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by Fred Toczek
A survey of parsha thoughts from Gedolei
Yisroel compiled by Fred Toczek. Perfect for printing and
use at your Shabbos tisch.
A. A Census Is Taken. A census
was taken of male Israelites over the age of twenty (who were liable for
military service), in connection with which each man was to make a token
payment of a half-shekel of silver to be used for the construction of
B. Details of the Sanctuary.
Aharon and his sons were told to make a brass laver to be used as a
washing basin, which laver was to stand in the Court between the altar
of the burnt offering and the entrance to the Sanctuary. Oil from four
prescribed aromatic herbs mixed with olive oil was to be used to anoint
the priests and vessels, and incense made from selected sweet spices was
to be prepared for sacred use. Betzalel and Oholiav were Divinely chosen
to supervise construction of the Sanctuary. Despite the importance of
this task, the Jews were reminded to cease all work on Shabbos.
C. The Golden Calf ("Eigel HaZohav").
Moshe had been on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights and the
people, fearing that he wouldn't return, clamored for a visible object
which they could worship. They persuaded Aharon and his sons to build a
Golden Calf from their jewelry. The people brought offerings to, and
sang and danced around, the Golden Calf. Hashem was angered at this
display of heresy, and He sent Moshe down from the Mountain, informing
him of the Israelites' sin and vowing to destroy them. Moshe entreated
Hashem to be merciful and not give the Egyptians the opportunity to
gloat over the Israelites' misfortune, but instead to remember His
eternal covenant with the Patriarchs. On hearing this plea, Hashem
agreed to give them another chance.
D. Moshe Destroys The Tablets.
Descending from the Mountain on the 17th of Tammuz with the two tablets
of the law engraved by Hashem on stone, Moshe witnessed the Jews' heresy
with the Golden Calf and threw the tablets to the ground in disgust.
Moshe then destroyed the Golden Calf by burning it, grounding it into
powder and throwing it into a stream (from which he made the Jews
drink). He rebuked Aharon, who responded that he had been forced to
carry out the people's demands. Moshe then called upon all of his
supporters to rally around him; the Levites (none of whom, according to
Da'as Z'Keinim, had participated in the Golden Calf) responded
immediately and, at Moshe's command, slew about 3,000 leaders of the
revolt (less than .001% of the 3 million people).
E. Moshe pleads for Hashem's Mercy.
Moshe's love and compassion for his people led him to implore Hashem
to forgive them, for if they were destroyed he had no desire to live.
Hashem responded that only those who willfully sinned would be
destroyed, but, in view of Moshe's interceding on their behalf, the
remainder of the people would be escorted (by Hashem's messenger, not
Hashem Himself) into Israel. Upon hearing of Hashem's disapproval, The
Jews mourned and removed their ornaments as a sign of grief.
F. Moshe Pitches His Tent Outside
the Camp. Moshe pitched his tent outside the camp which had been
defiled by the Golden Calf. In intimate communication with Hashem, he
asked for a revelation of the Divine attributes to assist him in leading
the people. Hashem reassured him that He would be merciful and lead the
people into Eretz Yisroel, for Moshe had personally found favor in His
eyes. In reply to a further request that he be able to behold the Divine
Glory, Moshe was told that no mortal could see Hashem and live.
Nevertheless, Moshe was allowed a glimpse of the Divine Radiance from
behind a cleft in the mountain rock.
G. Moshe Ascends Mt. Sinai.
Once again, Moshe ascended the Mountain alone, carrying with him the two
new tablets he had been commanded to prepare. Hashem descended in a
cloud, revealed Himself and renewed His covenant with Israel by
repeating the chief commandments previously given (e.g., the prohibition
against idolatry, the commandment to observe the Festivals and Shabbos,
etc.). Hashem Himself inscribed the Ten Commandments on the two tablets,
while Moshe recorded the contents of the renewed covenant. After an
additional forty days and forty nights on the Mountain, during which he
abstained from all food and drink, Moshe again descended the Mountain
and returned to the camp. His face shone with a Divine glow and he
communicated Hashem's words to Aharon, the Elders and then the entire
assembly. After he had finished speaking, Moshe covered his radiant face
with a veil. Thereafter, he removed it only when he entered Hashem's
Divine presence or when he delivered his message to the people.
II. Divrei Torah
A. Lil'Mode U'lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
1. The Census. Why was a "half"
shekel used? According to Rambam, this teaches us that no Jew is
complete when alone -- a Jew can only reach the ultimate spiritual
heights when he/she associates and cooperates with fellow Jews.
2. The Golden Calf. After all of
the miracles (the 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, etc.), how
could the Jews have committed this sin? The Jews were prompted by a
miscalculation regarding which day the 40 days and 40 nights commenced
(i.e., the Jews erroneously believed that the day Moshe left counted as
the first day).
B. Living Each Day (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
The Golden Calf. R' Chaim
Shmulevitz explains that the above miscalculation led to a momentary
period of confusion and depression -- since the Exodus, they had been
under Moshe's constant leadership; his guidance and direct communication
with Hashem gave them stability and certainty. When they feared that
Moshe wasn't returning, they panicked, leading them to build the Golden
Calf. This teaches us that we must be particularly alert during moments
of confusion and depression in our lives, since we can be vulnerable to
mistakes and errors in judgment.
C. Artscroll Chumash
1. The Half Shekel.
a. Israel's status is elevated by
contribution to charitable causes; this is why they were counted by
having the nation join in contributing to a sacred cause.
b. The equal participation of
the entire nation symbolizes that all Jews must share in achieving the
national goals; by "passing through" the census, they (and we) are
required to forsake our own selfish interests for the collective good.
c. The half-shekel contribution is also mentioned as "atonement
for your souls", which symbolizes the great power in the unity of a
nation striving toward a common goal; when everyone joins in a
constructive cause, the spiritual merits of all the individuals become
merged so that their personal attainments come together to assist one
2. Toiling in Torah. Rashi notes
that while Hashem taught Moshe the Torah throughout the 40 days and 40
nights he was on Mt. Sinai, he constantly forgot it. Finally, Hashem
gave him the Tablets as a gift; if it was impossible for someone even as
great as Moshe to absorb the entire Torah, why didn't Hashem give him
the Tablets at the outset, rather than forcing him to toil for 40
days/40 nights? Chiddushei Harim explains that the Torah can only be
understood with Hashem's help, but that He only gives such assistance
after someone has tried his/her utmost to master it on his/her own.
Thus, Moshe earned the Divine gift by means of his effort.
D. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David
The Half-Shekel. Why was each
man commanded to give exactly one half-shekel? Just because people serve
Hashem and the community in different capacities doesn't mean that one
necessarily contributes more than the other. Hashem doesn't look at the
total hours spend in service of Him, but how much of an individual's
available time is devoted to service of Hashem and the sincerity with
which one serves Him. Thus, everyone who serves Hashem to the utmost of
their ability stand as equals before Hashem.
E. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Having peace of mind on Shabbos
requiring mastering your negative traits. "Six days work shall be
done, and on the seventh day it should be a complete rest sacred to the
Almighty." Rashi comments that a "complete rest" entails changing (not
merely controlling) one's negative traits and emotions (e.g., worry,
temper, anger, etc.) and striving to master positive attitudes and
approaches which are conducive to peaceful relationships with others.
This ideal is illustrated by the following story: One Friday night, a
cop came to R' Yaakov Yosef Herman's house to inform him that he should
go immediately to his store, which was ablaze. R' Yaakov thanked him for
the message, but explained that he couldn't since it was Shabbos. The
entire Shabbos, R' Yaakov showed no anxiety. After Shabbos ended (and he
finished an unhurried havdalah), he went to his store, expecting to see
it in shambles; instead, his store was in tact and it was the adjoining
store which had been destroyed (All For The Boss).
2. When you make a mistake be flexible enough to admit it and improve
yourself. "And Hashem said to Moshe, I have seen this people and
they are a stiff-necked people". R' Simcha Zissel comments that despite
the enormity of the sin of the Golden Calf, the main fault cited by
Hashem is that the Jewish people were "stiff-necked" (i.e. that they
lacked the flexibility to admit their error). When someone is flexible,
he/she will be able to regret and make amends for their mistakes, and
F. Wellsprings of Torah (Rabbi Alexander
1. The Shabbos. "To observe the
shabbos throughout their generations . . . ". The Hebrew word le-dorotham
("throughout their generations") is spelled without the vav; hence, it
may be read le-dirotham ("throughout their dwelling places"). When
Shabbos enters and the dwelling place of the Jewish home is ready to
receive it, the Divine Presence says "I will dwell here with you." (Yalkut
2. Understanding life events. "
. . . and thou shall see My Back, but My Face shall not be seen." An
alternative reading: " . . . and thou shall see My Ways" afterwards, but
they shall not be seen before. Frequently, we don't understand the
purpose of certain events in our lives when they occur. Only afterwards,
with the passage of time, do the meaning of these events and the purpose
of Providence in bringing them to pass become clear. (Torat Moshe)
G. Darash Moshe (Rav Moshe Feinstein, z'tl)
The Second Set of Tablets.
"Carve for yourself two tablets of stone." Why did Moshe have to hew the
second tablets himself before Hashem wrote on them, while the first
tablets were made entirely by Hashem, both the carving and the
inscription? To answer this, we must first understand why the Jews
sinned with the Golden Calf, causing the destruction of the first
tablets and necessitating the second set. They believed that since the
first tablets, which contained the essence of the Torah and had been
given at Mt. Sinai, was totally Hashem's work, it would be impossible
for humans by themselves to understand the depths of Torah without the
supernatural powers. Therefore, they built the Golden Calf in the
erroneous belief that by serving it they could come closer to Hashem and
achieve a deeper understanding of His Torah. As long as Moshe was with
them, they relied on him to teach them Torah and bring them closer to
Hashem. Now that they thought he was dead, they felt compelled to look
for other forces to fill the void, and so they made the Calf. The truth
is, however, that the Torah was intended for mortals to understand
directly with their own powers, without resorting to supernatural
intermediaries and it is in our hands to achieve the most lofty level of
Torah solely with our own powers. Thus, Hashem wanted the second tablets
to be as much as possible the work of Moshe, to show the people that
they too could achieve everything that was in their own power to
achieve. If we only make the effort, Hashem will help us understand His
Torah and to reach the highest levels it holds for us. In Malachai 3:22,
the prophet called the Torah the "Torah of Moshe," the Torah which was
given through humans and intended for humans to fathom with their own
H. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A. L.
1. A Stiff-necked People. The
Israelites are referred to as a "stiff-necked people". This reference
can also be viewed as a blessing in disguise. By being "stiff-necked,"
we have been able to muster the moral challenge to maintain our faith in
Hashem, despite the pain and suffering which have accompanied us
throughout history. We have continued to hold our heads up high.
2. The Inner Voice. "And Moshe
stood in the gate of the camp, and he said Whoever is with Hashem should
come to me!'" The Chofetz Chaim taught that there is a lesson to learn
from Moshe's call to the people. Every Jew has moments in which he hears
that inner voice call out "come to me!" -- to go forward and act for
Torah, to do a mitzvah. Listen when you hear that sound, and respond
immediately while the opportunity is still there and while the plaintive
cry is still reverberating inside of you.