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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Ki Sisso

The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not decrease from half a shekel. (30:15)

As part of an annual compulsory tax, the Torah instructs each member of Klal Yisroel to give a half-shekel towards the korbanos tzibur, communal offerings. The Toldos Yaakov Yosef explains that the requirement for half a shekel underscores the importance of unity among Jews. No Jew is complete unless he joins with others. Indeed, even the simple person has the potential to complete the most noble Jew. In the beginning of Meseches Shekalim, the Mishnah says: On Rosh Chodesh Adar, they (Bais Din) would proclaim regarding the obligation to contribute the Shekalim and Kilayim, reminding people to rid themselves of any diverse species of grain, vegetable or fruit. It is interesting to note that the Mishnah places Shekalim and Kilayim together. The Mishnah is conveying a subtle message to us.

Menachem Tzion suggests an important lesson, regarding the concept of unity, to be derived from here. While achdus, Jewish unity, is crucial to the survival of our people, it is important to remember that diverse "seeds", whose goal it is to undermine Torah Judaism, are not acceptable. They do not contribute to achdus. They are kilayim. The Mishnah teaches us that while it is important to proclaim about the Shekalim, encouraging unity among Klal Yisrael, this unity does not include those who perverse philosophy and alien perspective disparage Torah life.

The Torah enjoins Klal Yisrael that their contributions must be equal. The wealthy man should not increase his gift, and the poor man should not diminish his share. What is the true definition of wealth? Who is really a rich man, and who is a poor man? Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, cites the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, 4:1 which defines a rich man as someone who is sameach b'chelko, satisfied and happy with his G-d-given portion in life. He does not complain or drive himself to the brink of disaster if he is not blessed with an overabundance of wealth. This Mishnah teaches us a lesson in character refinement, but it does not really define wealth. Perhaps one who is satisfied with what he has should be called a tzaddik, righteous or virtuous person. Furthermore, should we really refer to one who accepts his poverty and is satisfied with his lack of material excess as being "blessed in this world"?

Horav Schlessinger infers from here that wealth is not determined by the quantity of one's assets, but rather by how much he feels he is lacking. Chazal teach us that "one who possesses one hundred (dollars) must have two." By his very nature, man is driven to desire, he must possess more and more. The more one has - the more he wants and thinks he needs. One who has one hundred dollars wants two hundred; one who has two hundred seeks four hundred. On the other hand, one who has very little, but is satisfied with his portion, is truly wealthy, because he has what he needs. The proverbial wealthy man has it all, while contemporary man never has enough. The true ashir is happy with life; he has everything that he needs.

We may now render a homiletic exposition of this pasuk. "The wealthy shall not increase." Who is truly wealthy? He who does not find it necessary to increase his assets. He has sufficient assets to suit his purposes. The man is poor, however, who always views his portion as insufficient, as less than others'; he always wants more, never is gratified with that with which he has been blessed. He is a poor man and probably also a psychologically unstable man.

For six days work may be done and the seventh day is a day of complete rest. (31:15)

Rabbeinu Bachya says that Shabbos is the principle of faith. It is equivalent to all the mitzvos because it confirms our belief in the creation of the world. As we believe that Hashem created the world in six days, we affirm that He rested on the seventh. Throughout Rabbinic literature, Chazal underscore the mitzvah of Shabbos and emphasize its significance. Throughout the ages, Jews have sacrificed material comfort - and even their lives - in observance of this mitzvah. The following story reinforces this idea: Horav Simcha Kaplan, Shlita, Rav of Tzfas, relates that when he studied at the Mirrer Yeshivah in Europe, he boarded at the home of a family that had one child - a son. One erev Shabbos, he noticed the husband preparing to go to the market. His wife reminded him, "Today is Erev Shabbos, be sure to come home early." When he returned from the Yeshivah after Minchah, he noticed the lady standing by the window murmuring, "It is almost Shabbos." Horav Kaplan was surprised to hear her concern since there was plenty of time left until Shabbos. The woman turned to him and said, "Let me tell you about our past so you can better understand my anxiety regarding Shabbos. For many years of our marriage, we had no children. Finally, after many prayers and tears, Hashem granted us a child. Our son, however, seemed to be sickly, not developing like other children, always listless. We were distressed. We traveled to the greatest specialists, who told us that we had no hope. Our son was stricken with a disease for which there was no cure.

We had nowhere to turn. On our way back from the doctor, we stopped at a hotel in Vilna for the night. As you can imagine, I could not contain myself. I broke out in bitter weeping, which was heard by many of the guests. They came to us and suggested that since we were going back to Mir, it would not be out of our way to stop in Radin and ask the sainted Chofetz Chaim to intercede on our behalf. We left for Radin, despite the fact that it was well known that the Chofetz Chaim was old and frail. He was no longer accepting visitors.

When we arrived in Radin with the help of the Almighty, we met the husband of the Chofetz Chaim's granddaughter, who used to board at our home in Mir. We told him our plight, and he immediately accompanied us to his grandfather. We were overwhelmed by the great tzaddik and gaon. I began to relate to him the occurrences of our life and the tragic situation confronting us at the moment. He responded by asking, "Do you begin Shabbos early?" I asked him to explain. He responded, "On Erev Shabbos, at chatzos, midday, your table should be set and the candelabra should be prepared for Shabbos. From the moment you light the candles, do not do any labor." Obviously, we followed the Chofetz Chaim's instructions, and immediately our son gradually began to recover. Slowly, our son was cured. When we related our story to the doctor who had given up hope on our son, he exclaimed, "I have the ability to mend what is broken, cure what is ill; I cannot create something from nothing. The Chofetz Chaim can!" Now you understand my concern that my husband has not yet returned . You see, Shabbos begins a little earlier in our house."

It would serve all of us well to view this as not just another story, but rather a lesson in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty.

And the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, "Rise up, make for us gods...The entire people removed the gold rings... He (Aharon) took it from their hands and bound it up in a cloth, and fashioned it into a molten calf. (32:1, 3,4)

One of the most grievous sins and tragic episodes in the history of our People is the chet ha'eigel, sin of the Golden Calf. What makes things worse is Aharon HaKohen's involvement in its construction. Indeed, when Moshe questioned Aharon about his role in its creation, he responded that he was overwhelmed by the people. Hoping to create some delay, he had them bring their gold and jewelry to him. Regrettably, their response to his request was incredible. It always seems to be like this when people have the passion of sin in their hearts: nothing stands in their way. Aharon then threw their gold and jewelry into the fire and a golden calf emerged. He was not prepared for this surprising result of his innocuous action. After all is said and done, we still must understand the rationale for Aharon's action. Why did he throw the gold into the fire? What was he trying to prove? Moreover, why did he defer to the people's demands? A man who stood before Pharaoh, unwavering in his demand, should not have feared a group of wild rabble rousers.

In addressing Aharon's enigmatic role in the chet ha'egel the Shem MiShmuel first focuses upon Klal Yisrael's original demand for a replacement for Moshe. What was Moshe's greatest achievement in regard to this fledgling nation? He provided leadership. He was the focal point around which they all rallied. He was their unifying agent. He transformed a multitude of people, who had previously been subject to slavery and deprivation, into a cohesive unit, ready to serve the Almighty. His stature and prodigious spirituality guided them through their collective experiences, helping them to handle their petty differences. He was their paradigm of selflessness, their beacon of inspiration to overcome their selfish interests. The loss of Moshe, albeit brief, threw the developing nation into a turmoil. They were like a ship without a rudder. They had no direction and no stabilizing force to navigate them. They were no longer unified, no longer cohesive.

They came to Aharon seeking alternative leadership. They stood before him scared, confused, bereft of their leader. They made all kinds of demands, most of them nonsensical and some even rebellious in nature. Aharon understood the source of the problem; he was acutely aware of the stimulus for their spurious demands. They needed unity, a galvanizing force to unify them during their wait for Moshe's imminent return. Aharon realized that a community-wide project would unify the people. The physical act of contributing towards one common goal would meld the individual personalities, represented by their jewelry, into one community, symbolized by the single gold ingot that Aharon would make. Who would be better than Aharon to effect such a goal? He was the Kohen Gadol, the personification of peace and harmony. He understood the source of their problem, and he addressed it.

How could this be considered wrong? How was this noble goal transferred into a calamitous sin whose punitive effect is still felt today? Aharon wanted to create a gold ingot, the symbol of Klal Yisrael's unity. Suddenly, to his horror and dismay, there emerged a golden calf, an idol. Aharon did not realize that along with those who were sincerely confused, there joined the eirev rav, mixed multitude of non-Jewish "add-ons", who had left Egypt out of fear for their lives. They infused a non-Torah oriented seed into Klal Yisrael. They undermined their unity. When an alien item is added to a group, the result is complete ruin. Unity can only be effected when all members sincerely seek it. When there are those who have their own agenda, who use the concept and goals of unity as a vehicle to exploit and deter others - it is disastrous. That is precisely what they had intended. Aharon's ingot was poisoned by the infusion of evil forces, whose self-oriented goals destroyed the common good he sought to achieve. In the end, Aharon was rewarded for his virtuous aims. He aspired for the common good, to effect unity until Moshe returned . His intentions were rewarded when he was selected to serve in the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash. The Sanctuary is the focal point for all of Klal Yisrael to seek out Hashem, to serve Him through prayer and sacrifice. The Kohen Gadol's task is to unify the hearts and minds of Klal Yisrael in their service of Hashem. Aharon was eminently suited for this role.

And now if You would but forgive their sin! But if not, erase me now from this book that You have written. (32:32)

Rashi explains that the word, "misifrecha", "from Your book," applies to the entire Torah. Rashi suggests a reason for Moshe's well-known reaction to Hashem's desire to punish Klal Yisrael with annihilation: "That they should not say about me that I was not worthy to implore mercy for them." This is mind-boggling! We are referring here to Moshe Rabbeinu, the "anav mikol adam," the most humble of all men. He is prepared to have his name erased from the nitzchiyus, eternity, of Torah, simply because of what they may say, asserting that he was not capable/worthy of achieving clemency for Klal Yisrael. Does this seem rational for the quintessential leader of our people, a man who set the standard for personal humility and devotion to his flock?

In his approach towards explaining Moshe Rabbeinu's demand, Horav Simcha Zissel Broide, Shlita, cites a similar anomaly. In the Midrash Shemos Rabbah 6, Chazal say that Shlomo Hamelech would rather have been subjected to the most humiliating and lowly labor than to have it written about him, "His wives turned him away." Although Chazal tell us that "whoever says that Shlomo sinned is mistaken," the wisest of all men was extremely concerned about what was written about him - even if it was wrong.

Each passage in the Torah has a remarkable value. It is a chapter in eternity! This makes Moshe's sacrifice to have his name removed even more incredible. Indeed, without Moshe, the entire Torah would be changed. Yet, Moshe was willing to relinquish it all for Klal Yisrael. That is not what Chazal tell us. They seem to feel that Moshe was concerned that they would say about him that he could not effect Klal Yisrael's pardon. How are we to understand this?

Horav Broide explains that if there was a possibility that Klal Yisrael might have expected more from Moshe and he "failed" them , it would have indicated a deficiency in Moshe Rabbeinu's gadlus, pre-eminence. He is no longer the great "rav" who was the lawgiver. Even though it was a misconception on the part of Klal Yisrael, it would still be a blemish on the whole idea of Kabollas HaTorah. It would no longer be perfect. As far as Klal Yisrael were concerned, Moshe was the quintessential leader in every aspect. Therefore, Hashem selected him to be His agent through whom the Torah would be taught to Klal Yisrael. Any critique of Moshe would, regrettably, be perceived as a critique of the Torah. Moshe could not let this happen. Thus, he asked that his name be deleted from the Torah in order to circumvent any later problems.

At the end of the parsha, the Torah relates how Moshe would don a Masveh, mask, to cover the Karnei Hod, Rays of Glory, that emanated from him as a result of his close relationship with the Almighty. Ibn Ezra states that actually, when Moshe left the Ohel Moed, the unique light that shone from him remained inside. It did not follow him out. He wore the Masveh because the people expected to see rays of glory -- or something covering them -- emanating from Moshe. In order not to disappoint them, Moshe wore the Masveh.

Once again, we see that Moshe would not permit the people's perception of him to be denigrated. If they expected him to wear a mask covering the Rays of Glory, so be it, he would wear a mask - even though it was not necessary. If the lack of a mask would have created a blemish in their perception of Kabollas HaTorah, it was necessary to wear the mask.


1. Chazal say that Jews should not be counted, lest they be subject to the effects of ayin hora, evil eye. When do we find that this occurred?

2. How many times was Klal Yisrael counted through the means of a Machatzis HaShekel? 3. Where was the Kiyor placed?

4. Does a Kohen incur the death penalty for entering the Mikdash without kiddush yodayim v'raglayim, washing hands and feet?

5. Did all of the spices have a sweet-smelling odor?

6. What is the difference between the word "Shabboson", which is written in regard to the festivals, and "Shabbos Shabboson", which is written regarding Shabbos and Yom Kippur?


1. During the reign of David HaMelech.

2. Twice. They were counted once after Yom Kippur to see how many survived the punitive effect of the Golden Calf. They were counted a second time when the Mishkan was constructed.

3. Between the Mizbayach and the opening of the Ohel Moed, moved slightly towards the southern side.

4. No, only if he performs certain avodos.

5. No, the chelbenah did not.

6. "Shabbos Shabboson" is unequivocal; even those labors which constitute "ochel nefesh," food preparation, are prohibited.

In honor of the Bar Mitzvah of
Eli Levine
18 Adar 5759


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