This issue is sponsored
Vol. 22 No. 21
in honour of the Bris of
Yoel Moshe son of Avi and Esti Ottenstein
by his greatgrandfather Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski
Parshas Ki Sissa
(Based on the Beis ha'Levi)
"When the people saw that Moshe was late in descending the mountain, they gathered round Aharon and said to him 'Arise and make for us gods that will go before us, for this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him!" (32:1).
The Mitzvos that we perform, contain many 'Tikunim' (elevated achievements), of which we are unaware, that effect all the upper worlds, says the Beis ha'Levi. For example, he explains, building the Mishkan incorporates secrets connected with 'Ma'aseh ha'Merkavah' (the activity that surrounds G-d's Throne) and the Creation of the world'. And so it is with each and every Mitzvah - just as we find the concept of 'Pardes' (P'shat, Remez, D'rush and Sod), which hint at the different facets of the Mitzvah.
However, says the author, that is only on condition that the Mitzvah has been commanded by G-d, as indeed, the word 'Mitzvah' suggests. When a Jew devises Mitzvos on his own initiative, Mitzvos that G-d has not commanded, then not only does he not achieve a Tikun, but he causes havoc and destruction in all the worlds.
This is reminiscent of a vort that I once heard on the Pasuk in Toldos, where Yitzchak said to Eisav 'And it will be when you are pained, due to Ya'akov's transgressing the Torah sins, then you will throw off his yoke from around your neck". The word for "pained" used by the Torah here is "torid", whose letters add up to six hundred and fourteen, one more that Taryag (the total number of Mitzvos that we have been commanded). This hints at the extra Mitzvah that people sometimes do, which has not been commanded by G-d, but which the perpetrator himself concocted. Yitzchak was hinting to Eisav that, when Ya'akov starts performing such Mitzvos (which in fact are the work of the Satan), he will be feeding Sama'el (Eisav's angel), and that will enable him to throw off Ya'akov's yoke and to become his master.
This also explains why, when Ya'akov left Charan, he sent a message to Eisav that he had sojourned with Lavan, and had kept Taryag Mitzvos. He was letting his brother know that he had kept all Taryag Mitzvos, but not the six hundred and fourteenth Mitzvah that would have given him (Eisav) jurisdiction over him.
And that explains the extent of the sin of the Golden Calf. On the one hand, their intentions were good! They meant to perform the Mitzvah of bringing down the Shechinah among them, which is what Moshe was referring to when he said to G-d "See, that this is Your people", pointing out that all they really want is to come close to Him. On the other hand, this was a Mitzvah that they had not been commanded, and perhaps precisely due to its deep implications, the havoc that it wrought was devastating.
And it is in order to counter the havoc caused by this sin, that in Parshas Pikudei, when Betzalel manufactured the Mishkan and its accessories, which came to atone for the sin of the Eigel, the Torah testifies on every item "like Hashem commanded Moshe", to stress that everything Betzalel did was with the intention of fulfilling G-d's command.
The story springs to mind of the great Rabbi who explained that he blew the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, having in mind, not any of the ten reasons for the Mitzvah presented by R. Sa'adya Gaon, but to fulfil the Mitzvah that G-d commanded.
In a nutshell then, to fulfil our obligations to the fullest extent, we need a). to do what G-d has commanded us (not the Mitzvos that we have devised), and b). to do them just because He commanded us, and not for any other motives, irrespective of how noble they may be!
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(Adapted from the Ramban)
Washing Hands and Feet
"And Aharon and his sons shall wash their hands and feet from it" (30:19).
The fact that the Kohanim wash prior to approaching the Holy place to perform the Avodah, the Ramban explains, is a mark of respect for Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu, for anyone who handles the king's food tends to wash his hands before handling it. And it would also be disrespectful to perform the Avodah without washing one's feet, since the Kohabim were obligated to serve barefooted.
He also cites Targum Unklus, who translated "le'rochtzah" (to wash) in the previous Pasuk, as 'to be sanctified', which he connects with the ten S'firos, symbolized by the ten fingers and ten toes of a person.
The Ramban adds that it is corresponding to the Kohanim's washing of the hands before performing the Avodah that Chazal instituted washing one's hands before Davening. They did not include the feet in the Mitzvah since nowadays we tend to wear shoes, and one's feet therefore remain clean.
The Bigdei ha'Serod
" … the administering garments (bigdei ha'serod) to serve in holiness, and the holy garments for Aharon and his sons …" (31:10).
The wording in the Pasuk, says Rashi, indicates that 'Bigdei ha'Serod' are not synonymous with the Bigdei Kehunah. Moreover, the Pasuk in Pikudei, which describes how the Bigdei ha'Serod were made out of "Techeiles, Argomon Tola'as Shoni" (blue wool, purple wool and scarlet thread) - omitting "Sheish" (linen), which was used in the manufacture of the Bigdei Kehunah, bears this out.
He therefore interprets the Bigdei ha'Serod as the cloths with which they covered the Holy Vessels, as described at the end of Parshas Bamidbar.
Initially, the Ramban queries Rashi, inasmuch as, if these covers were included in the work of Betzalel and his group of workers, why does the Torah not specify them in detail, as it does all the Vessels of the Mishkan and the Bigdei Kehunah?
And he goes on to suggest that these covers were of no major significance, and that Betzalel had permission to manufacture them in any way he saw fit - even out of one uniform material. And it was after he chose to manufacture a series of covers out of the three above materials - not linen which was cheap and inappropriate, that G-d designated them in the way that the Pasuk in Bamidbar teaches.
He nevertheless rejects Rashi's explanation on the grounds that the Torah ought to at least have specified how many covers to make, and what size to make them.
He therefore concludes that the Bigdei ha'Serod are indeed synonymous with the Bigdei Kehunah, and this is borne out by the fact that they are always mentioned immediately before them. The difficulty with this is that the 'and' in "and the Bigdei ha'Kodesh which were for Aharon … " suggests that they were two different items, unless we say that the 'Vav' is superfluous.
As further proof, the Ramban points to the words "to serve in holiness", which he explains, is a reference to the Avodas ha'Korbanos, during which the Kohanim wore the Bigdei Kehunah.
According to the Ramban, the covers for the Holy Vessels were not mentioned at all until Parshas Bamidbar, when they were about to travel from Har Sinai for the first time.
Repairing the Rift
" … When the people heard this terrible thing (that the Shechinah would no longer accompany them) they mourned and none of them wore his ornaments" (33:4).
And when G-d subsequently ordered them to remove their ornaments, says the Ramban, they accepted the decree and put them away (permanently).
Citing Targum Unklus, the Ramban explains that the ornaments referred to here, were a form of weaponry with which G-d girded them at Matan Torah, when they announced 'Na'aseh ve'Nishma'. These weapons protected them from any mishap and even from the Angel of Death. Rashi too, hints at this explanation. He defines that weaponry as Names of Hashem, and he equates this explanation with Chazal, who, commenting on the Pasuk which describes the writing on the Luchos as "Chorus al ha'Luchos", explain that, as a result of receiving the Torah, they became free from the Angel of Death.
In effect then, when Yisrael realized the extent of their sin, they willingly accepted death upon themselves. That in itself, says the author, was a deep form of Teshuvah, and was instrumental in repairing the rift that had sprung up between Hashem and Yisrael following the sin of the Golden Calf.
Yehoshua bin Nun, the 'Na'ar'
"And his servant, Yehoshua bin Nun, the Na'ar, did not move from the tent" (33:11).
Considering that Yehoshua was fifty-six years old at the time, asks the Ib'n Ezra, why dos the Pasuk refer to him as a 'na'ar', a term which is generally translated as a young boy?
It is the way of the Torah, answers the Ramban, to refer to one's personal servant (a valet) as 'Na'ar', as we find in connection with Gechazi, Elisha's servant, whom the Pasuk in Melachim 2, (4:12) refers to as "Gechazi Na'aro", and he cites a number of other Pesukim which bear this out.
And that explains, he concludes, why the Torah writes about him that, faithful servant that he was, he "never moved away from the tent" (as that was where he served Moshe).
And commenting on the use of the word "bin" (rather than 'ben Nun'), he explains that - although the word per se is not unique, the Torah uses it in connection with Yehoshua, to teach us that Yehoshua was a man of deep wisdom, as one can read "bin Nun" as one word 'Binun' - 'a man of understanding'.
The Three Deaths
"And he said to them (the B'nei Levi), 'So said Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael, each of you shall gird his sword on his thigh …'." (32:27).
Despite the fact that the punishment for Avodah-Zarah is S'kilah (stoning), says the Ramban, and requires witnesses and warning, the sinners in this case were too numerous to punish in this way.
Consequently, in the form of a hora'as sho'oh (a momentary ruling) Moshe instructed the Levi'im to take the law into their own hands and to kill all those who worshipped the Eigel by the sword, either to conform to the Din of an Ir ha'Nidachas, or because the four kinds of death had not yet been specified. So they carried out the Din of b'nei No'ach, whose standard death sentence is by the sword.
The Gemara in Yuma offers two ways to explain the three different forms of death that the Pasuk mentions. The Ramban writes that the more apt explanation is that those who actually worshipped the Eigel were killed by the sword, as we just explained; those who embraced or kissed it died at the Hand of Hashem (Misah bi'Yedei Shamayim); and those who rejoiced in their hearts, died by hadrokun (dropsy), after drinking the water mixed with the gold-dust of the Eigel that Moshe made them drink (See also Rashi, Pasuk 20).
Commenting on the words "So says Hashem the G-d of Yisrael", the author explains that, although even those who worshipped the Eigel were not Chayav Miysah (since they had not been warned), G-d issued here a hora'as sho'oh, sentencing them to death. He was in fact telling Moshe that if he did not want Him to destroy Yisrael, then he would have to see to it that the perpetrators should be punished.
This goes well with Chazal, who have said that 'If Din is carried out below, then it will not be carried out above!'
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