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FEBRUARY 25-26, 2000 20 ADAR I 5760

Pop Quiz: Who was required to give the half-shekel?

Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

The Gemara tells us that the Evil Inclination (Yeser Hara) works in a slow, methodical manner. First he tells a person to transgress something minor. When the person violated that minor transgression and got over it, the "Yeser hara" tries a more substantial act until ultimately, the person can be convinced to worship idols.

Here in the perashah, we see an exception to this rule. The Jewish people had accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai just 40 days ago and now they were dancing around a Golden Calf. How could they fall so quickly to do such a grave transgression? R' Hayim Shmuelevitz Z"l says that the Yeser Hara has to work slowly only when a person is in good spirits. If a person is depressed, however, then the Evil Inclination can get him to do the worst sin in the slightest amount of time. Here, the Jewish people thought that Moshe Rabenu had died, and got into a deep depression. Therefore, they were able to commit an act of idol worship without going through the slow process of deterioration.

We must always be vigilant of this principle and try our best to stay in good spirits. When things start getting us down, we should do whatever we can to bounce back into our regular self either by talking to others, listening to the right music or going places that will bring us more happiness. By maintaining our spirits properly, we can have both our physical and spiritual health in the best shape possible. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Reuven Semah

"[Moshe] said to [Hashem]: If Your Presence does not go along, do not bring us forward from here" (Shemot 33:15)

And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor" (Shemot 28:2)

The sin of the Golden Calf is one of the great tragedies in our history. However, in the same perashah of Ki Tisa there is a most unusual conversation between Moshe Rabenu and Hashem. After Moshe prays to Hashem and Hashem agrees not to destroy the people, Hashem notifies Moshe of a new form of relationship. From now on, Hashem will send an angel to accompany the nation. Hashem will no longer be with them. Moshe tells Hashem, "You said I have found favor in Your eyes. If so, please, we want You to be directly with us - no angel." Hashem responds (33:14), "My Presence will be with you." Moshe goes for more. "v'niflinu ani v'amecha (33:16) - Put the Jewish people on a different level from all nations." The high level of presence and prophecy should be exclusively by us. No other nation should have it." Hashem responds (33:17), "You got it!" Moshe keeps going! "Show me Your Glory" (33:18). Hashem responds, "I will show you the maximum that a human can see without dying."

Moshe Rabenu's thrust to gain for Israel a closer relationship than ever before is amazing. However, there is something here even more startling - the timing! The Israelites are at an all-time low. They had just worshipped the Golden Calf. Is this the time to ask of Hashem for things unattainable when they were good? Imagine if an employee makes a colossal blunder that costs the firm millions of dollars. Does he go to the boss for a raise? Or does he "lay low"? Here Moshe is asking for a huge raise - and got it!

Moshe knew what he was doing. True, the Jewish people had sinned the greatest sin, but at the same time they never felt more humbled before Hashem than now. They felt like two cents. Moshe knew Hashem loves the trait of humility more than any other feeling. He knew that Hashem's love for His people was at its height. So he went for broke. The moral lesson for us is clear. Of course we can't sin to attain humility. But at times of success, during the good times, times of good health, family, good livelihood, we bow our heads in thanks to our great Master. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yaacov Ben-Haim
Just as Hashem created in His world offsetting forces, e.g. fire and water or light and darkness, which balance each other out, so is there a parallel balance in the spiritual realm, forces of impurity versus forces of holiness. The Torah commands us, "Do not allow any sorceress to live." If G-d does not wish that they exist, why is it we who are commanded to annihilate them? Why does He allow them to perform wondrous supernatural phenomena?

The answer is that these forces are present in our world to test man. Idolaters were not fools who served wood and stone without benefiting themselves. When they worshiped idols, they activated forces of impurity to satisfy their wants. G-d allows man to activate these forces to maintain his free will. "In the way that man wishes to go, they guide him."

We have witnessed an astonishing phenomenon. Sixteen million organized socialists in a single country disappeared overnight. Hardly a trace of them remained. For socialism too was a form of idolatry. Jews made great sacrifices for it, often at tremendous personal cost. They put their hopes in communism with its premise of freedom and equality, but the red government showed what their conception of freedom and equality really was. We have seen that all idols in which people put their hopes are nothing but shams. We must distinguish clearly between the holy and the profane, the pure and the impure, and avoid the glittery enticements to sin. We must remember that at the incident of the Golden Calf, Satan showed the people an image of Moshe ascending to heaven as if Moshe had passed away, even though he was at that moment receiving the Torah from Hashem. And the people convinced themselves that the Calf, which spoke through a spirit of impurity, was actually animated by a holy spirit. They said, "This is your G-d, Israel" certain that it was divine. But the results were clear and their error was horrific. Shabbat Shalom.


"And Aharon said to them, remove the golden earrings which are on the ears of your wives, sons and daughters, and bring them to me" (Shemot 32:2)

Da'at Zekenim explains that Aharon's intentions were for the sake of Heaven. This is what he said to himself: "Now that Moshe has not returned, if I will appoint Kaleb or Nachshon as the leader in Moshe's absence, when Moshe returns they will not be eager to give up their position of leadership and this will cause a major quarrel. If I do not appoint anyone as a leader, they will choose a leader themselves and this will also cause a major quarrel. If I will make myself the leader until Moshe returns, when he comes back perhaps he will feel that I tried to usurp his leadership. Therefore, until Moshe returns I will keep them busy with talk about making a meaningless golden calf. The women will be reluctant to give up their jewelry and therefore I will be able to stall for time."

At first glance when one reads this verse one might wonder how Aharon could have possible taken an action that appears to be a form of idolatry. But when we see his real intentions we see that he sincerely tried to avoid doing things that could be problematic. You might look at someone's actions and wonder how he could have done something so negative. But if you were to know his true motivations, you would realize that he meant nothing wrong and even tried to prevent something negative from happening. Before condemning someone for his behavior, ask yourself, "What positive motivations and intentions could he possibly have had?" (Growth through Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: All males over twenty years of age.

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