In parshas Eikev Moshe recounts the tragic story of the Golden Calf (Eigel
Ha-zahav). Moshe had just received the two Tablets (Luchos), carved by
Hashem, upon which He had inscribed the Ten Commandments. Hashem
then tells Moshe what the Jews are up to, and he is forced to leave in
a hurry (he had been in Heaven 40 days and nights without food or
drink). Upon witnessing their rejoicing and merriment as they danced
around the Golden Calf, Moshe casts the Luchos down and breaks them -
not out of anger but because he felt they no longer deserved them - an
act for which Hashem ultimately gives him His approval (Shabbos 87a).
Moshe prays for their forgiveness for forty days and nights, and it is
granted. The Torah then writes, "At that time, Hashem said to me,
'Carve for yourself two stone Tablets, like the first ones, and ascend to
Me on the mountain... and I will inscribe on the Tablets the words that
were on the first Tablets that you shattered. (10:1-2)"
Note that these Tablets were not made by Hashem, but rather carved
by Moshe. Rashi (Shemos/Exodus 34:1) comments on the unusual use of
the reflexive, "Carve (in Hebrew p'sol) for yourself," that Hashem is
alluding to Moshe that the "leftovers" or scrapings of the carved stones
(p'soles in Hebrew), which were made of sanpirinon, an extremely
valuable gem, were to be Moshe's property, and it was from this that
Moshe became rich.
If the Jews had not sinned, and the first Luchos were never broken, then
all this would not have taken place, and Moshe would not have become
wealthy. Why is it that Moshe was indirectly "rewarded" as a result of
the sin of the Calf?
The Gemara (Nedarim 32b) concludes that if one made a vow (neder) not
to receive any form of pleasure from someone, he is still allowed to walk
through his field, because people generally don't care if other people
walk across their property (lo kapdei inshei). What does it make a
difference if people care or not? The Ran (ibid.) explains that since the
vow specified that he would not derive pleasure from him, things which
people aren't particular about are excluded, because something about
which people aren't particular isn't called having pleasure.
The Turei Even (Megillah 8a) asks that the Gemara forbids sitting in the
shade of an idolatrous tree (Asheira), or in the shade of the Holy Temple
(Heichal), because it is forbidden to derive pleasure from them - even
though people are normally not particular whether one uses their shade!
He therefore explains that the scope of a vow depends on what the
person making the vow had in mind, and we assume that he never
intended to forbid something that people don't normally make an issue
about. Apparently the Ran differentiates between what is defined as
"pleasure" with regard to vows, as opposed to what is pleasure vis-a-vis
idolatry or consecrated items (see Darchei David in Nedarim).
At any rate, from the Ran's opinion an exceptional concept emerges:
Something that we're not particular about does not have any value. Applying
the same logic to the metaphysical: The value of our Torah and mitzvos
depends on how particular we are about them. If we approach mitzvos
with indifference, aren't we really saying that they are of little value to
us? If, by contrast, we approach Torah observance with the greatest
care, concern, and meticulousness, it is an indication of how precious and
priceless they are.
The Gemara (Chullin 87a) tells the story of a person who slaughtered an
animal, and someone else came along and covered up its blood before
he had a chance to do so (it is a mitzvah to cover the blood of a
slaughtered animal). Rabban Gamliel obligated him to pay 10 golden coins
for "stealing" the mitzvah from the slaughterer.
The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Ha-mishpat 382:1) records two opinions as
to how this law is to be interpreted: Some say that in all cases where
one seizes someone else's mitzvah the payment is ten gulden. Others say
that in each case, the judges (dayanim) must decide the subjective worth
of that mitzvah.
How are they to decide the worth of the stolen mitzvah? The S'ma
writes (ibid.): It all depends on the person who was precluded from
doing the mitzvah: If he is a person who is particular about his mitzvos,
and goes to great lengths to do a mitzvah completely and meticulously,
then the punishment should be appropriately costly! If he is a person
who is apathetic in performing mitzvos, and doesn't mind "getting out" of
a mitzvah every once-in-a-while, then the penalty should be reduced. (R'
Chaim Kaufman shlita)
How much is a mitzvah be worth to us? Would we be more upset if
someone else gave our neighbour a ride home, or if they chapped our
parking space? Would it bother us more if we missed answering amen on
a beracha, or if we missed a great sale at the supermarket? We may
reflexively reply that a mitzvah is worth more to us than anything in the
world - "They are more desirable than gold, than even the finest paz;
sweeter than honey, than dripping from the combs (Tehillim/Psalms
19:11)" - but it is not our words nor our assertions that answer this
question, but our actions and reactions.
The Yismach Moshe (Balak) asks why Moshe didn't kill Zimri himself for
committing adultery with a Midianite woman, something which is
halachically correct (to kill the adulterer), yet we do not formally teach
it (halacha ve-ain morin kein). At least after Pinchas brought up the
halacha (he said to Moshe, "Moshe, our teacher, didn't you teach us,
when you descended from Har Sinai, that a zealot may kill one who
commits adultery with a pagan?"), why didn't Moshe, as the leader, take
the matter into his hands. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82a) quotes Moshe as
saying, "Let the one who read the letter complete the matter" -
apparently meaning: You (Pinchas) brought it up, you do it. What is the
logic behind this? And why did Pinchas point out that Moshe taught them
this halacha "when he descended from Sinai?" And how did Moshe teach
it to them in the first place?
Moshe, he writes, was one with the Torah. He was not a Torah scholar
in the simple sense; his dedication and total commitment to Torah study
were so great that he became a conduit for the Torah, and it was
because of this that the Torah was given through him, literally, to us.
There are 600,000 letters in the Torah, corresponding to the 600,000
souls that stood at Sinai. Each Jew is a letter in the Torah. When a Jew
sins, G-d forbid, he blemishes his letter in the Torah. Since Moshe was
one with the Torah, when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, they
diminished his connection to the Torah. This is why Rashi quotes
Hashem saying to Moshe after the sin of the Calf (Shemos 32:7), "Go
down - your greatness is only due to them!"
Since, at this point, Moshe's connection to the Torah had been severed,
he was able to teach the halacha of killing the adulterer to the Jews; at
any other time, he could not have taught it, because the Torah (Moshe)
does not teach this halacha. After they completely repented for the sin,
and Moshe received the second Tablets, he once again became unified
with the Torah, and thus it was impossible for him to do the deed. The
Torah is called a "letter" (see Megillah 19a). "The one from whom the
letter (i.e. the Torah) is read (that is - me!), can he do the deed?!" That
would be tantamount to the Torah teaching this halacha - which it is not
Moshe, it emerges, suffered 80 days during which his unity with the
Torah was severed as a result of their sinning. For Moshe, we can
imagine, this must have been a source of immeasurable pain. Since,
according to the first opinion in the Shulchan Aruch, one must be
compensated according to his love for a mitzvah, it is only appropriate
that Moshe receive the immeasurable wealth of the leftover gems from
which the Tables were carved.
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week's publication is sponsored by Mr. Hershey Weinberg, in
memory of his father, R' Meshulam Zalmen ben R' Yisrael Avraham z"l.