Parashat Ki Tisa

Stiff – necked People

I have seen this people and behold! It is a stiff-necked people. (32:9) 

The severity of the chet ha’eigel – sin of the Golden Calf is beyond description. It represents an shocking rebellion against Hashem, a sin for which we still are paying for to this very day. One would think that after Hashem related to Moshe Rabbeinu the sequence of events leading up to the sin, He would have addressed the bad sin which the people so obviously committed. Idol worship immediately after receiving the Torah was an unpardonable sin. Yet, all Hashem says is that Klal Yisroel is an am kshei oref – stiff-necked people. Is this why Hashem is prepared to destroy the entire nation; due to their self-asserting, down-to-earth nature? Being stiff-necked is certainly not a positive character trait but can it be the most important attribute in describing the sin of the Golden Calf?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, ZT”L, explains that kshei oref is actually an extension of the sin of the Golden Calf. Rashi defines kshei oref as, “They turn their neck against those who rebuke them and (thus) refuse to listen.” This is quite possibly why they killed Chur when he attempted to reprove and stop them from continuing their descent to spiritual oblivion. Therefore, he explains that the actual sin was creating and worshipping the Golden Calf. However, it was their refusal to listen to reason, to accept responsibility, by continuing to justify their despicable sin that caused their punishment.

We must realize that sin is an indication of error, of weakness and of a spiritual falling out. The justification which follows the sin however, the qualifying of the sin, the lying to and degrading of those who only want to help, actually causes the punishment. This is similar to transforming the sin into a rebellion against Hashem. This does not chas v’shalom – Heaven forbid in any way gloss over the sin; it is only a perspective on the punishment that follows. We all make mistakes; we all have our weak moments but to transform them into ideologies, to rebuff and abuse those who would help us return, is the ultimate chutzpah. It is kshei oref for which there is no put up with.

The first step following a spiritual fall is to admit that one has sinned; not to blame it on the whole world, as many do. I just read the expose of a young, previously Chassidic woman who left the fold. She rages and talk wildly about everyone, her parents, teachers, Rav, friends, etc. At no time does she admit in any way that she might be wrong. She projects blame on others, as a means for justifying her crude behavior. Parents are the first scapegoats, followed by the system. It is never the individual who executed the sin. This is why the sin of the Golden Calf still haunts us to this very day. We are still qualifying our terrible behavior, refusing to accept the responsibility, to listen to reason, to talk it out. Why? Because that would mean admitting that we might be wrong. This is where our kshei oref kicks in, preventing us from accepting responsibility for our terrible behavior.

Sources: Peninim on the Torah


something to think about

This week’s parsha discusses the copper basin that the Kohanim used to wash their hands and feet before performing the daily Temple service. We might wonder why the basin is first introduced in this parsha, when last week’s parsha discussed all of the other vessels and utensils used in the Temple. Why is the basin mentioned separately?

One of the themes of this parsha is that “God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye” (based on Midrash – Yalkut Shemoni, Netzavim #960). This lesson is seen in the primary story of the parsha, the Golden Calf. After this incident, God is so angry at the Jewish people that He actually says, “I will destroy them” (Exodus 32:10). Yet, a mere four verses later, the Torah tells us, “God was appeased regarding the evil He said He would do to His nation” (Exodus 32:14). Even when the Jewish people participated in blatant idolatry, God was willing to spare them from destruction!

We see from this extreme example that, no matter how far we’ve fallen or how impure we feel we’ve become, there is always a second chance. God can save people at a moment’s notice. Thus, we have no reason ever to despair or be distraught, since salvation is right around the corner.

The two components of the copper basin suggest this lesson as well. The inside of the basin contains water. The Slonimer Rebbe compares water to teshuva, based on the verse, “I will sprinkle upon them purifying waters” (Ezekiel 36:25). Water is often associated with purity, and the ability to be cleansed from past mistakes.

The Noam Elimelech discusses the second element of the basin: the copper exterior (Exodus 30:18). The Hebrew word for copper, nechoshet, shares a linguistic root with the word nachash, meaning “snake.” The snake is often compared to the yetzer hara (inclination toward negativity), since the snake in the Garden of Eden was the original embodiment of evil.

These two contrasting elements of the basin suggest an important message. A person approaching the basin first touches the copper (nechoshet), recalling impurity and evil. But right behind that copper wall is a source of clean, purifying water, ready to wash away past mistakes! In other words, even if a person has been bitten (nashach) by the nachash (yetzer hara) and has succumbed to the temptations of negativity, nevertheless, “God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye.”

Perhaps this is one reason that the basin is discussed separately from all the other Temple vessels. This parsha, which discusses God’s instantaneous salvation of the Jewish people after the Golden Calf, is a fitting place to mention the basin. It is two components, water and copper, show us that the source of purity and healing can cleanse us from darkness at a moment’s notice.

May we all be blessed with awareness of this lesson, so that even if we have weakened, we do not allow ourselves to slip into despair or depression, but instead remember that salvation can come at the blink of an eye. In this merit, may we soon deserve to see the building of the Temple and the reinstitution of the basin, to cleanse and lift us to the highest of levels.

15 Steps To Freedom

Passover is the time when each Jew embarks on a personal journey from slavery to freedom. In order to guide us in our quest, the Sages carefully wrote a book outlining 15 steps to freedom. It’s called the hagada. The Sages say that Passover occurs on the 15th of Nissan (the Jewish month), to teach us that just as the moon waxes for 15 days, so too our growth must be in 15 gradual steps. Think of these as 15 pieces of the Passover puzzle. Assemble them all and you’ve got freedom!

1. Kadesh

To begin the Seder, we make kiddush and sanctify the day. The word “kiddush” means special and unique. The first step to personal freedom is to recognize that you are special. You have a distinct combination of talents, skills and experiences that qualifies you to make a unique contribution to the world. In Egypt, the Jews were forced to build the store-cities of Pithom and Ramses. Why was this tortuous labor? Because these cities rested on swamp-land, and every time the Jews built one level, it sunk into the ground. Slavery is a life with no accomplishment, no achievement, and no meaning. On Passover, we begin our journey toward personal freedom by asking: What is humanity’s biggest need? What can I contribute most profoundly to nurture and protect the world? And… what am I going to do about it?

2. Urchatz

“Why do we wash our hands at this point in this Seder?” the Talmud asks. “Because it is an unusual activity which prompts the children to ask questions.” The very name hagada means “telling,” for the goal of the Seder is to arouse curious questions, and satisfying answers. We’ve all felt the sense of awe upon meeting a fascinating person, or reading an enlightening new book. But as adults we may become enslaved by the idea that it’s more sophisticated to “know it all.” Passover teaches that to be truly free we must approach life with child-like wonderment. “Who is the wise person?” asks the Talmud. “The one who learns from everyone.” Passover is the holiday of springtime, joy and renewal. That’s why the Seder is filled with unusual activities. Be curious. Be a student of life. Be free.


simcha corner

The $50 lesson…..

Recently, while I was working in the flower beds in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they returned home from walking their dog.

During our friendly conversation, I asked their 12 year old daughter what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day.

Both of her parents – liberal Democrats – were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?”

She replied, “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.”

Her parents beamed with pride!

“Wow…what a worthy goal!” I said. “But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that!” I told her.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

So I told her, “You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I’ll pay you $50. Then you can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.”

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?”

I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.”

Her parents aren’t speaking to me.

Parsha Summary 

First Aliyah: G‑d commands Moshe to take a census of the Jewish adult male population by collecting an atonement offering of half a silver shekel from each individual. The collected silver was melted down, and was made into sockets for the beams of the Tabernacle. G‑d instructs Moshe to make a copper washstand for the Tabernacle. The priests would use this laver to wash their hands and feet before their service. G‑d tells Moshe the recipe for making holy “anointing oil.” This oil, which was prepared with various aromatic herbs and fine spices, was used to anoint and sanctify the Tabernacle, its vessels, and Aaron and his sons. The remainder of the oil was put aside, and was used to anoint kings and high priests of future generations. G‑d also gives Moshe the formula for the incense which was offered twice-daily in the Tabernacle. The duplication of the anointing oil or incense for personal use is prohibited. G‑d imbues Bezalel with wisdom, and appoints him to be the chief craftsman of the Tabernacle and its contents. G‑d appoints Oholiav as his assistant. This lengthy aliyah concludes with G‑d telling the Jewish people to observe the Shabbat, the eternal sign between Him and the Children of Israel.

Second Aliyah: After G‑d revealed Himself to the entire nation at Mount Sinai and told them the Ten Commandments, Moshe ascended the mountain where he remained for forty days. There he was to study the Torah and receive the Tablets. The Jews miscalculate when Moshe is supposed to return, and when he doesn’t appear on the day when they anticipate him, they grow impatient and demand of Aaron to make for them a new god. Aaron cooperates, all along intending to postpone and buy time until Moshe’ return, but despite his efforts, a Golden Calf emerges from the flames. The festivities and sacrifices start early next morning. Moshe pleads with an incensed G‑d to forgive the Jews’ sin. G‑d acquiesces and relents from His plan to wipe out the Jews. Moshe comes down with the Tablets, sees the idolatrous revelry, and breaks the Tablets. Moshe enlists the Tribe of Levi to punish the primary offenders. Three thousand idol worshippers are executed on that day. Moshe ascends Mount Sinai again, in an attempt to gain complete atonement for the sin. G‑d tells Moshe to lead the Jews towards the Promised Land, but insists that He won’t be leading them personally; instead an angel will be dispatched to lead them. Seeing G‑d’s displeasure with the Jews, Moshe takes his own tent and pitches it outside the Israelite encampment. This tent becomes the center of study and spirituality until the Tabernacle is inaugurated.

Third Aliyah: Moshe asks G‑d to reconsider the matter of the angel leading them. G‑d reconsiders, and agrees to lead them Himself again. Moshe then requests that G‑d’s presence never manifest itself on any other nation other than the Jews.

Fourth Aliyah: G‑d’s agrees to Moshe’ request that His presence only dwell amongst the Jews. Moshe requests to be shown G‑d’s glory. G‑d agrees, but informs Moshe that he will only be shown G‑d’s “back,” not G‑d’s “face.”

Fifth Aliyah: G‑d tells Moshe to carve new tablets upon which G‑d will engrave the Ten Commandments. Moshe takes the new tablets up to Mt. Sinai, where G‑d reveals His glory to Moshe while proclaiming His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

Sixth Aliyah: G‑d seals a covenant with Moshe, assuring him again that His presence will only dwell with the Jews. G‑d informs the Jewish people that He will drive the Canaanites from before them. He instructs them to destroy all vestiges of idolatry from the land, and to refrain from making any covenants with its current inhabitants. The Jews are then commanded not to make molten gods, to observe the three festivals, not to eat chametz on Passover, to sanctify male firstborn humans and cattle, and not to cook meat together with milk.

Seventh Aliyah: Moshe descends Mount Sinai with the second tablets, and unbeknownst to him beams of light were projecting off his face. Aaron and the people are originally afraid of him. Moshe teaches the people the Torah he studied on the mountain. Moshe wears a veil on his face from that time on, but removes it when speaking to G‑d and when repeating G‑d’s words to the people.