Parshas Ki Sisa
The Little Purim
We read in our parashah that Hashem told Moshe, following the sin of the
Golden Calf (33:-12), “I shall send an angel ahead of you, and I shall drive
out the Canaanite, the Emorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, and
the Yevusite--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*.” The implication of these verses was that Hashem planned to
distance Himself from Bnei Yisrael only while they ascended to Eretz
Yisrael, but not after they reached the Land. This requires explanation,
writes Rabbeinu Nissim z”l (“Ran”; 14th century; Barcelona, Spain). If
there was a concern that Hashem would annihilate the Jewish People because
of our ancestors’ stubbornness, why was that concern not present after the
Nation settled in Eretz Yisrael as well?
Rabbeinu Nissim explains: The sin which angers G-d the most is the sin of
idolatry. And, the risk of committing that sin is far greater outside of
Eretz Yisrael than in the Land. The reason for this is that Hashem does not
guide the affairs of the diaspora directly, as He does the affairs of Eretz
Yisrael. Rather, He has placed the lands of the diaspora under the control
of His agents, and man is wont to mistake those agents [whether one calls
them angels, constellations, the zodiac, or nature] for deities. [In fact,
Rambam explains that that is how idolatry started in the first place.] The
fact that Hashem remains aloof from the affairs of the diaspora is why,
Rabbeinu Nissim explains, the Gemara states (Ketubot 110b): If one dwells
outside of Eretz Yisrael, he is likened to someone who has no G d.
In addition, Hashem created the desert to be a place of natural danger.
Some people want to seem very religious, writes Rabbeinu Nissim, so they
argue that Hashem is equally capable of protecting a person wherever he is.
However, that is not how Hashem operates, Rabbeinu Nissim explains.
Rather, He is less likely to protect a person outside of Eretz Yisrael, thus
making the snakes and scorpions in the desert more dangerous than those in
Eretz Yisrael. (Drashot Ha’Ran: Drush 4)
“And now, if You would but forgive their sin! -- but if not, erase me now
from Your book that You have written.” (32:32)
R’ Yerucham Levovitz z”l (mashgiach ruchani of the Mir Yeshiva; died 1936)
said in his eulogy for the Chafetz Chaim z”l: Our Sages teach that the death
of tzaddikim atones for the nation’s sins. This does not mean that
tzaddikim atone only in death. We see, for example, that Pinchas atoned for
the nation in life (see Tehilim 106:23). Rather, it means that tzaddikim
atone even in death.
R’ Levovitz continued: Commentaries ask: Why are there punishments at all?
Why isn’t G-d’s mercy sufficient to atone for all sins? The answer,
apparently, is that G-d’s mercy goes only so far. That is why Hashem gave
us Yom Kippur, so that its merit will accomplish what G-d’s mercy alone does
not accomplish. And, when the sins are too great even for Yom Kippur to
atone, the death of a tzaddik atones.
This, said R’ Levovitz, was what Moshe meant when he said, “If not, erase me
now from Your book that You have written.” If my prayers are inadequate to
atone for the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe said, then let the erasure of my
name from the Torah be equivalent to the death of a tzaddik, which atones to
a greater degree.
(Relating this idea to the occasion, R’ Levovitz continued: The Chafetz
Chaim devoted his entire life to bringing atonement to the Jewish People,
but now, apparently, the Jewish People needed a greater atonement than the
Chafetz Chaim could bring about in life. Every year, the atonement of Yom
Kippur comes after Rosh Hashanah, but this year [in which the Chafetz Chaim
died on 24 Elul], Hashem has brought the atonement of Yom Kippur before Rosh
Hashanah.) (Da’at Torah Vol. 5b, p. 261)
“He said, ‘Show me now Your glory’.” (33:18)
Why did Moshe Rabbeinu make this request at a low point--after the sin of
the Golden Calf--and not at the high point of Matan Torah? R’ Aharon Dovid
Goldberg shlita (Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland) explains: R’ Moshe Cordovero
z”l (Remak; 1522-1570) writes that G-d is not like man. If one friend sins
toward another and then apologizes, the aggrieved friend may express his
forgiveness, but the friendship often will never return to its former
intensity. In contrast, when man sins toward G-d and then repents, G-d
brings him even closer than he was before. Thus, R’ Goldberg writes, after
Bnei Yisrael had sinned by making the Golden Calf and had begun the
repentance process, it was an even more auspicious occasion than when the
Torah was given. Thus, it was a fitting time for Moshe to make his request.
(Ve’halachta B’drachav al Tomer Devorah p.65)
“I shall show favor when I choose to show favor, and I shall show mercy
when I choose to show mercy.” (33:19)
R’ Moshe Cordevero z”l (see above) writes: There are some people who behave
improperly, yet Hashem has mercy on all. He continues: The Gemara (Berachot
7a) comments on our verse, “Hashem said, ‘This is a storehouse for those who
are unworthy’.” Remak explains: There is a “storehouse of favor” from which
Hashem shows favor and gives gifts for nothing, for He says, “They have the
merit of the Patriarchs, and I swore to the Patriarchs. Therefore, even
though they behave improperly, they will merit because they are descendants
of the Patriarchs, to whom I have taken an oath. Therefore, I will lead
them until they find their correction.” (Tomer Devorah ch.1, middah 12)
R’ Aharon Dovid Goldberg shlita (see above) asks: If G-d shows favor to the
Patriarchs’ descendants because He took an oath to the Patriarchs, how is
that “mercy”? He answers: The fact that Hashem took the oath in the first
place demonstrates His mercy, because it shows that He was willing to
overlook the sins of the descendants so that the Patriarchs would not feel
shame or pain.
R’ Goldberg continues: Although Remak says that Hashem gives “gifts for
nothing,” he means only that the recipients of the gifts have done nothing
to merit those gifts. However, the merit of the Patriarchs does “pay” for
those gifts. Were this not the case, then Hashem would be a “vatran” / one
who overlooks bad deeds, and our Sages tell us that it is forbidden to say
that Hashem is a vatran. (Ve’halachta B’drachav al Tomer Devorah p.88)
R’ Avraham Abele Gombiner z”l (Poland; 1635-1683) cites the following
halachic ruling of R’ Shlomo Luria z”l (Maharshal; 1510-1573): One should
never say, “I have more than I deserve,” because then he is calling G-d a
vatran. Rather, one should say, “I have more than I would deserve were it
not for the fact that the merit of the Patriarchs assists me.”
R’ Gombiner disagrees. He writes: It appears to me that Hashem may give
more generously than a person deserves without overlooking the person’s
sins. Rather, He is patient and delays punishment. (Magen Avraham 156:1)
R’ Mordechai Scheinberger shlita (Yerushalayim) notes that Hashem’s mercy is
not unconditional. Rather, as quoted above, Remak writes: “I will lead them
*until they find their correction*.” G-d’s mercy is predicated on the
assumption that the recipients will, eventually, repent to some degree.
(Va’yomer Moshe al Tomer Devorah p.83)
“Beware of what I command you today . . .” (34:11)
The verses that follow repeat a series of laws that were taught in Parashat
Mishpatim, which we read only three weeks ago. Why?
R’ Chaim Kanievsky shlita (Bnei Brak, Israel) explains: The Gemara (Eruvin
54a) teaches that, if not for Moshe’s breaking the Luchot, one would never
forget his Torah learning. Therefore, in our parashah, after the breaking
of the Luchot, the Torah teaches the importance of review as an aid to
memory. (Ta’ama D’kra)
The “Little” Purim
If this year were not a leap year on the Jewish calendar, this Friday and
Shabbat, the 14th and 15th of Adar, would have been Purim and Shushan Purim,
respectively. Instead, these days are known as Purim Kattan / “Little
Purim,” while the actual holiday will be observed one month from now. The
custom is that certain signs of joy are observed on the two days of Purim
Kattan as on the two days of Purim; for example, tachanun--and on Shabbat,
“Av Ha’rachamim--is not recited and eulogies are not delivered.
Why do we mark these days which, after all, are not Purim? R’ Mordechai
Menashe Zilber shlita (Stutchiner Rebbe in Brooklyn, N.Y.) explains:
We read in Megillat Esther (9:26), “That is why they called these days
‘Purim’ from the word ‘pur’ / ‘lottery’.” However, “pur” is singular, while
“Purim” is plural. Why? The answer is found in another verse (3:7), “He
cast a pur--that is, the lot--in the presence of Haman from *day to day*,
and from *month to month*.” In fact, R’ Zilber explains, there were two
lots--one, a lottery of *days*, to identify a propitious day on the *solar*
calendar to annihilate the Jews (G-d forbid), and the second, a lottery of
*months*, to identify a propitious day on the *lunar* calendar.
Miraculously, both lots--the “purim”--identified the same day, the 13th day
of the twelfth month [starting from Nissan], i.e., the month of Adar.
Why are there two months of Adar in some years? Because the Torah requires
that Pesach be observed in the spring. The beginning of spring, like all
the seasons, is determined by the sun. On the other hand, the fact that we
have months at all is a function of the lunar calendar. In most years, the
solar and lunar calendars roughly coincide, and we observe only one Purim.
In leap years, however, we separately acknowledge Purim’s place on the lunar
calendar (by observing Purim Kattan in the twelfth month) and its place on
the solar calendar (by observing Purim near the onset of spring). [The
Gemara explains that the “main” Purim is the second one so that we observe
the two holidays of redemption--Purim and Pesach--adjacent to each other.]
R’ Zilber adds: The Torah commands (Devarim 25:17-19), “Remember what Amalek
did to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt . . . You shall not
forget.” These verses state both an affirmative commandment (“Remember”)
and a negative commandment (“You shall not forget”). Amalek was an ancestor
of Haman, and Purim, the holiday associated with Haman’s defeat, also
includes both affirmative mitzvot (e.g., Megillah-reading, mishloach manot)
and negative mitzvot (e.g., not fasting or delivering eulogies). Purim
Kattan, however, has only negative mitzvot (e.g., not fasting or delivering
eulogies), paralleling the negative commandment, “You shall not forget.”
Purim Kattan, which is tied to the lunar calendar, falls twelve months after
last Purim, which parallels our Sages’ teaching that memory fades after
twelve months. [That is why mourning lasts twelve months.] (Gilyon Divrei
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