Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 March 2004 / 20 Adar I 5764

Parshat Ki Tisa

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Moshe conducts a census by counting each silver half-shekel donated by all men age twenty and over. Moshe is commanded to make a copper laver for the Mishkan. The women donate the necessary metal. The formula of the anointing oil is specified, and G-d instructs Moshe to use this oil only for dedicating the Mishkan, its vessels, Aharon and his sons. G-d selects Bezalel and Oholiav as master craftsmen for the Mishkan and its vessels. The Jewish People are commanded to keep the Sabbath as an eternal sign that G-d made the world. Moshe receives the two Tablets of Testimony on which are written the Ten Commandments. The mixed multitude who left Egypt with the Jewish People panic when Moshe's descent seems delayed, and force Aharon to make a golden calf for them to worship. Aharon stalls, trying to delay them. G-d tells Moshe to return to the people immediately, threatening to destroy everyone and build a new nation from Moshe. When Moshe sees the camp of idol-worship he smashes the tablets and he destroys the golden calf. The sons of Levi volunteer to punish the transgressors, executing 3,000 men. Moshe ascends the mountain to pray for forgiveness for the people, and G-d accepts his prayer. Moshe sets up the Mishkan and G-d's cloud of glory returns. Moshe asks G-d to show him the rules by which he conducts the world, but is granted only a small portion of this request. G-d tells Moshe to hew new tablets and reveals to him the text of the prayer that will invoke Divine mercy. Idol worship, intermarriage and the combination of milk and meat are prohibited. The laws of Pesach, the first-born, the first-fruits, Shabbat, Shavuot and Succot are taught. When Moshe descends with the second set of tablets, his face is luminous as a result of contact with the Divine.


Life In The Fast Lane

"They have made themselves a molten calf, prostrated themselves and sacrificed to it, and said This is your god, O Yisrael, which brought you up from the land of Egypt." (32:9)

Some stories make you want to laugh. Some make you want to cry. Some make you want to laugh and cry. And with some, you dont know whether to laugh or to cry. This story is one from the last category.

A saddening trend of recent years has been the not-insubstantial number of boys and girls from religious families who have gone "off the derech" (path of observance) and, to a greater or lesser degree, abandoned the Torah.

I have a friend who works here in Ohr Somayach, who told me of one such kid who said to him:

"I know Im going to do teshuva one day, cos my dad works in Kiruv (outreach). He works incredibly hard trying to bring people back to Judaism. It cant be that G-d would let him have a son who didnt come back!"

Whether he knew it or not, this young fellow was a distant echo of a two thousand-year old story:

The Talmud (Bava Kama, 50a) tells of the daughter of Nechunia "the cistern excavator" who fell into a huge pit. They came and informed Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, for everyone would come to him so that he would pray on their behalf.

They estimated that she could survive no longer than three hours in this pit. During the first hour he said, "All is well with her." In the second hour despite their mounting anxiety he said, "All is well." In the third hour, he said, "She has already come up out of the pit."

After her ordeal, they asked her who brought her up. She said that she had seen a ram with an old man leading it. The ram was the ram that took the place of Yitzchak when he was bound as a sacrifice, and the old man was Avraham Avinu.

They asked Rabbi Chanina how he could have known that she was safe. Was he a prophet? For how else could he have known that she had already emerged from the pit. He replied that he was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but since her father had put so much effort into digging cisterns for pilgrims to have water on the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it was inconceivable for him to be punished through a cistern.

"They have made themselves a molten calf, prostrated themselves and sacrificed to it, and said This is your god, O Yisrael, which brought you up from the land of Egypt." (32:9)

The generation that received the Torah were very righteous. For this reason G-d chose them to be the receivers of the Torah. How could have G-d allowed them to stumble and sin with the golden calf? They were not fit to make such an error. Why didnt He protect them from this disaster?

The Talmud (Rashi to Avoda Zara 4b) says that the only reason the Jewish People were allowed to sin was because it was the decree of the King. The Maharal explains that this decree was to bring into existence a reality very distant from this world called teshuva. Teshuva, a person returning to the status he once enjoyed before his transgression, is something that is above and beyond the world. Teshuva existed before the world (Pesachim 54b/Nedarim 39b). Teshuva is something above and essentially distant from the world and man. However, when the lead players in the history of man the generation that left Egypt stumbled with the golden calf, they opened the door of the world to teshuva. They hewed a spiritual "channel of return." A fast lane back to G-d that would always be open.

A channel that is still open for a young man who is convinced, as was Rabbi Chanina that G-d is not going to let a father down.

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