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

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Vol. 12   No. 21

This issue is sponsored
in memory of
the Loecher and Kaplan Families z.l.

Parshas Ki Sissa

The Urim ve'Tumim
(Part 2)

The Meshech Chochmah comments on the fact that the Torah uses the expression "Tamid" (meaning 'permanently') twice in the current Pesukim, yet it avoids doing so with regard to the Urim ve'Tumim. This is nothing short of a prophecy which foretells that although the Choshen Mishpat would exist in the time of the second Beis-Hamikdash, the Urim ve'Tumim would not (as we discussed in the previous issue).

In similar vein, he points out that although the Torah refers to Aharon carrying the Choshen Mishpat, when it speaks about the Urim ve'Tumim, it uses the expression "and they will be on the heart of Aharon", without any reference to carrying. And he cites Avos de'Rebbi Nasan, which commenting on the Pasuk in ki Sisa, states "And I seized the two Luchos" (which appears odd, seeing as he was already holding them), explains that as long as the words of G-d were written on them, the Luchos were no burden at all (reminiscent of the Aron, which carried those who were ostensibly carrying it). And it was only after the Divine letters came into the vicinity of the Eigel and the letters flew away, that the Luchos became heavy, and Moshe now needed to grasp them tight.

Likewise here, as long as the Choshen housed the Urim ve'Tumim, Aharon did not need to carry it, because due to their sanctity, the Choshen was able to transport itself. However, in the time of the second Beis-Hamikdash, when there was no Urim ve'Tumim, the Kohen Gadol actually had to carry it.


The Gemara in Yuma (73b) explains that they are called 'Urim', because they illuminate their words, and 'Tumim', because they bring them to completion (meaning that, unlike the prophecy of a Navi, which can be overturned, the words of Urim ve'Tumim cannot, and are bound to come true. In spite of this, the Ramban describes the prophecy of the Urim ve'Tumim as being on a higher plain of Ru'ach ha'Kodesh than Bas Kol (the Heavenly Voice) that was in use throughout the period of the second Beis-Hamikdash, but on a level below prophecy.


The Yerushalmi however, explains Tumim differently. According to the Yerushalmi, 'Tumim' refers to the perfection of K'lal Yisrael, since the Urim ve'Tumim would only give an accurate answer if Yisrael were on their best behaviour. This explains why in the battle between Yisrael and Binyamin, Yisrael were defeated a number of times before vanquishing Binyamin, in spite of being instructed by the Urim ve'Tumim to wage war with them. This was their punishment for defending their own Kavod, whilst doing nothing to defend the Kavod of Hashem, which was being defiled by the image of Michah, which they allowed to remain intact.


The Ramban, describing how the Urim ve'Tumim worked, explains them in the context of the Kohen Gadol, who operated them. The 'Urim', he explains, caused the relevant letters on the Choshen to light up (as both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi also explain), whereas the Tumim enabled him to unravel the jumbled letters and to read them in their correct order. They were also known as 'K'reisi u'P'leisi', because, as the Gemara in B'roshos explains, they spoke concisely ('she'korsin divreihem') and said wondrous things ('mufla'im divreihem').

According to Rashi, the Choshen was called 'Choshen Mishpat', because of the Urim ve'Tumim which it contained within its folds, and which decided Yisrael's 'deliberations' (one of the connotations of the word 'Mishpat' [see also Targum Yonasan and Ha'amek Davar]).

Rabeinu Bachye, quoting the Rambam, describes how they worked. The Kohen would stand facing the Aron, with the asker standing behind him. The latter would then make his request, neither in a loud voice nor by merely thinking it, but in the same tone of voice that one normally Davens before Hashem (which someone standing beside him could not overhear). Then the Kohen, enveloped with Ru'ach ha'Kodesh, would look at the Choshen, to read whatever was written there and to unravel the message.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the P'ninei Torah)

Woe to the Soul that is Lost!

"And on the seventh day He stopped all activity and rested (shovas va'yinafash)" 31:17.

Playing on the word "vayinafesh", the Gemara in Beitzah (16a) explains that when one rests on Shabbos 'Vay, avdah Nefesh' (Woe to the Soul that is lost!'). Chazal appear to be referring to Motza'ei Shabbos, when having recited Havdalah, the extra Neshamah departs and one returns to the mundane world. That is when one expresses one's consternation at having lost the extra Neshamah that one enjoyed over Shabbos.

But if that is so, asks the Kotzker Rebbi, then surely it ought to have been written in connection with the departure of Shabbos, and not with its arrival (though it is not clear from why he assumes this)?

He therefore explains that what Chazal mean is that when Shabbos enters and one feels the upsurge of Kedushah that accompanies the arrival of the Neshamah Yeseirah, it is then that one is struck by the realization of how mundane the previous week was. In other words, it is the week gone by without the Neshamah Yeseirah and devoid of Kedushah that one is lamenting.

To be sure, one knows that just as the previous week was devoid of the Neshamah Yeseirah, so too, will be the next, and the lamentation incorporates that too. But it all starts with the week gone by, which is a fait accompli and that is why the Torah writes it with the advent of Shabbos.


The Mountain Came Down First Or Did it?

"And the people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain" (32:1).

This is the simple translation of the Pasuk.

Rebbi Shlomoh Kluger translates it differently, based on the well-known Chazal that G-d held the mountain over Yisrael's heads before reading the Ten Commandments. And that is where the mountain remained, he explained, until there was no more chance for them to retract (until the forty days had passed).

Now that the mountain had returned to its place, but Moshe was not to be seen, 'the people saw that Moshe delayed his descent more than the mountain'. That is when they began to express their concern.

It is puzzling however. If the forty days were not complete (as Rashi explains), and that is in fact why Moshe did not return, why would the mountain not have known that too? Why did it not take its cue from Moshe, and wait until the following day, before descending?


The 'Mem' and the 'Samech'

"Written on both sides" (32:15).

The statement as it stands is miracle enough. The fact that one could read the Aseres ha'Dibros (and whatever else was written on the Luchos) from both sides, boggles the mind. But the Gemara in Shabbos (113) refers to a miracle that is more wondrous still. The Gemara explains that the letters (final) 'Mem' and 'Samech' on the Luchos simply stood on air after they had been carved out, without falling.

It is surely no coincidence that these two letters spell 'Sam' (meaning either a balm - sam Chayim, or a poison - sam ha'Maves). Indeed, that is precisely what Torah is ... a balm that provides life for those who study it li'Shemah, and a poison for those who study it she'Lo li'Shemah (for negative reasons, such as for Kavod or in order to criticize it - as Chazal have taught).

Perhaps G-d made the 'Mem' and the 'Samech' that way, to remind us not only of the supernatural qualities of the Torah, but that it has the ability to provide life on the one hand, and to bring on death on the other, depending on how it is treated.


Lucky for Us

"Hashem Hashem, Keil Rachum ve'Chanun ... "(34:6).

Commenting on the opening two words, the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17b) explains 'I am Hashem before man sins, and I am Hashem after he has sinned'.

The Pasuk writes in Malachi (3:6) "I am G-d who did not change, and you B'nei Ya'akov have not been liquidated".

If (Kevayachol) it was possible to make a P'gam (to detract in any way) from Hashem through our sins, imagine the extent of our guilt on account of all our sins. There is no doubt that we would all have been exterminated long ago. And we owe our continued existence to the fact that we do not cause G-d any real harm at all.

That is why the Torah writes "I am G-d who did not change, and you B'nei Ya'akov have not been liquidated" - you are still around, says Hashem, because I don't become directly affected by your sins.

And this is what Chazal mean when they say 'I am Hashem before man sins and I am Hashem after he has sinned' - G-d does not change on account of your sins, which is of itself, a Midah of mercy, as we explained.


Moshe's Mask

"And he placed a mask on his face ... and he removed the mask" (34:33).

Moshe, Rebbi Akiva Eiger explained, was the humblest of all men. This is a wonderful trait, yet it is not always an ideal tool in the hand of a leader, who needs to display his authority in order to gain the people's trust and admiration. And that explains why Moshe wore a mask whenever he spoke with the people, in order to cover up his true identity (which was synonymous with humility). But when he spoke to G-d, that was a different matter. When speaking with G-d, everything is revealed to him anyway, and there is nothing to hide. That is why, when Moshe spoke to G-d, he took off the mask.

* * *

On The Haftarah

(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

No Two Ways About It

"How long will you stand on two thresholds", Eliyahu chided the people, 'Make up your minds to which camp you belong - whether it is to the camp of Hashem, or to the camp of Ba'al' (Melachim 2, 18:21).

When there is a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, says the Netzach Yisrael, it is not good enough to stand on the fence. One needs to make a firm choice, to demonstrate clearly on whose side one is.

Better, Eliyahu intimated, to decide that one belongs clearly to the side of Ba'al (which doesn't make it right), than to go along with Hashem today and with Ba'al tomorrow. Because in the first scenario there is hope that one will realize one's error, and change sides, whereas in the second, the chances that one will do so are minimal.

And it is for precisely the same reason, he explains, that the Ten Ttribes went into exile in the days of Hoshei'a ben Eilah and not in the days of Yeravam ben N'vat, who actually appointed the border guards forbidding the Ten Tribes to make the thrice annual pilgrimage to Yerushalayim. What did Hoshei'a ben Eilah do? He removed the border guards and told Yisrael that those who wanted to go, had permission to do so. So why were they exiled specifically in his days.

He gave them to understand that the possibility of not going existed, even when there were no barriers restricting them from doing so, creating a laissez-faire attitude. That was more dangerous in the long run, than that of Yeravam, who forbade them outright (something which they knew was wrong).

Consequently, it was in his days that they went into Galus.


Perhaps He will Wake Up

"And Eliyahu mocked them (the prophets of Ba'al), and he said 'Cry out in a loud voice, for he is god! Maybe he is in a meeting, or perhaps he has set out on a journey. He might even be sleeping, and will soon wake up!" (18:27).

The Medrash describes how the prophets of Ba'al had secretly dug a cave underneath the Mizbe'ach, in which they had placed Chi'el from Beis-Eil. His instructions were that, when he heard the signal, he was to set fire to the wood on the Mizbe'ach, conveying the impression that Hashem had answered their call.

It transpires that the god in whom they placed their trust was none other than Chi'el ha'Eli, and it was with him in mind that Eliyahu, fully aware of their trick, mocked them.

Why did Chiel not respond to their rantings and ravings, you may well ask? The answer is that G-d sent a snake, which bit him and killed him at the appropriate moment (Rav Paimuta).

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 30:
Not To Swear in Vain (cont.)

Based on what we just said, Chazal state in Nedarim (64a) that a Chacham may not annul a vow on the basis of an unforeseen event that is unusual - because the Noder is not sorry for having initially declared the Neder (which would turn him into an Anus). In fact, he will say that he is quite happy with the Neder, but is now looking for a concession to drop it. For example, if Reuven swears not to derive any benefit from Shimon, who subsequently becomes the town's Sofer or butcher, we will assume that he is perhaps sorry that Reuven took on the position, but not that he made the Neder.

If however, he specifically expresses remorse at having declared the Neder, and states that had he known that Shimon would receive such a post, he would never have made such a declaration, then the Neder remains subject to nullification, Just like any other unforeseen O'nes.

The basis for annulling a Neder due to an O'nes is the D'rashah of Chazal in Shevu'os (21a) "ha'Adam" 'bi'Shevu'ah' (which means that the Noder must be fully aware of the ramifications of the Neder at the time that he declares it).

And for the same reason, if one makes one's Neder (and its subsequent nullification) subject to someone else's approval, it is difficult to annul it, because, since it does depends on him, he can no longer claim to be an O'nes or a Shogeg. That is why Chazal said that a neder that one declares 'al da'as acheirim', cannot be nullified. However, this precludes nullifying it in order to perform a Mitzvah (Nedarim 16b). In such a case they agreed that in a situation where a certain action prevents a Mitzvah from being performed, or where by refraining from performing will result in a Mitzvah, every Jew would agree that the mundane activity of a Jew should be negated for the sake of the Mitzvah. Consequently, it is as if whoever's approval was required had come and declared that had they known that the fulfillment of a Mitzvah was at stake, they would have objected to the Neder in the first place.

If, as we just explained, the nullification of a Neder or a Shevu'ah is conditional to an unforeseen O'nes, the Chinuch continues, one may be tempted to ask from various instances where G-d Himself had His Shevu'ah annulled. The Gemara in B'rachos (32b), commenting on the Pasuk "va'yechal Moshe", explains that Moshe annulled Hashem's oath to destroy K'lal Yisrael, and they issue a similar statement with regard to another oath made by Hashem that Zerubavel ben She'elti'el annuled. Seeing as G-d knows everything in advance, how can we possibly make such a statement as 'had G-d known ?' The answer to this is based on the principle that, when describing Divine matters that are difficult to conceive, the Torah often uses concepts which we can understand, but which cannot be taken literally. Similarly here, the matters involved were so serious that it seems that G-d took an oath (as we would have done in similar circumstances) and then needed to annul it, though that is not really what happened. So what Chazal really mean is that G-d, who is gracious, and merciful, slow to anger and abundantly kind, atones for sinners even there where there sin is so terrible that had one person sinned to another, he would have sworn never to forgive him.

And when they say that Moshe annulled G-d's oath what they mean is that his prayers caused G-d, who listens to Tefilos, to pardon them, despite the depth of the sin.

And that explains why Chazal never refer to nullifying G-d's oaths except in cases of transgressions that are so severe as to be unforgivable, and that are worthy of an oath precluding them from atonement. Only G-d, whose mercy supercedes our imagination, atones for whoever returns to Him with a full heart, even if his sin was unpardonable.

* * *

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