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 Parshas Ki Sisa - Vol. 5, Issue 21
Compiled by Oizer Alport


V’atah kach lecha besamim rosh mar deror chamesh me’os (30:23)

The Gemora in Chullin (139b) asks where Mordechai is hinted to in the Torah, and it answers that he is alluded to in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sisa, where the Torah lists the spices that were used in creating the anointing oil. The first of the spices is called “mar deror” – pure myrrh – which the Targum translates into Aramaic as “marah dachya,” which sounds like Mordechai.

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 1:3) that the pure myrrh in the anointing oil was made from the blood of a non-kosher animal from India. The Raavad disagrees vehemently, arguing that no part of a non-kosher animal could ever be part of something that is used in the Beis HaMikdash.

The Kesef Mishneh defends the Rambam by explaining that since the substance in question is dried out and ground into a fine powder, it’s considered a totally different object and is therefore permitted even though it originally came from a non-kosher animal. Even so, why is Mordechai alluded to specifically in an object which has such questionable origins?

The Medrash comments on a verse in Iyov which says (14:4) “Mi yitein tahor mi’tamei” by explaining that this verse refers to the concept of something impure coming out of something pure, such as the red heifer making one person pure but another person impure. One of the examples given is the pure and holy Mordechai who was descended from the impure Shimi ben Geira. The Haggadah Shel Pesach Reiach Duda’im suggests that this is alluded to by the fact that Mordechai’s name is hinted to in a non-kosher animal which according to the Rambam finds its way into the Beis HaMikdash.

As far as why Mordechai’s name is alluded to in the Targum instead of in an actual verse in the Torah, a sefer called Divrei Purim explains that because a critical part of the miracle of the Megillah was due to Mordechai’s knowledge of other languages so that he could understand the plot of Bigsan and Seresh who spoke in a foreign language assuming that nobody listening could understand them, Mordechai’s name is therefore hinted to in the Targum’s translation into a foreign language.

As an interesting aside, although the Gemora provides a source for Haman from a verse in Parshas Bereishis (3:11), Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld suggests that he is also alluded to in the section of spices together with Mordechai. Out of the 11 spices, all of them are sweet-smelling except for chelb’nah (30:34) – galbanum – which has a very foul odor. Not surprisingly, the word “chelb’nah” has the same numerical value as Haman.


V’shamru V’nei Yisroel es haShabbos la’asos es haShabbos l’dorosam bris olam beini u’vein B’nei Yisroel os hee l’olam ki sheises yamim asah Hashem es haShomayim v’es ha’aretz uvayom ha’shevi’I shavas vayinafash (31:16-17)

Our verses discuss the mitzvah of observing and guarding Shabbos, which is a sign between Hashem and the Jewish people. In commanding the Jewish people to observe Shabbos as an eternal covenant, why does the Torah write the word “olam” – forever – with the letter “vav” and then switch one verse later to write it without the letter “vav?”

The Gemora in Shabbos (69b) records an interesting dispute regarding the law governing a person who finds himself lost in the desert, and because he doesn’t know what day it is, he is unsure when to observe Shabbos. Chiya the son of Rav maintains that the person should observe the following day as Shabbos and then count six days before again observing Shabbos. Rav Huna argues that he should first count six days and only then observe the first Shabbos.

The Gemora explains that Chiya the son of Rav derives his opinion from the first person, Adam, who was created on Friday. For Adam, Shabbos was the next day, followed by six days of the week and then another Shabbos. Rav Huna, on the other hand, focuses on the Creation of the universe. From this perspective, first there were six days of the week and only then came Shabbos. The law is decided in accordance with the opinion of Rav Huna.


The Vilna Gaon brilliantly suggests that the anomaly in our verses teaches this law. Because the second occurrence of the word “forever” is written without a “vav,” it can also be read as meaning “hidden.” The Torah prescribes that a person to whom Shabbos is “hidden,” as he is lost in the desert and doesn’t know which day of the week it is, should follow the order of the Creation of the world as per the opinion of Rav Huna, in that first there were six weekdays (ki sheises yamim asah Hashem es ha’Shomayim v’es ha’aretz) and only then came Shabbos (u’vayom ha’shevi’i Shavat vayinafash).


Vayar ha’am ki bosheis Moshe laredes min ha’har vayikahel ha’am al Aharon vayomru eilav kum asei lanu elohim asher yeilchu l’faneinu ki zeh Moshe ha’ish asher he’elanu me’eretz Mitzrayim lo yadanu meh haya lo (32:1)

Rashi writes (Bamidbar 19:2) that Hashem declared the mitzvah of parah adumah to be a “chok” – Divine decree with no readily apparent rationale – regarding which we are not permitted to inquire or attempt to understand. Shlomo Hamelech declared (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3) that after using all of his intellectual capabilities to attempt to understand this mitzvah, he was still unable to do so.

Yet Rashi also writes in the name of Rav Moshe HaDarshan that the parah adumah served as atonement for the sin of the golden calf, and he proceeds to explain how each detail of its laws specifically atoned for a corresponding aspect of the golden calf. After writing that the parah adumah is the quintessential chok, the purpose of which even Shlomo couldn’t grasp, how can Rashi proceed to explain the rationale behind the mitzvah in great detail? Secondly, in what way did this mitzvah specifically effect atonement for the golden calf?

            The Beis HaLevi explains that when the Jews incorrectly concluded that Moshe died, they were distraught by the lack of an intermediary to lead them and teach them Hashem’s will. They yearned to build a place for the Divine presence to rest among them to fill the void left by Moshe’s perceived death. Because their intentions in building the calf were for the sake of Heaven, they selected Aharon to lead the project so that it would succeed. If so, what was their mistake, and why did their plans go so awry?

            The Beis HaLevi explains that each mitzvah contains within it deep, mystical secrets which have tremendous effects in the upper worlds when performed properly. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people erred in thinking that if they discovered the Kabbalistic concepts behind a mitzvah, they could perform it based on their understanding even without being commanded. As a result, although their intentions were proper, they lacked the Divine assistance which comes only from performing His will, and they ended up sinning with the golden calf.

            The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 51:8) teaches that the Mishkan also served as atonement for the golden calf. The Beis HaLevi explains that because the sin of the golden calf was caused by doing something without a command from Hashem to do so, the Torah repeatedly emphasizes in Parshas Pekudei (e.g. 39:5) that every aspect of the Mishkan was made exactly as Hashem commanded Moshe.

            With this introduction, we can answer our original questions. The mitzvah of parah adumah is indeed a chok, the logic of which escaped Shlomo and certainly Rav Moshe HaDarshan. If so, what does he mean when he says that the red heifer comes to atone for the golden calf? As we now understand that the root of the sin of the golden calf was the Jews’ attempt to “outsmart” Hashem by doing something which He didn’t command them to, the ultimate rectification of this sin is to completely subordinate one’s intellect to Hashem’s dictates. This was manifested by their willingness to perform a chok, a mitzvah which appears to make no sense but which we do solely because Hashem commanded it.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (30:31) that the anointment oil will remain for use in the Messianic era. What will it be used for? (Ramban Sefer HaMitzvos 3:7, Minchas Chinuch 107, Ayeles HaShachar)

2)     The Gemora in Yoma (85b) derives from 31:16 that we are required to desecrate Shabbos to save a fellow Jew’s life. If a Jewish court has convicted somebody of a capital crime and sentenced him to death, may one still desecrate Shabbos in order to save his life? (Biur Halacha 329:4)

3)     When burning chometz before Pesach, must one take care not to burn meat and milk products together in order to avoid transgressing the prohibition (Rashi 34:26) against cooking meat and milk together? (Ma’adanei Asher 5769 Parshas Mishpatim)

4)     The Gemora in Gittin (60b) derives from 34:27 that it is forbidden to say parts of the Written Torah by heart. Is it permitted to say Tehillim from memory? (Shu”t Chavos Yair 175, Chai Odom 8:11, Mateh Ephraim 619:23, Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim 49:6, Mishnah Berurah 49:6, Piskei Teshuvos 49:1, Ma’adanei Asher 5768)

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