Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Beyond Pshat by Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky: Parshas Ki Sisa

From Torah.org:

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 Beyond Pshat
       by Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky
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Parshas Ki Sisa
4. Similar But Not the Same
The sin of the Golden Calf was one of the gravest moments in the history of the Jewish people. G’d had redeemed them from Egypt with revealed miracles and wonders in order for them to stand at Sinai to receive His Torah and become His chosen people. At Sinai they Jewish people had experienced the most intimate level of prophecy. G’d had communicated with them face to face. Although they had experienced G’d’s Presence in a revealed and obvious manner at the time of the splitting of the Sea, the level of revelation at Sinai surpassed what they had previously experienced. Chazal compare the Sinai event to a bride (Jewish people) being taken in marriage by her groom (G’d). Forty days after experiencing and hearing the word of G’d (Ten Commandments), the Jewish people engaged in idolatry by casting the Golden Calf. Chazal explain that the sin of the Golden Calf was the equivalent of a bride committing adultery under the marriage ca nopy (chupah). Because of the severity of the transgression that had taken place, G’d wanted to destroy the Jewish people. However, because of Moshe’s supplications, they were spared. Despite the fact that they were forgiven, the sin of the Golden Calf had severely tainted them until the end of time.

The Torah tells us that when the Jewish people left Egypt after the tenth plague, Pharaoh “sent out the people.” If G’d was the One who actually took out the Jewish people from Egypt, why does the verse state that Pharaoh had “sent out the people.” Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that Pharaoh had sent out hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to accompany the Jewish people when they left Egypt. This was the rabble to whom the Torah refers. He had done so because he had suspected that the Jewish people, after leaving Egypt would not return. Pharaoh had told this large contingent of Egyptians to accompany the Jewish people into the desert to guarantee their return. He threatened them by saying that if they were not to return, the rabble would assume their position as slaves in the place of the Jewish people who were absent. When the Jewish people had passed the point of return in the desert, the rabble understood that they were not going to ever return to Egypt. They thus decide d to continue along with the Jewish people and not return to Egypt to become slaves. They were the ones who initiated the worship of the Golden Calf that brought about the spiritual diminishment of the Jewish people until the end of time. Moshe, being the leader of the Jewish people could have rejected the rabble and not allowed them to join the exodus. Yet he remained silent and allowed Pharaoh to execute his plan. Why did Moshe allow the rabble to come along? Seemingly his acquiescence to allow them to join led to the greatest spiritual tragedy of all time.

When the Golden Calf was being worshipped, Moshe was in heaven receiving the Torah. G’d said to Moshe, “You must go down because your people who you have taken out from Egypt have become corrupt.” Rashi cites Chazal who explain, that the reason G’d used the term “your people” rather than “My people” is because He was referring to the rabble who Moshe had permitted to accompany the Jewish people out of Egypt. G’d had said to Moshe, “You did not consult with Me regarding if they should accompany you or not.” Moshe had justified his initial decision to allow the rabble to leave Egypt together with the Jewish people for the sake of bringing them under the wings of the Divine Presence through conversion. If Moshe could have consulted with G’d beforehand, why did he not do so?

The Gemara in Tractate Nidarim tells us that one of the reasons the Jewish people were destined to be enslaved in Egypt was because Avraham, our Patriarch, had failed when he had an opportunity to convert a group of pagans to monotheism and he did not. After Avraham’s victory over the four mightiest kings who had taken the Sodomites captive, the King of Sodom approached Avraham and said, “Give me the people and the possessions shall be yours.” Avraham’s response to the King of Sodom was, “I will not take from you as much as a thread or a bootstrap.” At this moment, Avraham, as the victor, had the opportunity and right to take the people of Sodom and convert them from paganism to monotheism, but he did not. G’d said to Avraham, “Because you allowed these people to remain pagans, and not bring them under the wings of the Divine Presence your children shall be exiled to a land that is not their own…”

Moshe, as the Redeemer of the Jewish people, understood that the atonement for the sin of Avraham was finally completed after the 210 years of exile and bondage. Appreciating the initial failing of Avraham that brought about the Egyptian experience, Moshe was not about to repeat the same mistake as Avraham had made. Moshe was now in a position to either reject the rabble of Egypt and allow them to remain pagans or allow them to become part of a monotheistic people. The obvious choice was to allow them to join. If Moshe’s justification for his decision was so cogent and compelling then why did G’d rebuke him?

Moshe and Avraham’s situations are not identical. Avraham had missed the opportunity to save the Sodomite community from going into oblivion by not converting them to monotheism. He was held culpable because it was only a question of converting pagans into monotheists. However, regarding the rabble of Egypt, allowing them to accompany the Jewish people to Sinai would introduce and expose them to a foreign element that could impact and destabilize G’d’s Chosen people. Therefore, Moshe’s decision was flawed. He should have consulted with G’d to prevent this serious failing.

5. The Unending Edomite Exile (from Tetzaveh)

The Torah states, “(G’d said to Moshe) Now you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed/crushed olive oil for illumination (Menorah)…” Chazal tell us that the only oil that qualified for the kindling of the Menorah was the first droplet that was extracted from the olive. Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains the verse on an allusionary level based on the Zohar, “The Jewish people were redeemed from the first three of their four exiles in the merit of the Patriarchs. In the merit of Avraham, our Patriarch, they were redeemed from the Babylonian exile. In the merit of Yitzchak, our Patriarch, they were redeemed from the Persian exile. In the merit of Yaakov, our Patriarch, they were redeemed from the Greek exile….” It is interesting to note that the Greeks did not wish to destroy the Jewish people but rather they sought to uproot and eradicate Torah study and its observance. The Patriarch in whose merit the Jewish people were able to defeat th e Greeks was Yaakov, who was the personification of Torah. As the Torah states regarding Yaakov, “He is the perfect man who dwells in the tent (of Torah).” Thus, they reestablished themselves as G’d’s people through the observance of the Torah and its study.

Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh continues, “The redemption of the Jewish people from the fourth and final exile, the Edomite exile (Roman), will come about only in the merit of Moshe. However, Moshe, will not allow his merit to be utilized to bring about redemption until the Jewish people are fully engaged in Torah study and the observance of Its mitzvos with the purest intent.”

Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that the “pure, pressed olive oil” of the Menorah symbolizes the manner in which one must engage in Torah study in order to be worthy of Moshe’s merit. Just as only the purest droplet of oil qualifies to kindle the Menorah, so too one must study Torah with a pure intent. The Torah must be studied for its own sake (l’shmah). If one engages in Torah study with an ulterior motive it will not have the same value as if one studies it with a pure intent. In addition to its purity, the olive oil must be “pressed/crushed (kasis l’mohr) for illumination” Just as the olive was to be crushed in order to extract the pure oil for illumination, so too must one be willing to sacrifice and deprive himself from the material for the sake of Torah study. As the Torah states, “This is the Torah, (when) a man dies in the tent…”It is only when the Jewish people will engage in Torah in this manner, will Moshe allow his merit to be used to bring about redemption.

If Yaakov our Patriarch, who is the personification of Torah allowed his merit to be used to extricate the Jewish people from the Greek exile, why will Moshe, who is the pillar of Torah, not allow his merit to be used until the Jewish people meet his criteria of purity? Yaakov, although he was the Patriarch who embodied Torah and truth as it states, “Give Truth to Yaakov (Teetain emmes L’Yaakov)…” his relationship with the Jewish people was that of a father to a son because he was a Patriarch. Although absolute truth (Torah) represents something that is unwavering, precise, and exacting, Yaakov as the Patriarch had a relationship with the Jewish people that was based on kindness. Moshe’s relationship with the Jewish people was not within the context of a Patriarch, but rather he was the conduit of Torah. Moshe possessed qualities that guaranteed the immutability and eternity of Torah. Moshe was unwavering regarding matters of justice and thus did not compromise to any deg ree. The Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin tells us that Moshe’s position was if there is a mountain that stands in the way of establishing a law, the law must pierce the mountain. Meaning, truth supersedes everything and must be maintained. As it states, “Moshe is true and his Torah is true.”

The Gemara in Tractate Megillah states, “One who says ‘I have toiled (in Torah) and have come upon it’ –should be believed. One who says, ‘I have not toiled and I did come upon it’ –should not be believed.” One can only come upon the truth of Torah, only through sacrifice, which is the toil and dedication to comprehend its truth with the purest intent. Therefore, Moshe, being the embodiment of truth will not compromise to any degree on its standard. Thus, he will not allow the Jewish people to utilize his merit to bring the final exile to an end, unless they engage in Torah study in the most pure and dedicated manner.
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Beyond Pshat, Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Torah.org.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.

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