We read in this week's parashah about the sin of the golden calf and
Hashem's response, including (Shmot 33:2-3): "I shall send an angel
ahead of you, and I shall drive out the Canaani, the Emori, the Chitti,
the Perizi, the Hivvi, and the Yevusi; to a land that flows with milk and
honey - because I shall not ascend among you, for you are a stiff-necked
people, lest I annihilate you on the way." Moshe responded (verse
15), "If Your Presence does not go along, do not bring us forward from
R' Don Yitzchak Abravanel z"l (1437-1508; prolific Torah commentator;
Portugal, Spain and Italy) writes: Numerous commentaries ask why Moshe did
not voice a similar objection when Hashem told him (three parashot
earlier - 23:20), "Behold! I am sending an angel before you to protect you
on the way, and to bring you to the place that I have made ready." Ramban
and R' Avraham ibn Ezra note differences between the descriptions of the
angels in the two parashot and suggest that the earlier prophecy did not
imply that Hashem was distancing himself from Bnei Yisrael, while the
prophecy in our parashah does imply that; therefore, Moshe objected now
and not earlier. [Ramban's explanation has deeper kabbalistic meaning that
is beyond our understanding.] Rabbeinu Nissim z"l writes somewhat
similarly that Moshe did not object until Hashem said expressly, "I shall
not ascend with you."
R' Abravanel offers a different interpretation. Earlier, Hashem told
Moshe only that an angel would lead Bnei Yisrael until the borders of Eretz
Yisrael. That was acceptable to Moshe. Here, however, Hashem spoke of an
angel that would lead Bnei Yisrael inside the Holy Land. That, Moshe could
not accept. Why? Because those who reside outside of Eretz Yisrael
normally experience Hashem through intermediaries that we call "angels" -
for example, the forces of nature. In contrast, inhabitants of Eretz
Yisrael are meant to be under the hashgachah pratit / direct, personal
supervision of Hashem. (Ateret Zekeinim, as elucidated by R' Moshe Zuriel
shlita, Shevat 5747 / 1987)
"Every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul . . .
so that there will not be a plague among them . . ." (30:2)
Why does the verse change from singular ("Every man shall give") to
plural ("so that there will not be a plague among them")?
R' Yaakov Yichizkiyahu Gruenwald z"l (Hungarian rabbi; died 1941)
explains: Our Sages teach that when one person repents, the entire world
achieves a certain degree of atonement on his account. Thus, even one
person's charity can avert a plague that could have affected multitudes.
(Vayagged Yaakov: Parashat
"This shall they give -- everyone who passes through the
census -- a half shekel of the sacred shekel . . ." (30:13)
Why half a shekel? R' Eliyahu Hakohen z"l (Izmir, Turkey; died 1729)
offers fourteen answers, of which we present half.
(2) Only the men participated in the sin of the golden calf, not the
women. The Zohar says that a man without a wife is only half a person.
Thus, only half an atonement is required.
(4) Just as on Yom Kippur two goats were brought -- one as a
sacrificial offering and the other to be killed in a non-sacred manner
(i.e., the se'ir l'azalzel), so one-half of a shekel is offered as a
sacrifice and the other half is spent in a non-sacred manner.
(8) The Gemara teaches that G-d forgave only half the sin of the
golden calf. For the remaining half, He exacts retribution from each
generation a little bit at a time. This is symbolized by the half-shekel.
(10) Bringing only a half-shekel reminds a person that one cannot grow
spiritually unless he also raises the spiritual level of those around him.
(11) Our Sages say that one who worships idols is considered to have
denied the entire Torah. Thus, by worshiping the golden calf, Bnei Yisrael
denied the "Ten Commandments," which consist half of man's obligations
toward G-d and half of man's obligations toward other people. We also are
taught that Hashem does not forgive a person for sinning against another
person until the sinner appeases the offended-person. This is symbolized
by the half-shekel, as if to say, "You transgressed all ten of the Aseret
Ha'dibrot, but I, Hashem, can forgive you for only half of your
(12) The leaders behind the making of the golden calf were in fact
from the erev rav, other nationalities that were hangers-on to the Jewish
People. Bnei Yisrael's sin was in not preventing this occurrence. This is
a lesser sin; thus, only a lesser atonement consisting of a half-shekel
(13) Our Sages say that Bnei Yisrael never worshiped idols because
they believed in the idols themselves, but only as an excuse to live an
immoral lifestyle. Thus, their sin of idolatry was only half a sin.
(Aggadot Eliyahu: Shekalim
From the Haftarah . . .
"So I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed
among the lands; according to their ways and their doings did I judge
them." (Yechezkel 36:18)
What is meant by, "according to their ways and their doings did I
judge them"? R' Shlomo Kluger z"l (rabbi in Brody, Galicia; died 1869)
R' Yosef Albo z"l (Spain; 1380-1444) writes (in Sefer Ha'ikkarim Part
IV Ch.36): Logic dictates that the degree of reward for a mitzvah and
punishment for a sin should bear some relationship to the mitzvah or sin.
For example, if A insults B, the harm is usually short-lived; thus, the
punishment should be short-lived. On the other hand, if A blinds B, the
harm is permanent; thus, the punishment should be permanent. Similarly,
some mitzvot would seem to deserve a longer-lived reward than others.
Why then, asks R' Albo, is man's reward in Olam Ha'ba eternal? Perhaps
one will justify this on the grounds that man's reward should be
proportionate to the greatness of the King that he has served. Since
Hashem's greatness is unlimited, those who serve Him deserve unlimited
reward. But, in reality, we give G-d nothing when we serve Him, as the
verse (Iyov 35:7) states, "If you were righteous, what have you given Him,
and what does He take from your hand?!" Moreover, the same logic would
dictate that those who defy G-d's will and sin should receive an unlimited
and eternal punishment. [Yet, our Sages say that this is not the case,
except for the very worst sinners.]
The answer, writes R' Albo, is that Hashem's system of reward and
punishment is not based on Din / justice alone, but also on Chessed /
kindness. As a result of His kindness, reward, which should be temporary,
is eternal, while punishment, which should be eternal, is temporary.
[This concludes the excerpt from Sefer Ha'ikkarim.]
R' Kluger disagrees. He explains that ever-lasting reward and
relatively short-lived punishment both are dictated by Din / justice. It
is true that Hashem does not need our service. However, He designed the
world in such a way that, as the Kabbalists teach, our mitzvot further His
goals by multiplying the amount of kedushah / holiness in the world. And,
kedushah, once created, makes an eternal impression on the universe. Our
sins likewise have a cosmic (albeit, negative) spiritual effect; however,
that effect is temporary and we are assured that, at the end of time, evil
will be eliminated from the world. It therefore is logical that the reward
for our good deeds should similarly be everlasting, while the punishment
for our sins is short-lived. This is what the quoted verse means: I,
Hashem, do not base punishments on My nature, which is everlasting, but
rather, "according to their ways and their doings did I judge them."
(Kohelet Yaakov - Parah: Drush
Earlier this year we began to present excerpts from Ma'agal Tov,
the diary of R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l ("Chida"; 1724-1806),
describing the author's travels as a "Shelucha D'rabbanan"("Shadar"
or "meshulach") on behalf of the Jewish community of Chevron. This
week we present another excerpt. Note that some of the poetic
language and Biblical references are lost in translation.
Adar 23 [5534 / 1774]: Sunday, Vayakhel. After havdalah [in other
words, on Motza'ei Shabbat of Parashat Ki Tissa], I went to my room and
opened the mail that had arrived on Shabbat, and I saw that, for my many
sins, a decree had been pronounced [from Heaven] against the wife of my
youth, a kind-hearted, clear-headed, G-d-fearing woman, charitable,
modest, the delight of my eyes, the beauty of my home - my wife Rachel,
her soul is in Eden; and the world grew dark around me. But it
immediately came to my mind that if I disclose this, they [the local
Jewish community] would willy-nilly force a wife upon me, and there would
be no salvation from their hand because they are so very attached to me -
unimaginably so! No argument would prevail against them. Blessed is
His glorious Name who did kindness with me in this moment of great distress
such that this thought came into my mind. I then immediately took a lamp
and went to the synagogue and wept there for an hour or so; then I left
there and washed my face.
In my room, I found R' Moshe and R' Yehuda, two brothers-in-law of the
Qayid / communal leader, and a young man, R' Moshe ben Meir, who was
staying with the Qayid, and also some other people. And I was there with
them, in distress, until midnight. After they left, I sat on the ground
to recite Tikkun Chatzot / prayers of mourning for the Temple. I
[simultaneously] took off my shoes and socks to do mourning for "late
tidings," for my wife had departed this life on the 20th of Sivan 5533
[1773, i.e., nine months earlier]. [Ed. note: Because Chida received the
news more than 30 days after her passing, halachah dictated that shivah
not be observed. This presumably is why he was permitted to wash his
face, as mentioned above.] May her soul be bound in the bond of the
living. And everything was done in quiet and secret.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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