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

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Vol. 11   No. 21

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Tzvi Hirsh ben Mordechai Chayim z.l.
whose Yohrzeit is on the 20th of Ador

Parshas Ki Sisa
(Parshas Parah)

The Oral Torah
Part 1

Based on the Pasuk "because through ('by the mouth of') these words I have made a covenant with you and with Yisrael", the Gemara in Gitin (60b) extrapolates that the covenant that G-d entered into with K'lal Yisrael was on account of Torah she'be'al Peh (the oral Torah), and not on account of Torah she'bi'K'sav (the written Torah).

The Ba'al ha'Turim, in his own inimitable way, reinforces this concept with a series of short hints, which require no elaboration. Firstly, he quotes a Pasuk in Koheles "ve'Kasuv yosher divrei emes" whose last letters spell 'B'ris', and which is followed by the words "Divrei Chachamim". The numerical value of the last letters of 'pi ha'devorim ho'eileh korati itcho b'ris", he continues, add up to the same numerical value as 'ha'Talmud'. And finally, he points out, the juxtaposition of "Vayehi shom im Hashem arbo'im yom ... " to "ki al-pi ha'devorim ho'eileh" hints to the fact that Moshe spent forty days on Har Sinai (where he reached the highest levels of sanctity) only because of the oral Torah.

The Chasam Sofer however, queries the Gemara's D'rashah. If one studies the Pasuk carefully, he explains, it appears to be conveying the exact opposite message. What the Pasuk seems to be saying is that Moshe should transcribe the written Torah, because it is through the words that he will write, that G-d made a covenant. In other words, "these words" refers not to the oral Torah, but to the written one?

The Chasam Sofer ignores the possible implication of the words 'al-pi ha'devorim ho'eileh' (as we explained them), and bases his question on the assumption that the phrase that we quoted refers to the same object as the one mentioned in the preceding phrase ("Write for yourself these words"), particularly as the Torah refers to "these words" in both phrases. His answer is based on a Tosfos there. Tosfos cites a Medrash, which, discussing the Pasuk in Hoshei'a "If I write for them the majority of My Torah, it will be considered a strange thing to do", explains that G-d was referring to the transcription of the written Torah from the stones on Har Gerizim and Har Eival by the nations of the world. Consequently, if He were now to permit the oral Torah to be written, giving the gentiles access to Torah she'be'al Peh, as well as Torah she'bi'K'sav, what would distinguish Yisrael from the nations of the world? Does the Pasuk in Tehilim not write "He tells His words to Ya'akov, His statutes and His judgements to Yisrael" (147:19)? And when it continues "He did not do that to any other nation ... " it is attributing the distinction between Yisrael and the other nations to the fact that He gave them (Yisrael) the Torah, the oral Torah to boot, as is hinted in "His words". G-d saw fit to permit the nations of the world to copy the written Torah, but He stopped short of allowing them access to the oral Torah, by forbidding it to be written, as the Gemara in Gitin explains.

What the Pasuk is now saying is that Hashem has no objection if we transcribe the words of the written Torah, because it is not through them that He made a covenant with Yisrael, but through the oral Torah, which it is not permitted to transcribe. In this way, the first of the two phrases refers to the written Torah, as it specifically states there, whereas the second, refers to the oral Torah, as is hinted in the word "al-pi".

The Torah Temimah cites a Yerushalmi in Pe'ah, which describes Torah she'be'al Peh as more precious in the Eyes of G-d than Torah she'bi'K'sav, precisely because it serves as the base for the covenant between Himself and Yisrael.

And citing another Chazal (also in Gitin), he ascribes the importance of the oral Torah to the fact that it comprises the major part of Torah.

This can be understood, when we remember Chazal, who have said that Torah has seventy interpretations. Presumably, this refers to 'Pardes' (P'shat, Remez, D'rush and Sod), and the numerous sub-interpretations to which each of these is subject (like the many-faceted diamond to which Torah is often compared).

Perhaps this will explain why, at Har Sinai, Yisrael gladly accepted the written Torah with a resonant 'Na'aseh ve'Nishma', but were hesitant to accept the oral Torah until it was held over their heads. Unaware of the Divine inspiration that comes with the acceptance, they were afraid that whereas they could handle the one, the other was simply beyond their ability to undertake.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Rosh on the Chumash and the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos)

The Number Problem

"And you shall take the money of the atonement from the B'nei Yisrael ... " (30:16).

Rashi maintains that Yisrael were counted in Tishri, after G-d had forgiven them for the sin of the Golden Calf, and ordered them to build the Mishkan as an atonement. They were counted by means of the half-Shekalim that they donated for the building of the sockets. And they were counted again half a year later in Iyar, after the Mishkan was set up, as the Torah records in Bamidbar. Although the two countings were seven months apart, Rashi remarks, their numbers totaled the same on both occasions - six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty. But surely he wonders, there must have been some people who were nineteen at the first count and who had turned twenty by the second? So how come there was no increase between Tishri and Iyar?

And he explains that people's birthdays take place, not on their actual date of birth, but on Rosh Hashanah of each year, in which case the two countings took place in the same year.

But how is it possible, asks the Ramban, that nobody died during that seven-month period? And then again, the Levi'im, who, not having sinned by the Golden Calf, did not donate the half-Shekel in Tishri, were included in the second count in Iyar, where the half-Shekalim that they donated was used for the Korbanos?

The Ramban therefore answers the first question with the second. Indeed, he explains, many people died between the two counts. On the other hand however, there were the Levi'im who were counted in Iyar, but not in Tishri. And it so happened that the two figures tallied. Twenty-two thousand people died between the two counts, and twenty-two thousand Levi'im were counted at the second count, with the result that the two numbers were exactly the same.

Besides the fact that the incredible coincidence renders this explanation highly improbable, asks the Rosh, how is it possible that more people died during that half year period before the decree of the spies, than died annually after the decree, when fifteen thousand people died each year because of it?


G-d's Five Fingers

"This is what they shall give ...half a Shekel" (30:13).

Half a Shekel, remarks the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, because it came to atone for the sin of the Eigel ha'Zahav, which took place at midday (when half the day had already passed, as the Gemara explains in Shabbos [89a]).

Pirkei de'Rebbi Eliezer, quoting Rebbi Yishmael, explains how each of the five fingers of G-d's right hand were all used for different aspects of redemption. With the little finger G-d showed No'ach how to construct the boat at the time of the flood, as the Torah writes "And this is how you shall make it" (6:15).

For the ten Plagues, G-d used His index Finger, as the Torah writes "it is the Finger of G-d" (Sh'mos 8:15), and He used the middle finger to write the Luchos, for so the Pasuk writes in Ki Sisa (31:18) "written with the Finger of G-d". With His forefinger, G-d showed Moshe the new moon, as the Torah writes in Bo (12:2) "This month shall be for you ... ", and with His thumb, the half-Shekel, as it is written "This is what they shall give.

When the time comes to destroy Yishmael and Edom, He will use His whole Hand, for the Navi Michah writes "Raise Your Hand against Your enemies and all Your adversaries will be cut-off"(5:8).


Hashem Takes Half


Why half a Shekel, asks the Rosh. No more, no less?

The numerical value of Shekel, he explains, is equivalent to that of 'Nefesh'. Hashem in His kindness, tips the scales in favor of K'lal Yisrael, atoning 'free' for half. Half a Shekel, for half the Soul. The other half, presumably, He left us to see to ('Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah remove the evil decree).

But, one might well ask, the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17a) restricts the midah of 'Mateh K'lapei Chesed' (tipping the scales in our favour) to after death. As long as a person is alive, says the Gemara, let him do Teshuvah and atone for his sins himself?

Perhaps the Gemara is speaking about the Din of an individual. When it comes to K'lal Yisrael, who have Z'chus ha'Tzibur (communal merit) in their favour, it is a different matter.

And we have a precedent for such a distinction, on the very next Daf, where the Gemara explains that although, aside from the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, the Teshuvah of a Yachid cannot negate Hashem's decree once it has been sealed, that of a Tzibur, can.


Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur

"See I have called by name Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur ..." (31:2).

Why, asks the Da'as Zekeinim M.T., does the Torah go back to Betzalel's grandfather Chur, something that it does not do with Oholi'ov ben Achisomoch, Betzalel's second in command?

And he answers that it is because Chur was killed during the episode of the Eigel. Consequently, since the Mishkan came to atone for the Eigel, and it was Chur's grandson who built it, it was correct for his name to be mentioned. Moreover, it was only because Betzalel was Chur's grandson, that he was chosen in the first place.


Shabbos and the Mishkan

"Only, My Shabbosos you shall observe" (31:13).

Even though I have commanded you to build a Mishkan, it does not override the Shabbos (see Rashi).

From here, says the Rosh, we can learn that the Melachos which are forbidden on Shabbos are precisely those that were performed in connection with the construction of the Mishkan.


The Tribe of Levi

"Whoever is for G-d, come to me". (32:26).

This means, explains the Da'as Zekeinim M.T., that whoever retained his Yir'as Shamayim, and did not worship the Eigel, should join him (Moshe).

Immediately, "the entire tribe of Levi gathered to him." That is not to say that there were no other individuals who did, but Levi was the only tribe to do so in its entirety.

That is why the Torah testifies in ve'Zos ha'Berachah that Levi recognized neither their fathers and mothers nor their brothers or children. This refers to the Eigel, where they obeyed Moshe's instructions, killing whoever had prostrated to the Eigel even if it meant killing their own (maternal) blood-relations. Moshe could not say that about any other tribe. The Da'as Zekeinim M.T. himself ascribes the Levi'im's loyalty to the fact that they were members of Moshe's tribe, and did not therefore want to see him replaced.

But he also cites the Rambam, who attributes it to their righteousness. Avraham, the Rambam explains, passed the Torah down to Yitzchak, Yitzchak to Ya'akov and Ya'akov to Levi. Levi subsequently established Yeshivos in Egypt, where Torah never ceased to be taught, throughout the bitter years of Galus Mitzrayim. That is why the tribe of Levi was not enslaved together with the rest of Yisrael.


The Three Groups

"And the B'nei Levi did what Moshe had commanded, and three thousand men fell (by the sword) ... on that day" (32:28).

Rashi explains that Moshe gave these men the Din of an ir ha'nidachas (otherwise they ought to have received Sekilah [death by stoning], which is the official punishment for idolatry, and not hereg [death by the sword]),

In that case, asks the Da'as Zekeinim M.T., their property should have been destroyed too, as is the Din by the men of an Ir ha'Nidachas.

He therefore explains that Moshe treated them like B'nei No'ach (perhaps because, having rejected the Aseres ha'Dibros, that is what they reverted to), who are always killed by the sword.

* There were three groups at the Ma'aseh ha'Eigel, explains the Da'as Zekeinim M.T. There were those who declared 'Let the Eigel go before us' - They merely wanted a leader to replace Moshe, who had failed to return. There were those who actually worshipped it as a god - they were the three thousand men whom Moshe killed with the sword. And there was the tribe of Levi, who utterly rejected it.

* * *


Parshas Parah and Parshas ha'Chodesh

Seeing as Elazar prepared the first Parah Adumah on the second of Nisan of the second year in the desert (the day after they completed the Mishkan), why, asks the Yerushalmi, does Parshas Parah precede Parshah ha'Chodesh?

And it answers that the reading of the Parshiyos has nothing to do with the chronological order of events. Parshas Parah serves as a reminder to Yisrael to purify themselves in good time before setting out for the journey to Yerushalayim with their Korbenos Pesach. Some people would leave already as early as Rosh Chodesh Nisan, and they would need at least seven days prior to that to become Tahor. Once they arrived in Yerushalayim, it would be too late.

* * *


(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch and the No'am ha'Mitzvos)

Mitzvah 399:
The Mitzvah of Sprinkling a Tamei Meis with the Ashes of the Parah Adumah

We are commanded to fulfill the Dinim connected with the 'Mei Nidah' (sprinkling water, as the Torah calls it). It consists of spring water mixed with ashes of the Parah Adumah (the red heffer), and is used to sprinkle on people who are Tamei Meis, as the Torah writes in Chukas (19:19) "And the Tahor person shall sprinkle (it) on the person who is Tamei".

The Tahor person becomes strictly Tamei, in that even the clothes that he is wearing require Tevilah, and that is why the Torah refers to it as "Chukas ha'Torah".

The performing of the Mitzvah: A Tahor person fills a receptacle with water from a spring or from a flowing river, having specifically in mind that he is doing so for the purpose of Mei Chatas. Then with his hands, he throws ashes from the Parah Adumah into the water, until the ashes are clearly visible floating on top of it. Chazal refer to this procedure as 'Kidush Mei Chatas'.

Someone who touches the 'Mei Nidah' not in order to sprinkle it (provided there is sufficient for sprinkling), becomes Tamei, though his clothes do not (the person who actually sprinkles the ashes however, remains Tahor).

Someone who carries the 'Mei Nidah' becomes Tamei, and so do his clothes.

After taking three twigs from a hyssop bush, each consisting of one stalk, and tying them together, he dips the ends of the stalks into the Mei Nidah, and proceeds to sprinkle the water on the person or the objects that became Tamei through contact with a dead person. This must be done on the third day (after the person or the objects Toveled in the Mikvah) and again on the seventh, after sunrise, though if it was performed after dawn break, bedi'eved the Tamei is Tahor.

Anyone is eligible to fill the water and to perform the Kidush Mei Chatas except for a cheresh, shoteh or a katan (a deaf-mute, a fool or a minor). Someone who does any other work as he fills the water or carries it, renders it invalid. Once the ashes have been added however, this no longer applies. And someone who accepts remuneration for Kidush Mei Chatas or for sprinkling it, invalidates the water, too. This does not apply to the person who fills the water from the spring.

This Mitzvah, which applies only when the Beis Hamikdash is standing, pertains to a man or a woman who had physical contact with a dead person. Both require sprinkling with the Mei Chatas before they enter the Beis Hamikdash or eat Kodshim.

Someone who transgresses and fails to be sprinkled with the Mei Parah, has negated a Mitzvas Asei.

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