In this week's parashah, we read of the sin of the Golden Calf,
of Hashem's plan to destroy Bnei Yisrael, and of Moshe Rabbeinu's
prayers that saved them. Hashem offered to make Moshe's
descendants into a great nation in place of Bnei Yisrael, but
Moshe refused. The Midrash says, "Because Moshe said (32:32),
`[And now, if You would but forgive their sin -] and if not,
erase me now from Your book that You have written,' Moshe earned
that Hashem would answer his prayers when Korach rebelled." R'
Avraham Bornstein z"l (1839-1910; the Sochatchover Rebbe and
author of several important halachic works) explained:
How could Moshe pray for the death of Korach? No doubt, Korach
deserved to die, for by challenging Moshe's leadership, he
effectively challenged the legitimacy of the Torah that Moshe
gave! Yet, his attack on Moshe was very personal. How could
Moshe be certain that his own motives in praying for Korach's
death were pure? After all, one who prays for harm to come to
another Jew risks losing his own life in This World and the World-
In answer, R' Bornstein cited the teaching of the Arizal
(R' Yitzchak Luria z"l; 1534-1572) that Moshe did not become the
great person that he was in one day. Like everyone else, he
underwent a growth process. The crowning moment in that process
was when he made the statement, "If not, erase me now from Your
book that You have written." As the Gemara paraphrases it, Moshe
said: "Let one thousand `Moshes' be lost, but let not one
fingernail of the Jewish people be harmed." At that moment, when
Moshe demonstrated his willingness to give up both worlds for the
sake of the Jewish people, he demonstrated the complete negation
of self that made it possible for him to pray for Korach's demise
later. (Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
"The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not
decrease from half a shekel." (30:15)
R' Shlomo Yosef Zevin z"l (see page 4) writes: It is now common
in many countries to tax "progressively," meaning that not only
do the wealthy pay more taxes because they have a bigger taxable
base (e.g., higher incomes), they also pay at a higher rate.
This is not a new idea, writes R' Zevin. It is found in the
Mishnah (Peah 1:2): "One should give not less than 1/60 of his
field as peah [i.e, leaving part of the field unharvested so the
poor can come and take for themselves]." The mishnah continues:
"Although [according to Torah law] there is no minimum level of
peah, it all depends on the size of the field." Commentaries
ask: What is the meaning of the last phrase, "it all depends on
the size of the field"? Of course, the larger the field, the
more peah one will give! The answer is that the mishnah is
describing a progressive tax system. According to Torah law,
there is no minimum amount that a person must give as peah.
However, the Sages decreed a minimum - 1/60 of the field.
Nevertheless, it all depends on the size of the field, and one
who has a larger field should give at a higher rate than 1/60.
On the other hand, the Torah also imposes flat taxes, which
require everyone to pay the same thing. Our verse is an example
of a flat tax. Why? So that no person would think that the
Mishkan / Tabernacle or Bet Hamikdash / Temple belonged to him
more than to his poorer neighbor. Indeed, it was for this reason
that each person gave half a shekel, to remind him that he made
only part of the contribution.
In this light we can better understand the Gemara's teaching
(Megillah 13b) that the merit of the mitzvah of the half-shekel
outweighed the 10,000 shekels that Haman offered Achashveirosh.
What this really means is that Jewish unity saved the Jewish
people in the days of Haman. This is what Esther had in mind
when she told Mordechai (Esther 4:16), "Go, gather all the Jews."
And, the Jews were successful in battle against Haman's allies
because (Esther 9:16) they "congregated and defended themselves."
(La'Torah Ve'la'moadim p.118)
"He [Moshe] said, `Show me Your glory'. He [G-d] said, `I
shall make all My goodness pass before you, and I shall call
out with the Name Hashem before you; I shall show favor when
I choose to show favor, and I shall show mercy when I choose
to show mercy'." (33:18-19)
R' Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein z"l (1829-1907; see page 4)
explains these verses as follows: Moshe's request was to be able
to reach the highest possible level in his grasp of the Torah so
that he could then attain the ultimate love for Hashem. Hashem
answered him that He would reveal His "goodness" - an allusion to
Torah, which is called "good" - and would teach him His Name -
another reference to Torah, which kabbalists say is entirely made
up of different Names of G-d.
Moshe was then concerned: How will other Jews ever attain such
an understanding of the Torah? Hashem answered him: "I shall
show favor when I choose to show favor." The Hebrew root "chen"
(translated here as "favor") connotes something undeserved
("chinam"). Hashem assured Moshe, "I will teach the Torah even
to the undeserving." G-d also promises in our verse to act
mercifully, and it is based on this that we pray every morning
(in the blessing before Shma): "The merciful Father, Who acts
mercifully, have mercy on us, instill in our hearts to understand
and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach . . ." [Without this
explanation, it is difficult to understand the repeated
references to G-d's mercy in this prayer, which primarily asks G-
d to help us study Torah.]
(Derashot Kol Ben Levi No. 15)
"You shall observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. . .
For six days, work may be done. . ." (From our parashah -
R' Meir Simcha Hakohen z"l (1843-1926; rabbi of Dvinsk, Latvia;
author of Ohr Sameach) notes that the prohibition on working on
Shabbat is mentioned several times in the Torah. In some verses
(for example Shmot 20:9), the Torah uses the active voice, "Six
days shall you work." In other verses, the Torah uses the
passive voice, as in the above verse from our parashah. The
passive voice also is used in next week's parashah (35:2): "On
six days, work may be done." Why?
He answers: In the sections in which the Torah uses the passive
voice, the Torah also refers to the holiness of Shabbat. For
example, our parashah says, "You shall observe the Sabbath,
_for_it_is_holy_to_you_. . . For six days, work may be done."
Similarly, we read in next week's parashah, "On six days, work
may be done, but the seventh day _shall_be_holy_for_you." In
contrast, the verses that use the active voice do not refer to
the holiness of Shabbat.
What does this teach? R' Meir Simcha explains: Our Sages
teach, "When you do the Will of Hashem, your work will be done by
others. When you do not do the Will of Hashem, you will have to
do your own work." If we infuse the Shabbat with holiness, that
holiness will rub-off on us, helping us do the Will of Hashem all
week long. Then our work will be done passively, i.e., by
others. However, when our Shabbat is not infused with holiness,
then we will have to do our own work actively.
"R' Chagai says in the name of R' Shmuel bar Nachman, `Shabbat
and Yom Tov were given only for eating and drinking. Only
because the mouth [that does nothing but eat and drink] gives off
an odor is one permitted to learn Torah [also].' R' Berachiah
says in the name of R' Chiya bar Abba, `Shabbat and Yom Tov were
given only for studying Torah'."
(Talmud Yerushalmi: Shabbat Ch. 15)
R' Eliyahu Hakohen Itamari z"l (Izmir, Turkey; died 1729)
writes that Rabbi Chagai and Rabbi Berachiah are not arguing.
Rather, they are addressing different situations. In fact, this
teaching of the Talmud Yerushalmi may be the source for the
following halachah found in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim
"After the morning meal on Shabbat, we set aside time to study
the Prophets and to teach Midrash, and one is forbidden to
schedule a meal at that time. The workers and businessmen who do
not occupy themselves with Torah study all week long must devote
more time on Shabbat to Torah study than do the scholars who
study all week long. Torah scholars, on the other hand, should
engage in pleasurable activities and should eat and drink on
Shabbat, for they learn all week long." [Ed. note: The foregoing
is a free translation from the Shulchan Aruch. Those who are
able are encouraged to examine the precise wording, as several
significant lessons may be found there.]
R' Shlomo Yosef Zevin z"l
R' Shlomo Yosef Zevin was born in 1888 in Kazimirov (near
Minsk), where his father, R' Aharon Mordechai, was the rabbi.
The younger R' Zevin's education was a combination of both
"Litvishe" (Lithuanian) and chassidic influences; he studied
first in the yeshiva of Mir under R' Eliyahu Baruch Kamai and
then in Bobruisk under R' Shemaryahu Noach Schneerson.
(R' Schneerson was the leader of an offshoot of the Chabad
movement based in Kopust.) R' Zevin was ordained by R'
Schneerson, R' Yosef Rosen (the Rogatchover Gaon) and R' Yechiel
Michel Epstein (author of Aruch Hashulchan).
At the age of 18, R' Zevin began corresponding with leading
sages. He also began at a young age to serve Russian Jewry in
various communal capacities. During the brief period of
Ukrainian independence after World War I, R' Zevin served as a
member of the Ukrainian parliament. He also served as a member
and officer of the parent body of Jewish communities in Ukraine.
He served as rabbi of several communities, including his
birthplace. Beginning in 1921, he edited a Torah journal Yagdil
Torah together with R' Yechezkel Abramsky of Slutsk.
In 1934, R' Zevin settled in Eretz Yisrael and began teaching
at the Mizrachi-affiliated Bet Midrash L'morim. He also served
as a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council. However, he became
best known for his written works, including:
L'Ohr Ha'halachah - essays on both practical and abstract
halachic topics, including a halachic analysis of the legal and
moral questions presented in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice;
Ha'moadim Be'halachah - halachic studies of the Jewish
Ishim Ve'shitot - biographies of selected 19th and 20th
century sages with analyses of their individual methods of study;
La'Torah Ve'la'moadim - essays on the Torah and the
festivals (see the excerpt on page 2); and
Sippurei Chassidim - chassidic tales arranged by parashah
Several of these works of been adapted into English by Artscroll.
For the last 35 years of his life, R' Zevin served as editor of
the Encylcopedia Talmudit. He died on 21 Adar I 5738 / 1978.