Weekly Vort For Parshas Ki Sisa: Shabbat Precedes the Building of the Mishkan,Did Moshe Not Believe What Hashem Told Him? And More
Parshas Ki Sisa:
Shabbat Precedes the Building of the Mishkan
By:Rabbi Berel Wein
The Torah reading of this week is naturally dominated by the description of the tragedy of the Golden Calf and its consequences. But the story of the Golden Calf in the parsha is preceded by teachings regarding the sanctity of the Shabat. The rabbis attributed the presence of this Shabat subject in the parsha as a further indication that even the construction of the Mishkan cannot take precedence over the sanctity of Shabat.
But there is another insight that is available here as well. The dangers of Golden Calves, false gods, apparently shining and enticing ideals that only lead to eventual disaster, is something that is always present in Jewish society. In our long history as a people there is a long list of Golden Calves that have led us astray and at great cost to us.
Paganism, Hellenism, false messianism, Marxism, secularism, nationalism, humanism and unbridled hedonism, just to identify some of these Golden Calves, have all exacted a terrible toll from us over our history. The Shabat and its holiness and its enforced withdrawal from the mundane and impious world have always stood as the bulwark of defense against these Golden Calves.
The Shabat is our first and strongest line of defense against the sea of falseness and evil that constantly threatens to engulf us. Without Shabat we are doomed and lost. With Shabat we are strong and eternal. There are not many things in history that are that simple to discern but the saving grace of Shabat for Jewish society is one of these really no-brainers.
This is why later in the Chumash in parshat Vayakhel the admonition regarding the laws of Shabat is again repeated in conjunction with a further review of the construction of the Mishkan. The Torah wishes to emphasize that short of human life itself, no cause no matter how seemingly noble takes precedence over the sanctity of the Shabat.
For all human causes, no matter how noble, contain dross with its gold. The Shabat in its eternity and God-given holiness is likened to the World to Come, eternal and everlasting. For many times in our rush to build, we destroy, and in our desire to accomplish great things we trample upon nobility and moral righteousness. The great sage, Baba ben Buta in the Talmud warned King Herod not to destroy the old until the new has already been erected.
The world oftentimes believes that the destruction of the old is somehow a necessary prerequisite to construct the new. The Torah comes to teach us that the old Shabat already observed by the People of Israel even before the granting of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai will definitely outlive and outperform the shiny new Golden Calf that is now being worshipped so avidly.
Golden Calves come and go but the eternity of Shabat and Torah remain valid for all times and circumstances. This reflection is buttressed in the Torah by its repetition of the sanctity of Shabat many times in these parshiyot that mark the conclusion of the book of Shemot. Our Mishkan is built only with Shabat and never in contravention of Shabat.
“When you take a census of the Children of Israel…”(30:12)
A Community that Counts
By: Rabbi Zweig
The grouping together of certain laws or events in one parsha is indicative that a common idea or message is being expressed by this allocation. This week’s parsha begins with the census that was conducted in the desert. Since it is prohibited to count Jews by numbering them, the people were called upon to contribute a half-shekel each, which was subsequently tallied, thereby enabling the census to be completed in accordance with Halacha. The terminology used for the census is “Ki sisa”, which literally means “when you elevate”. What is uplifting about the notion of being counted?
The Torah then records the construction and function of the Laver which stood in the Courtyard of the Mishkan. This large copper basin was placed upon a stand, filled with water and used by the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet prior to performing the Service . The previous two parshios deal with the construction and function of the sacred Vessels. Why does the Torah delay the mentioning of the Laver and its base until this week’s parsha?
The chapter concludes with Moshe being instructed to formulate the compound of spices necessary for anointing the Kohanim, the Mishkan and the Vessels and the “Ketores” – “incense”, a separate compound, composed of fragrant spices to be burnt twice daily on the Golden Altar . The construction of the Golden Altar is recorded in last week’s parsha . Why does the Torah separate the formulation of the Ketores from the construction of the Golden Altar? What is the unifying thread between all of the activities in this week’s parsha?
The Torah records eleven ingredients that were offered on the Golden Altar twice daily. Among the spices listed is galbanum which has a foul aroma . From this the Talmud derives that a community is obligated to include sinners in its prayers . This is the source for the widely accepted custom instituted by Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg that prior to the onset of the Yom Kippur service, a formal declaration is proclaimed permitting all sinners to join with us in prayer . What insight can be gleaned from this requirement?
This census, the first conducted by the Jewish people, reflects the notion that we had achieved the necessary critical mass to be defined as a community. Being counted as a community meant that we had been elevated from individuals who required the infrastructure and support systems of others, to a self-sufficient unit with the ability to retain its own identity and ensure its survival and continuity. While the previous two parshios deal with the erecting of the Mishkan in our midst, Parshas Ki Sisa addresses our becoming a community.
Although many of the vessels contained copper which was donated by the general populous, the Torah specifically identifies that the Laver was made exclusively from the polished copper mirrors contributed by the women . Moshe was reluctant to accept these mirrors, deeming it inappropriate to construct a sacred vessel from items that were used to elicit lust, but Hashem revealed to Moshe that it was these very mirrors that were instrumental in ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. Returning from the back-breaking labor inflicted upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters, the Jewish men were too exhausted to engage in marital relations. Fearing for the survival of the nation, the women used these mirrors to make themselves desirous in their husbands’ eyes, thereby guaranteeing the continuity of the Jewish people. Therefore, Hashem told Moshe that there cannot be a more befitting contribution for the Laver . All the other gifts are recorded as being given on an individual basis, yet the mirrors were given as a group, “asher tzavu” – “that gathered together”, for they were given with a sense of community . These women who understood the importance of ensuring the survival of the Jewish nation offered their contributions with the same communal sensitivity. The Laver, therefore, represents the importance of preserving Jewish continuity and symbolizes the efforts required to enable the formation of Jewish communal life. Consequently, its construction appears in Parshas Ki Sisa and not together with the construction of the other holy Vessels.
Including the foul-smelling galbanum in the Ketores defines for us the requirements of a community. A Jewish community can only be referred to as a community if there is no segment being excluded. As a community, we have a responsibility to focus upon the needs and welfare of each individual, not just those who share common ideologies and interests with us. If we segment ourselves and become polarized we transform from a community into a cult. It is therefore a prerequisite on Yom Kippur eve, prior to receiving our communal atonement, to declare that we are gathered together to pray with all members of the Jewish community, none being excluded. Excluding any member would prevent us from being afforded the special dispensations of atonement that are granted exclusively to a community.
Whereas the Laver represents the sociological aspects of community such as Jewish continuity and self-preservation, the Ketores reflects the manner in which the individuals within the community should relate to one another. Both the Laver and the Ketores are recorded in Ki Sisa, the parsha in which we are counted as a community, for they represent the integral elements that contribute to and define the Jewish community.
1.30:17 2.30:34-38 3.30:1-10 4.30:34 5.Kerisos 6b 6.See the introduction to Ma’ariv prayer 7.37:8 8.See Rashi ibid, Tanchuma Pekudei 9 9.37:7
Did Moshe Not Believe What Hashem Told Him?
By: Rabbi Yissocher Frand
Parshas Ki Sisa contains one of the most tragic events in all of Chumash – the sin of the Golden Calf. Chazal say that the reason why the Jews sinned here was only to demonstrate the path of repentance to the masses (of future generations). In this narrative, we learn the theme of how to do Teshuva.
The Nesivos Shalom (the Slonimer Rebbe) asks an interesting question. G-d told Moshe “Go, descend – for your nation that you have brought up from Egypt has degenerated. They have strayed quickly from the way that I have commanded them; they have made themselves a molten calf; prostrated themselves to it and sacrificed to it, and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.'” [Shmos 32:7-8] Moshe descends, sees the people dancing around the Calf and then breaks the Luchos with the Ten Commandments.
The Slonimer Rebbe asks – why did Moshe wait until he saw for himself that the Jewish people were worshipping an idol? G-d already told him what they were doing. What more testimony did Moshe need? Did he not believe G-d that he had to witness their crime with his own eyes before taking the action of breaking the Luchos?
The Slonimer Rebbe answers that Moshe Rabbeinu’s action teaches us something that is really the key to Teshuva. Most of the time, when a person sins, there is something called guilt. Guilt is the first step to repentance. As long as one feels bad about what he has done, there is the strong hope that he will amend his ways in the future. “One who does a sin and is embarrassed by it, G-d will forgive him”. [Brachos 12b]
Moshe believed G-d that the Jews made an idol and thereby sinned grievously, but he was hoping that at least they had remorse for their actions. That would have allowed them to take the next steps towards repentance. It was only when Moshe descended from the mountain top and saw them dancing ecstatically around the Golden Calf that he realized that t hey had no pangs of guilt or any second thoughts about what they had done. Then he knew that drastic measures were called for and it was only at that point that decided to break the Luchos containing the Ten Commandments.
Quote Of The Week:
“our days will be increased if we perform the mitzvos”
R’ Moshe was once running out of his apartment to perform a mitzvah when his wife protested, exclaiming “You are hurting your health.” R’ Moshe stood still and said, “The Torah says that our days will be increased if we perform the mitzvos. This will improve my health, not harm it.”
The Torah commands us to love our fellow Jew like we love ourselves
“In another few weeks it will be 10,000 days since Jonathan began his sentence. Daven for Yehonatan Halevi Ben Malka. Please say Tehillim 121 daily in his merit. Call President Obama to request his release at 202-456-1414
Saving Jonathan Pollard is our obligation, the mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim. We must stand united to end this travesty of justice!
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Filed Under: Torah
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