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FEBRUARY 21-22, 2003 20 ADAR I 5763

Pop Quiz: Who was killed when he tried to stop the forming of the golden calf?


Aharon told the people who were requesting a substitute for Moshe to "go to the ladies and children and ask them for their gold jewelry." Aharon figured that they would resist giving it since jewelry is so precious to them, and by that time Moshe would return. What happened was totally unexpected! The ladies said, "We are not giving up our gold at all because we believe that Moshe is coming and we want no part of the golden calf." Indeed, that's why Rosh Hodesh, which should have been a full blown holiday for the Jewish people, if not for the golden calf, is still a minor holiday for the ladies.

We see that we should never underestimate anyone. Aharon thought the ladies would eventually give their gold because they would probably go along with the men. But in the long run they were the most loyal to Moshe and Hashem. There is a lot of greatness in people. We have to search for it and find it, and never sell anyone short, because if we have faith in people, they will live up to the greatness expected of them! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"And the anger of Moshe flared up, he threw down the tablets and shattered them at the foot of the mountain." (Shemot 32:19)

It is astounding that someone of Moshe Rabenu's awesome stature would destroy G-d's handiwork, the two Tablets, no matter how justified his anger was. Clearly, he knew he had to do so.

There is a story to be told that can shed light onto the subject. The story is a bit frightening, so I hesitate to tell it, but the lesson is clear. The story was verified and told by a contemporary writer, Rabbi Shlomo Aschkenasy in Israel. Three boys who were learning in yeshivah in Israel decided to pay a visit to the Steipler Gaon. They were involved in things that yeshivah boys shouldn't be, and their conscience was bothering them, so they felt a visit and a blessing would help them straighten out. They got an unexpected reception. The Rabbi looked up at them and started screaming, "What are you doing here? What do you want? How dare you come? Why aren't you in yeshivah?" They stood there paralyzed, not knowing what to do. The Steipler became even angrier and screamed, "Get out! Get out!" He even threw something at them, in what was an unbelievable rage. The boys ran out in a state of panic. Moments later they ran haphazardly into the street and were hit by a car. Two of them died, and the third survived. Eventually the surviving student mustered the courage to go back to the Steipler. The Steipler greeted him kindly and mercifully said, "I'm sure you want to know what happened. You must view me as a murderer for causing your friends to get killed. But I had no choice. When you walked in I saw the Angel of Death walk in with you. I tried to think of what I could do to save your lives. I remembered the principle of our Sages that if someone embarrasses a person publicly, it is like murder, and the one who embarrasses him commits a great sin. The reason it is tantamount to murder is because the victim's blood drains from his face and it is as if he has been killed. By shouting and chasing you out, I had hoped to embarrass you and thus render you dead. I thought this might save your lives. Unfortunately, only you were truly embarrassed and therefore saved. The others must have only been angry at me for the way I treated them."

Sometimes to break something makes it whole. The Israelites were guilty of high treason when they truly worshipped the golden calf. Breaking the Tablets was an act of mercy. Moshe Rabenu was telling Hashem that they weren't on the level to be tried for high treason. They weren't at the level yet to fulfill all the laws at the highest level. He broke the tablets implying that they be given a chance to learn and improve step by step, piece by piece. Like our Sages teach us, the purpose of the sin of the golden calf was to teach mankind the way to repentance. It also teaches a lesson in leadership. Moshe took a giant step and saved the nation. Most of all we learn that what may be destructive may actually be constructive. We can never ask why people die. We can never know what lies behind the many sacrifices happening every day in Israel. But, coming from the G-d of mercy, our Father in heaven, these may be means to awaken us, to turn us to Him, to beseech Him for His endless mercy. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"And Moshe stood at the gate of the camp and he said, 'Whoever is for Hashem come to me,' and all of the descendants of Levi gathered unto him" (Shemot 32:26)

The Hatam Sofer notes that the Torah emphasizes the word "all;" every member of the tribe of Levi came to Moshe. This included Korah and those Levites who later followed him. Even though they were greatly displeased with Moshe, when it came to the honor of Hashem they joined him to fight for Hashem.

This has practical applications. There are many times in one's life when one will be called upon to make a similar decision. There will be people whom you might envy or feel have taken a position above others that they do not deserve. But what they presently want to do is clearly positive. You might have mixed feelings about joining with them for a cause or project. Your only consideration should be whether what you are doing is consistent with the honor of Hashem. If they are calling upon you to take action for Hashem, put your personal prejudices aside and join them. (Growth through Torah)


This week, we read about the famous incident of the Golden Calf. While Moshe was on Har Sinai receiving the Torah from Hashem, the nation sinned by worshiping a golden calf. When Moshe came down and saw what they were doing, he threw the two Tablets down to the ground, shattering them. The Gemara comments that when Hashem commanded Moshe to go back up to Har Sinai for the second set of Tablets, He phrased it in a way that showed that Moshe was justified in breaking the first Tablets.

Our Rabbis teach that this was a truly heroic act by Moshe Rabenu. This, the receiving of the Torah, was the moment for which they had been brought out of Egypt. At the time that Moshe broke the first Tablets, he had no way of knowing that Hashem would give him a second set. Still, he understood that the correct thing to do in this circumstance was to throw them to the ground.

There are many people who are willing to make tremendous sacrifices in order to accomplish great things. But one must also be prepared, if necessary, to tear down what he has worked so hard to set up. It is easy for a person to get so caught up in a project that he refuses to acknowledge that his efforts are misdirected. Only someone who is able to put aside his ego and self-interests can have the clarity of vision to see when an endeavor should no longer be pursued.

Question: Have you ever been involved in a venture that needed to be abandoned? Have you ever been in a dispute with a friend, but couldn't bring yourself to back off from your position, even though you knew it was the right thing to do?


Question: Why is Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbat read?

Answer: In the days of the Bet Hamikdash the Levi'im sang a song each day upon the bringing of the Tamid sacrifice. The song of Shabbat was this chapter. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


This week's Haftarah: Melachim I 18:20-39.

This week's perashah tells of B'nei Yisrael's confusion as to who would lead them when they thought Moshe had died. This haftarah tells of the confusion when the Ten Tribes had broken away from the rule of Yehudah, and the people did not know whom to follow. Eliyahu the Prophet rebuked the nation, commanding them to leave the false gods and to worship Hashem. Similarly, in the perashah, Moshe rebukes B'nei Yisrael when they worshiped the Golden Calf.

Answer to pop quiz: Hur, son of Miriam.

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