Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

For sponsorships and advertising opportunities, send e-mail to:

Back to This Week's Parsha Previous Issues

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Vol. 10   No. 21

This issue is sponsored anonymously

Parshas Ki Sisa

To Avert a Plague
(Adapted from the Or ha'Chayim)

The Or ha'Chayim gives a number of reasons as to why the Torah repeats the words "bi'fkod osam" twice at the beginning of the Parshah (in fact, grammatically speaking, it is the first time that the Torah ought to have omitted it, rather than the second).

He bases his first answer on the fact that this counting took place after (and as a result of) the sin of the Golden Calf (as Rashi points out). The Torah therefore needed to warn them that it was not only then that a plague would ensue as a result of the counting, but also on future occasions, after the effects of the Golden Calf had worn off.

Secondly, he continues, the Torah comes to teach us that there are two issues at stake here, and not just one. Because not only do the half-Shekalim atone for previous sins, but counting Yisrael without them is a sin in itself, which results in a plague.

And thirdly, he says, it comes to stress that as well as the current Mitzvah to count K'lal Yisrael by means of half-Shekalim, they may not be counted one by one, unless a medium is used, and not necessarily a half-Shekel, as we shall now see.

And with this, he explains how it was that Shaul Hamelech took from the people stones when he wanted to count them (Shmuel 1 11:8). Later, when his kingdom was established and his wealth increased, say Chazal, he counted them by taking from each one a lamb (ibid 15:4), which he supplied from his own flocks expressly for that purpose.


What is difficult to understand however, is not only how, many years later, David Hamelech could count Yisrael without taking from them half-Shekalim, but why he wished to count them for no rhyme or reason (see Redak Shmuel 2 24:1)? As a matter of fact, the Or ha'Chayim explains, the Gemara in B'rachos (62b) answers the second question. The Gemara explains that G-d, who was already angry with Yisrael (as the Pasuk specifically writes there), was punishing David for having accused Him of inciting Shaul against him.

G-d's reaction was to entice him with an urge to count Yisrael for no particular reason (measure for measure). And it was as a result, that David went on to order their counting, and the counting took place without their giving a half-Shekel. The question arises however, how Yo'av, whom the king had appointed to carry out the task of counting Yisrael, could accept the appointment. True, he did initially object to counting Yisrael without any reason, but when it came to the crunch, he went ahead and counted them, without taking from them the crucial half-Shekel. And if Yo'av erred, how come that the Sanhedrin did not stop it, and no protest was forthcoming from the people?

And even assuming that the people were concerned about the half-Shekel, the Or ha'Chayim suggests, why did they not at least send a delegation to David, to order Yo'av to take from them stones, like Shaul had done before him?

It is also not clear what David had instructed Yo'av; whether he ordered him to count the people (period), expecting him to carry out his instructions in the correct manner. Or whether he specifically ordered him to count them without half-Shekalim, and Yo'av simply obeyed orders. In other words, was David guilty of committing the sin of counting Yisrael without the 'Kofer Nefesh', and not Yo'av who obeyed orders; or did the guilt for that sin lie entirely with Yo'av? The Or ha'Chayim, opting for the first alternative, explains that David ordered Yo'av to count the people, a sin, as Yo'av himself pointed out, but expecting Yo'av to do so in the correct manner. Yo'av subsequently followed his instructions, taking a stone or something similar, from each person, because he knew the strict prohibition, as well as the severe consequences, of making a direct head count. Now this would have sufficed had David had good reason to count Yisrael (just like it sufficed with Shaul). But this was not the case, as we explained earlier. And since David had no good reason to count Yisrael, the only way to prevent the ensuing plague would have been to take from each person a half-Shekel, because, as we wrote earlier, the half-Shekel atones for the counting itself. And that was where Yo'av erred.

And with this, everything becomes abundantly clear. David, enticed by Hashem, sinned by ordering an unnecessary count. Yo'av on the other hand, simply erred by taking stones instead of half-Shekalim. He did not realize the advantage of the half-Shekel over other objects under the circumstances, a mistake that was shared by the Sanhedrin and the people. Refer also to beginning of main article in next week's Midei Shabbos.


Parshah Pearls

The Half-Shekel

"ve'chiper Aharon al karnosav ... . Ki siso es rosh B'nei Yisrael" (30:10/12).

The Torah places "Ki sisa" (the Mitzvah of Machtzis ha'Shekel) next to the mention of the 'keronos' (the 'horns of the Mizbe'ach), says the Ba'al ha'Turim, because it hints to a saying of Chazal. Bearing in mind that 'keren' has connotations of 'strength', Chazal have said that G-d raises the 'keren' of Yisrael when they perform the Mitzvah of Machtzis ha'Shekel.


Kofer Nefesh

And with regard to the juxtaposition of the same two Pesukim, only this time, of the words 'kofer nafsho' (describing the Machtzis ha'Shekel) next to the atonement of Yom Kipur, the Ba'al ha'Turim points to the importance of giving one's 'kofer nefesh' (redemption of one's soul) on Yom Kipur by means of Tzedakah. Hence, he says, the Minhag to donate large sums of Tzedakah on Yom Kipur.

And a few Pesukim further (in Pasuk 16), where the Torah writes "And you shall take the money of the atonement ('Kesef ha'Kipurim') he points out that the same word is used in Parshas Tetzaveh (30:26) "from the blood of the sin-offering of Yom Kipur (mi'dam chatas ha'Kipurim)". This too, hints at the importance of giving Tzedakah on Yom Kipur.

Life and death are sealed on Yom Kipur, and as Shlomoh Ha'Melech wrote in Koheles, 'and Tzedakah saves from death', so the logic behind this minhag is self-evident.


Six Hundred and Three

"Siso es rosh B'nei ... " (Ibid.).

The first letters of these four words add up to six hundred and three, the Ba'al ha'Turim comments, because this was the total number of thousand people in K'lal Yisrael at that time, who were eligible to be counted.

As a matter of fact, he adds, the numerical value of 'B'nei Yisrael' is six hundred and three, too.


The Boomerang Effect of Giving

"ve'nosnu ish kofer nafsho" (30:12).

The word "ve'nosnu" (and they shall give), observes the Ba'al ha'Turim, reads the same backwards as forwards. This is because whatever a person gives comes back to him. It is a mistake to think that by giving Tzedakah, one loses anything, because what goes out of the front door, comes in through the back.


The Three-Edged Kaparah

Three times, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, the word "Pekudim" appears in this Parshah, three times "Machtzis ha'Shekel", three times "Kofer Nafsho", three times "Le'chaper" and three times "B'nei Yisrael".

All this is because the half-Shekel atones for Yisrael in three areas: from defeat on the battlefront, from famine and from pestilence.

Indeed, these are the three options which Gad ha'Navi presented to David Hamelech, to atone for his sin of counting Yisrael instead of collecting their half-Shekalim.


Even on Shabbos

"Ach es Shabsosai Tishmoru" (But you shall keep My Shabbosos) 31:13.

The word "ach" always comes to exclude. In this case, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, it excludes three things, all of which override the Shabbos: 1. 'Piku'ach Nefesh (life-threatening situations); 2. Public Korbanos (incorporating any Mitzvah which falls due on Shabbos and which cannot be postponed, such as B'ris Milah); 3. The conclusion of a battle (even if it is a Milchemes Reshus [a non-obligatory war]), which began more than three days before Shabbos - see Rashi Devarim 20:19, and Ba'al ha'Turim there Pasuk 20.


Shabbos Specials

"es ha'Shabbos la'asos" (31:16).

The first letters of these three words spell 'Ohel', a tent, because we learn the prohibitions of Shabbos from the Melachos that were performed in the construction of the Mishkan, also known as 'the Tent of Meeting'.

"B'nei Yisrael os hi ... " (31:17).

The first letters of these four words spell 'bi'ah' (marital relations), because, as Chazal have taught, the time for intimacy for a Talmid-Chacham is on Friday-night (Ba'al ha'Turim).


Shabbos Lights and Double Souls

"os hi le'olam ki ... " (31:17).

The first letters of these four words spell 'Oholech" (your tents), says the Ba'al ha'Turim. This hints at Chazal, who extrapolate from the Pasuk "ve'yoda'at ki Sh'lom Oholech", the Mitzvah of 'Hadlakas Ner' (kindling the Shabbos Lights) on Erev Shabbos (even though it is basically a Mitzvah de'Rabbanan).

For the Shabbos lights are a source of Shalom Bayis; they create peace in the home, inasmuch as they prevent people from falling and hurting themselves, not to speak of the joy that light brings into the home.

"u'va'Yom ha'Shevi'i shovas va'yinofash" (31:17).

This time, the Ba'al ha'Turim comments on the last letters, which spell 'sh'tayim' (two), hinting at the two Neshamos that a Jew acquires on Shabbos (as well as the two lights, the two Challos and all the other two's with which Shabbos is connected).

"u'va'yom ha'Shevi'i shovas va'yinofash" (ibid).

The numetical value of " va'yinofash", says the Ba'al ha'Turim, is equivalent to the words 'Eilu she'be'Gehinom", because even the fires of Gehinom rest on Shabbos ...


Vay Vay Vay

... The numerical value of the words "ha'Shevi'i shovas va'yinofash" equals that of the phrase 'de'keivan she'hu shovas, ovdoh nefesh (because as soon as he has finished resting, the [extra] Soul leaves him)'.

Indeed, the word "va'yinofash" is the acronym of 'Vay (ovdoh) Nefesh' ('Woe is me, because the soul departs').

The question is asked, that if the extra Soul departs only together with the Shabbos, why does the Torah hint 'Vay ovdoh Nefesh' when Shabbos comes in?

It seems to me that the lament does indeed begin with the advent of Shabbos and when Shabbos is still in progress. Because if we greeted the Shabbos (which is described as 'a touch of Olam ha'Ba') with the love and esteem that it deserves and treated it with the honor that befits a queen, we would reach such a high, that we would not be able to come back down to earth, as it were, when Shabbos terminates.

G-d would then be forced (Kevayachol) to transform Olam ha'Zeh into Olam ha'Ba, to bring the era that is described as 'a Day that is completely Shabbos'. If that does not happen, it is because we are lacking in excitement before Shabbos arrives, and do not honour and esteem the Shabbos when it does. 'Vay, Vay, Vay!'


And the Ba'al ha'Turim uses the play on the word "Va'yinafash" to explain the juxtaposition of the Parshah of the Eigel next to the word "va'yinofash The Ba'al ha'Turim continues ". 'Woe to K'lal Yisrael', the Torah is announcing, 'who worshipped the Golden Calf and lost their soul!'

Furthermore, he adds, by placing the Chet ha'Eigel next to the Parshah of Shabbos, the Torah is hinting that the Torah was given on Shabbos.



The Amidah
(based mainly on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")
(Part XXXV)

Hosheiv Shechinoscho le'Tziyon Irecho ...

Tziyon it seems, refers to the Divine connotation of G-d's holy city, and Yerushalayim to the physical one. We ask Hashem to return His Shechinah to Tziyon, so that we should be able to serve Him there in awe.


ve'Sechezenah Eineinu ...
ve'Shom Na'avodcho ...

This follows the same pattern as the previous phrase, inasmuch as we first ask to witness the return of the Shechinah and then for the opportunity to serve Hashem, once it has descended.

It is also appropriate, seeing as the phrase 'and there we will serve You with fear', is similar to the conclusion 'that You alone we will serve with fear', conforming with Chazal's specifications.


ve'Shom Na'avodcho be'Yir'ah

The Eitz Yosef cites the Gemara in B'rachos (30b), which quotes the Pasuk 'Serve G-d with fear (awe)' as the source for the Mishnah that Tefilah must be accompanied by a serious frame of mind. And if awe is an essential ingredient of tefilah, it is certainly vital to the Avodah in the Beis-Hamikdash.


Like the Days of Old and the Early Years

If 'the days of old' refers to the era of the Beis-Hamikdash, what is meant by 'the early years'?

The Dover Shalom, citing a Medrash, explains that this refers to Kayin, in whose days Avodah-Zarah had not yet been conceived. He brought from his first-born sheep and from their fat, he explains, in order to unify G'd's Name, to teach the world that there was only One G-d. This is the gist of our prayer here, for in the time of Mashi'ach, the entire world will acknowledge the Omnipotence of Hashem. And this too, fits with the conclusion of the B'rachah 'that You alone we will worship in awe'.


She'oscho Levadcho be'Yir'ah Na'avod

'Be'yir'ah' is not referring to the fear of punishment, the Dover Shalom explains, because during the era of which we are speaking, we will certainly be expected to rise to higher levels, and to serve G-d out of love (which as we know, is greater than fear). What we obviously mean here, is that we should serve G-d in awe of His Majesty, and not for any ulterior motive. This level is known as 'Yir'as ha'Romemus', and is on a higher plane still than serving Hashem out of love.


Ve'Sechezenah Eineinu ...

The Ya'aros D'vash cites Chazal, who say that the reason that Lot was not permitted to see the destruction of S'dom, was because he was saved only on the merit of Avraham, and not on his own. Indeed, that is why Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt, when she turned round.

Consequently, the Eitz Yosef quotes him as saying, one should specifically have in mind here, that the merit to which we refer, should be one's own, and not that of the Avos. Otherwise, this prayer will be in vain.



The same word 'with mercy' also appears at the beginning of the B'rachah of 'Yerushalayim'.

It is a foregone conclusion, explains the Iyun Tefilah, that G-d will return to Tziyon. What is not known is how He will return. Whether He will return with mercy, because we have earned it (even if we are not perhaps, fully deserving of such a privilege); or it will take place in spite of our extreme unworthiness, in which case, it will be accompanied by Hashem's ire. That is why we implore G-d that His return should be a merciful one, and not one of anger.

It is hardly surprising that Mashi'ach has not yet come, one of the Gerrer Rebbes once remarked, considering the way so many of us mimic this B'rachah, devoid of feeling or sincerity. The chances are, that if we recited the words 'And may our eyes behold Your return to Tziyon ... ' with more devotion, he would arrive within twenty-four hours ...


Ha'Machzir Shechinoso le'Tziyon

... And in similar vein, the Sefarim cite the story of a Chasid who was once informed in a dream that if Mashi'ach took so long in coming, it was because, following the B'rachah of 'ha'machzir Shechinaso le'Tziyon', most people tend to say 'Amein Modim anachnu lach ... ', without as much as a breath in between.

After all, we are G-d's children, and His love for us is certainly no less than that of a father towards his son. That being the case, the only reason that He does not respond to this prayer is because it is uttered from the lips and outwards and not from the heart. If we would truly want Him to return, then the genuine desire to reunite with our Father in Heaven would be reflected in the urgency of our prayers, turning them into genuine pleas. There is little doubt that G-d on His part, would answer them immediately and lovingly, just like any father would. He would send Mashiach in no time at all, and return His Shechinah to Tziyon.


For sponsorships and adverts call 651 9502

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel