V’yadata ki lo b’tzidkascha
Hashem Elokecha nosein lecha es ha’aretz ha’tovah ha’zos l’rishta ki am k’shei
oref atah (9:6)
A mere 40 days after accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people
committed the worst sin in the history of their nation: the making and worship
of the golden calf. Hashem’s preliminary reaction was to create a new nation
which would be descended from Moshe (Shemos 32:8-10), a plan which was
fortunately rejected as a result of Moshe’s fervent prayers on their behalf.
Curiously, Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that a careful reading of these
verses reveals that even this terrible sin didn’t arouse sufficient Divine wrath
to warrant the annihilation of the Jewish people. Only after Hashem added that
they were a stiff-necked people did He conclude that they were deserving of
eradication. Although stubbornness is an undesirable trait, how can its severity
be compared to the grievous sin of the golden calf, and how can we understand
that this was the primary cause of Hashem’s initial decree?
Rav Shalom answers that no matter how grave a sin a person may commit, it is
always possible to correct his ways. However, this is dependent upon his
willingness to critically examine his ways. After Hashem noted that besides
having committed a terrible sin the Jewish people were also stubborn and
inflexible, there was no longer a chance that they would be willing to admit the
error of their ways. Only at this point was their fate sealed.
The importance of accepting rebuke is illustrated by the following humorous
story. At one time, certain bus routes in Jerusalem were separated by gender for
reasons of modesty. Late one stormy Friday afternoon, a pregnant woman missed
the last bus for women before Shabbos. When the final men’s bus approached, she
attempted to board. A fanatical man on the bus began vocally protesting her
“immodesty.” One of the other passengers attempted to defend her, asking the
extremist, “What about the law prohibiting the public embarrassment of another
Jew?” The zealot turned to her supporter and responded, “You’re right, so why
are you embarrassing me!”
This lesson can also be applied to marriage. When considering a person as a
prospective spouse, the Chazon Ish advised that it is impossible to completely
examine every attribute, viewpoint, and philosophy of the person in question.
Therefore, in addition to making a good-faith effort to clarify the most
important issues, it is also critical to find out whether the person is
intransigent in his thinking.
No matter how similar and well-matched two people may seem, there will
inevitably arise differences of opinion and style in confronting life’s
challenges. As long as each person is open-minded and flexible, willing to
listen to and understand the viewpoint of the other and then reconsider his own,
this needn’t be a cause for concern. However, if one spouse is stubborn and set
in his ways, refusing to even consider alternate viewpoints, this presents a
tremendous danger to the future peace and harmony in his home, and the Chazon
Ish advised that one stay far away from such a match.
Although many of us go through life convinced that we are always correct (and
wondering when those around us will finally realize it), the lesson of the
golden calf is that more important than the propriety of our deeds is our
willingness to question them, maturely admit when we are wrong, and attempt to
improve and learn from our mistakes.
V’limadtem osam es b’neichem l’daber bam (11:19)
Rashi writes that when a child is learning to speak, his father should teach him
Torah so that his first speech consists of words of Torah. He adds that one who
neglects to do so is considered as if he has buried his son. Although it is
admirable to begin a child’s education with spiritual and holy matters, why is
one who fails to do so viewed so harshly, especially when he can fix his error
by subsequently teaching his child Torah?
Understanding the following Medrash will help us answer this question. The
Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:4) relates that on the night after the construction
of the first Temple was finished, Shlomo HaMelech got married. The combination
of the two celebrations was a cause for tremendous joy.
In order that Shlomo shouldn’t wake up early in the morning, his new wife hung a
sheet on top of his bed and drew on it pictures of the moon and stars so that
when he would wake up, he would think it was still the nighttime and would
continue to sleep. On that night he slept uncharacteristically until four hours
after sunrise, and the Jews waiting eagerly to offer the morning sacrifice had
to wait until that time, as the keys to the Temple were underneath his head.
When Shlomo's mother heard that the offering was being delayed due to his
sleeping late, she woke him up and rebuked him quite soundly. Although it would
have been nice to bring the sacrifice at the earliest possible time, nothing was
actually lost as it was offered four hours after sunrise, which is still within
its acceptable time range. Further, he did nothing wrong as he was rejoicing
with his new bride, and he only slept late as a result of her deceiving him.
Why, then, was his mother so upset with him?
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro answers that Shlomo’s mother understood the importance
of a proper beginning, both to the Temple and to one’s marriage, as everything
which happens subsequently is an outgrowth of that foundation. She therefore
wanted to emphasize to Shlomo that no excuse in the world justifies damaging the
foundation of a new project.
Similarly, Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains that the entire success of a tree’s
growth is determined by its beginning – the time of its planting. Rashi is
teaching us the power of the beginning, which forms the foundation for a child’s
entire life. Everything which will transpire subsequently is an outgrowth of
that basis. Although it is possible to undo the damage which was caused by poor
“planting,” the strong and solid foundation will still be missing for life. As
the summer draws to a close, we return to our daily lives. Whether we are
returning to a new zman in yeshiva or the new school year, to our jobs or caring
for our families, we should internalize this lesson, making sure to plant solid
foundations which will help ensure success in all of our endeavors throughout
the year to come.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Gemora in Berachos (49a) teaches that when reciting the Grace after Meals
(8:10), a person is required to give thanks to Hashem for giving us the Torah
and the mitzvah of circumcision. In what way are these connected to eating, and
why is a person obligated to mention them when thanking Hashem for the food that
he ate? (Chasam Sofer)
2) The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) derives from 11:12 that a person’s “mezonos” –
literally food sustenance, but often used as a symbol of income – for the
upcoming year is decreed on Rosh Hashana. Does this mean that Hashem decides how
much money he will make, or how much food he will consume? (Lulei Soras’cha)
3) Rashi writes (11:19) that when a child begins to speak, his father is
obligated to teach him Lashon HaKodesh by speaking to him in that language. From
where is this requirement derived? (Gevuras Yitzchok)
4) Why is the entire second paragraph of Shema written in the plural except for
the verse (11:20) containing the commandment to write mezuzos on one’s doorpost?
(Meshech Chochmah, Shiras Dovid, Rinas Yitzchok)
5) The Gemora in Pesachim (4a) rules that placing a mezuzah on the doorpost is
an obligation for one who is currently in the residence. Why isn’t a person who
leaves his house during the day required to recite a new blessing over the
mezuzah upon returning to his house, at which point he incurs a new obligation,
just as he does each time that he returns to his sukkah? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger
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