. The parable is the Maggid’s response to someone asking why a parable has such power that it makes a strong effect on a person. Thus, it is a parable on parables.
Truth was once going around through the streets bare naked as when his mother had him, and so no one wanted to let him into his house. Whoever would encounter him would flee from him with terror. As Truth was going around in bitter anguish, he met Parable. And Parable was adorned in beautiful clothing of splendorous colors. Parable asked: “Tell me, Mr. Kinsman, why in the world are you winding around on the streets so downbeaten?” Truth answered: “Bad, brother. I’m already old, very old, and no one wants to know me.” Said Parable: “It’s not because you’re old that people don’t like you: look, here I am, also very old, and nevertheless the older I become, even more so do people like me. I’m just going to share a secret with you about folks. They like each thing to be adorned out and a little disguised. I’ll loan you some clothes like mine and you’ll see how people will like you too.” Truth followed the advice of Parable and adorned himself in Parable’s clothing. Since then, Truth and Parable go hand in hand and people like them both.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas and Haftaras Terumah

This week’s parashah deals with the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Correspondingly, the haftarah deals with the building of the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple). After the Beis HaMikdash was completed, Hashem told Shlomo (Melachim Alef 6:11-13):
This house that you are building – if you follow My decrees, carry out My laws, and observe all My commandments, to follow them, I shall uphold My word with you, that I spoke to your father David. I shall dwell amidst the Children of Yisrael, and I shall not abandon My people Yisrael.
In his commentary on the haftarah, the Maggid points out that while Hashem refers to the Mikdash at the beginning of His statement (“this house”), in the rest of His statement He does not mention it. Hashem promises that He will dwell amidst us, but He does not say that He will emplace His Presence specifically in the house that Shlomo built. The Maggid notes further that, in truth, the very concept of a “House of God” is an enigma: It is a fundamental tenet of our faith that Hashem’s Presence extends throughout the entire universe without bound, so how can we possibly build a house for it?
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. At the beginning of the parashah, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 25:2): “Speak to the Children of Yisrael and let them take for Me a portion; from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion.” What did Hashem mean by this? Surely He had no need for the gold and silver and other materials He listed. Indeed, just before listing the materials, Hashem says (ibid. 25:3), “This is the portion which you shall take from them” – here, He does not say “My portion,” but rather “the portion.” Hashem did not regard the materials as “My portion.” Rather, what Hashem regarded as “My portion” was the people’s motivation of heart – the wholeheartedness and purity of thought with which with the people donated the materials. Afterward, Hashem says (ibid 25:8): “Let them make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.” He does not say, “let them build Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell within it (בתוכו),” but instead He says “I will dwell in their midst (בתוכם).” The Mishkan was not His dwelling place; rather, His dwelling place was within the hearts of the Jewish People.
In this vein, David tells Shlomo (Divrei HaYamim Alef 28:9-10): “And you, my son Shlomo, know the God of your father and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing soul, for Hashem seeks all hearts, and discerns all that thought produces …. See now that Hashem has chosen you to build a house as a sanctuary – be strong and do it.” David tells Shlomo that the main component of service to Hashem is wholeheartedness and willingness of soul – that Hashem seeks only a person’s heart and his thoughts. And David urges Shlomo to take note and register this principle, and recognize that when Hashem chose him to build a sanctuary, what He wanted was not a splendid physical structure, but rather a construction effort carried out with devotion and pure intent.
In Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:9-10 it is recounted further:
And the people rejoiced over their donations, for they donated to Hashem with a whole heart. And David HaMelech also rejoiced with great gladness. And David blessed Hashem in the presence of the entire congregation. And David said: “Blessed are You, Hashem, God of Yisrael our forefather, forever and ever. … And I know, my God, that You examine the heart and desire uprightness. I have donated all these things in the uprightness of my heart, and now I see Your people who are present here to offer You donations with joy. Hashem, God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael, our forefathers, preserve this forever to be the product of the thoughts of Your people, and direct their hearts toward You. And grant a perfect heart to Shlomo my son, to observe Your commandments, Your testimonies, and Your decrees, to carry out everything and to build the palace for which I have prepared.”
David is declaring before Hashem that he knows that the main thing He seeks in a donation is pure intent of heart and uprightness, and not the donated item itself. And he tells Hashem that he strove to see to it that the donors would donate with joy, and that the people’s joy in giving testifies that their thoughts are fitting and their hearts devoted to Him. And David prays that the people should always maintain this devotion, and that his son Shlomo should act with the same wholeheartedness.
Similarly, in the passage from the haftarah that we quoted at the outset, Hashem is telling Shlomo that the main dwelling place He wishes him to build for Him is not the physical Beis HaMikdash, but rather it is his own heart – through dedicating himself to fulfilling His word. If he will guide the Jewish People in making a sanctuary for Him in their hearts, He will then dwell there. And Hashem concludes by saying that – even if the physical Beis HaMikdash is destroyed – so long as the people maintain some place for Him in their hearts, He will never abandon them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mishpatim

Near the end of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells the Jewish People (Shemos 23:20): “Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on the way, and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” The Midrash interprets this verse as referring to the events that occurred after the sin of the golden calf. The Midrash, building on Tehillim 82:6, expounds as follows (Shemos Rabbah 32:1):
Behold, I am sending an angel before you. Thus it is written (Tehillim 82:6): “I said, ‘You are a celestial being – sons of the Most High are you all.’” Had the Jewish People waited for Moshe and not committed that deed, neither the nations of the world nor the Angel of Death would have had dominion over them. … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “I issued one commandment to Adam so that he would fulfill it, and I compared him to the ministering angels, as it is written (Bereishis 3:22, homiletically), ‘Behold, man was like the unique one among us.’ These are those who fulfill the 613 mitzvos … isn’t it proper that they should live forever?’” … But because they said, “This is your god, O Yisrael” (Shemos 32:34), death came upon them. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “You have followed the path of Adam, who did not stand up to the test. ‘I said, “You are a celestial being.”’ But since you acted as Adam did, ‘But like a man, you shall die’ (the continuation of Tehillim 82:6).”
The Maggid draws a connection between this Midrash and another Midrash that expounds on Tehillim 82:6 (Bamidbar Rabbah 7:4):
At the time that God sent the people the manna, He performed for them a number of miracles. … They did not need to release waste as ordinary men do. … God said: “Should My sons need to release waste? I decreed that they should be celestial beings, as it is written (Tehillim 82:6), ‘I said, “You are a celestial being.”’ Just like the angels do not need to release waste, so, too, they should not need to do so. … The Jews made jest of their not having to release waste. … At that time God said … (Bamidbar 14:11): “How long will this people provoke Me, and how long will they not have faith in Me, as I perform signs in their midst?”
For future reference, let us note that the section of the Torah in which this outcry of exasperation appears is not the section recounting the complaints about the manna, but rather the section recounting the sin of the spies.
The Maggid raises two questions about this Midrash. First, how exactly does Tehillim 82:6 indicate that the Jews who ate manna did not need to release waste? Second, couldn’t Hashem have granted them a greater favor? Having to release waste is admittedly degrading, but there are other more degrading activities than man must engage in. Why, then, did Hashem see fit to free the Jews from this specific activity?
The Maggid explains the matter by homing in on a point of phrasing in Tehillim 82:6. The verse describes Hashem as saying, “You are a celestial being – sons of the Most High are you all.” The word “all” here seems superfluous. What is the import of this added word? The Maggid turns to a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 14:3:
Hashem created man as a celestial being and as an earthly being in four respects. Man eats and drinks like an animal, reproduces like an animal, releases waste like an animal, and dies like an animal. At the same time he stands upright like an angel, and speaks, understands and sees like an angel. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “If I create him as a celestial being, he will live and not die, and if I create him as an earthly being he will die and not live. So I will create him with some features of the celestial beings and some features of the earthly beings. If he sins, he will die, and if not, he will live.”
During the time Hashem provided the Jews with manna – a food that is absorbed into the body with no waste – the Jews were like angels in five respects and like animals in only three. And after the revelation at Sinai, they reached the state that Adam was in before he sinned (see, e.g., Shabbos 146a), making it fitting that they be immortal. With these points in mind, we can understand Tehillim 82:6 very simply. The word “all” in the verse is not meant to indicate that all the Jews were like sons of the Most High. Rather, it is meant to indicate that each individual Jew was entirely like a son of the Most High, with the term “entirely” being used, as it often is, to mean “in the main.” That is, the Jews were more like celestial beings than earthly beings.
But then the Jews committed the sin of the golden calf. With this sin, they imposed on themselves and their descendants a death sentence, just as Adam had when he committed his sin. And the later sins that the Jews committed in the wilderness nailed in this sentence. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 16:14 describes this process. The Midrash expounds on Mishlei 1:25: “You subverted all My counsel, and My reproof you did not desire.” It lists a series of blessings that Hashem granted the Jews during the Exodus and in the wilderness, and then describes how the Jews spoiled these blessings with their sinning and complaining. The Midrash mentions the sin of the spies (which prompted an outcry from Hashem, as noted above) and the complaining about the manna. And the Midrash describes Hashem’s reaction:
“But like a man, you shall die” – like Adam. I gave him one commandment through which, if he fulfilled it, he would live forever … but he acted ruinously and ate from the tree, and I said to him (Bereishis 3:19): “For you are made of earth, and to the earth you shall return.” It is the same with you. I told you, “You are a celestial being,” but you ruined yourselves, and therefore, “But like a man, you shall die.” And what caused this? You subverted all My counsel  –  with the blessings I granted you, you angered Me.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator