Shabbos Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah recounts the sin of the golden calf. The Maggid explains that this sin was only a temporary lapse; the Jewish People’s normal state is to follow the proper path. He expounds on this theme at great length. We present here a selection from this essay.
The Gemara in Shabbos 88a-b relates the following episode:
A certain Sadducee saw Rava engrossed in his studies while the finger[s] of his hand were under his feet, and he ground them down, so that his fingers spurted blood. “You rash people,” he exclaimed, “who gave precedence to your mouth over your ears [by accepting the Torah with the words “we will do and we will hear” (Shemos 24:7)]– you still persist in your rashness. First you should have listened, and if within your powers, accept; if not, you should not have accepted.” Said he to him, “We who walked with wholeheartedness, of us it is written (Mishlei 11:3): ‘The wholeheartedness of the upright shall guide them.’ But of others, who walked in crookedness, it is written (ibid.): ‘But the crookedness of the treacherous shall destroy them.’”
The Maggid sets out to explain how Rava’s reply was substantive and not merely rhetorical.The starting point is the fact noted above that the Jewish People, although susceptible to being led astray by the evil inclination, have a natural inclination toward good. The Jewish People’s natural goodness can be seen strikingly by way they accepted the Torah. Why did the Jewish People accept the Torah right away without worrying at all that the evil inclination inside them would keep them from observing it, while other nations that Hashem approached were afraid to accept it?
The Maggid answers this question by analyzing an episode that took place during the Jewish People’s sojourn in the wilderness. The Torah relates (Bamidbar 11:4-6): “The rabble that was among them craved a craving, and the Children of Yisrael also cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat? …” Let us explain what took place here. The Jews, like the Egyptian rabble that tagged along with them, experienced a craving for meat and other foods. But while doing so they cried, lamenting in their hearts the fact that the evil inclination was swelling up within them and leading them to feel this craving. If someone had approached the Jews and offer to cure them of this craving, they would have accepted eagerly, for they recognized that physical pleasures are vain, and they craved these pleasures only because they were overcome by their evil inclination. But in regard to the rabble, the Torah says that they “craved a craving” – they chose willingly to cultivate a craving. Had someone offered to cure them of the craving, they would have declined.
Now, a person may size up his evil inclination and think that he does not have the capabilty to hold it at bay, but in truth he does have this capability. As our Sages teach in Kiddushin 30b, Hashem tells us: “I created the evil inclination, and I created the Torah as an antidote.” If a person immerses himself in Torah, its light will lead him back to the right path. It is for this reason that the Jews accepted the Torah even though they knew that the evil inclination would urge them to stray from it. They had faith that by engaging in Torah study their evil inclination would be subdued and the flame of desire would die out. But the Torah’s power to subdue physical desires is relevant only to one who wants to rid himself of these desires. Those who craved a craving did not want the Torah – they were not interested in its curative powers. They took the view that it is better to revel in worldly pleasures.
With this background, the Maggid says, we can understand well Rava’s reply to the Sadducee. The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. Two blind men went from city to city together, going door to door to collect alms. One of them was a good person, while the other was wicked. The first one was very upset about having to wander from place to place and experience the embarrassment of begging, but his dire circumstances forced him to do so. The second one, by contrast, enjoyed the wandering and the freedom from responsibility. Once they came to a city where there was an expert eye doctor. The first blind man invested great effort in arranging to visit the doctor and get cured of his blindness. The second one was not interested; he said that his blindness was the cornerstone for his making a living through begging and it made no sense to cast it aside. The doctor heard about these two men. To the one who was seeking to get cured, he said: “May Hashem grant you a better way of making a living than begging, so that you and your descendants may live in wealth and honor, as is your wish. To the other one he said: “May it be that you remain forever in poverty, for this is what you have chosen.”
The Jews who remain loyal to the Torah tradition are like the first beggar, while the heretical Sadducees are like the second one. When the Sadducee cast at Rava his critical remark, Rava replied: “We who walked with wholeheartedness, of us it is written: ‘The wholeheartedness of the upright shall guide them.’ But of others, who walked in crookedness, it is written: ‘But the crookedness of the treacherous shall destroy them.’” Rava was saying: “We have firmly rejected the path of wallowing in empty worldly pleasures. Our only desire is to purify ourselves and bring our souls to a state of redemption. It is merely incidental that occasionally our evil inclination overtakes us. Our main focus is on doing good. Our wholeheartness will lead us to our redemption. But you have chosen to embrace worldly pleasures and have rejected the upright and good. Because of this choice, you are headed for poverty and destruction.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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