Ki sisa

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Parashat Ki Sisa

This week's sedra has it all:  Counting the Jews, the spices, incense, Shabbat, The Tablets, The Golden Calf, Moses' prayer, a SECOND set of tablets, a renewal of the covenant, and much more.  You really get your money's worth with this week's sedra.  So you can see why I had a hard time trying to pick what to start off with.  Bearing this in mind, I hope you won't mind if I only discuss a couple of these subjects and then move on to Purim.

We start off by the commandment of a census for all the Jews.  G-d did not tell us to count ourselves in an ordinary way, but rather that each person give a half shekel coin, after which the coins were counted.  Why do it this way?  Our Sages answer this by telling us that there is no blessing on something unless it remains uncounted (i.e. hidden), because G-d conceals His miracles.  For this reason, when one counts or measures something, and then asks G-d to bless it (such as crops) it is a prayer in vain.  An evil eye lurks over that which has been counted.  If the Jews would have actually counted the people, then as each person was counted individually, G-d would have seen his sins and would have killed him.  However, when the community is united, there are many good deeds between them, and one man protects the other.


This is a very important lesson in community life.  When one goes to pray in synagogue, the mere strength in numbers serves to help our prayers ascend to the Creator.  That is why it is so important to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 men).

Directly following the portion of the Shekalim, comes the section dealing with the commandment to make the kiyor (wash basin) for the Mishkan.  While the Shekalim hint at charity, the basin hints at the fact that one must wash his hands before eating.  This shows that the greatest of all merits lies in giving a poor man something to eat.

Also, one who does not give charity (like someone who doesn't wash his hands before eating) is destined to poverty.  On the other hand, one who washes his hands with a generous amount of water will be given great blessings.

One of the saddest events in the Torah is the sin of the Golden Calf, and Moses subsequently smashing the Tablets, which had been made by G-d Himself. Rabbenu Bechaye asks a question on this incident.  How could Moses possibly break the Tablets on his own, when they were G-d's holy writings?  Even though Israel had sinned and were not worthy of receiving them, he didn't have to break them.  He could have just given them back to G-d and awaited further instructions.

The answer is that Moses saw that the letters of the Tablets flew out of them.  The letters on the Tablets are likened to its 'soul', while the Tablets themselves are its body.  When the soul deserts the body, the body is ready for burial.  When Moses saw the letters fly off, he broke the Tablets.  Our Sages add that the Tablets became very heavy in Moses' hands after the letters flew off, just as a man becomes heavier after his death, when his soul departs.  Moses thought, "One who worships idols is forbidden to eat the Pesach sacrifice.  How much more, then, are they unworthy of receiving the Tablets, which contain with them all of the Torah."

After Moses' tremendous prayer to save the Jews, he was commanded by G-d to make another set of Tablets.  The gemara in Shabbos asks the question: Why was the first set of Tablets made by G-d Himself, and the second by Moses?  This can be answered by the following parable.  A master who went out on a sea voyage.  While there, he heard that his wife had been unfaithful to him, together with his maidservants.  A servant quickly tore up their ketuba (marriage contract) so that if their master, in his anger, would want to kill his wife, the servant could say, "Without a ketuba, she is not your wife."

When the master returned home, he found out that his wife hadn't been unfaithful, and only the maidservants were guilty.  The servant then told the master to write a new marriage contract, because the old one had been torn up.  "Write it yourself," said the master, "since you tore it up, and then I will sign it."  The master represents G-d, and the servant is Moses.  The wife is Israel, and the maidservants are the erev rav (the mixed multitude responsible for the Golden Calf).  TheTablets were the ketuba, which had to be re-made by Moses.

And now onto Purim.  Regarding this incredible festival, Maimonides goes out of his way and says something that he very rarely says in the entire Mishneh Torah (his famous work) - "one who gladdens the hearts 
of [poor people] can be compared to the Shechina (G-d's Divine Presence)"!  What is Maimonides telling us over here by saying that a person who makes the less fortunate happy on Purim is comparable to G-d?

Let us look to the Megilla for an answer.  The Midrash says that Mordechai explained the reason the Jews were suffering was a result of the grandson of `Karahu'.  Who is `Karahu'?  None other than our deadly 
foe Amalek.  Our Sages tell us that Amalek represents the antithesis of Belief in this world.  Amalek denies the existence of a Creator of the world.  When Mordechai told Esther that the Jews are suffering because 
of `Karahu', he was saying that the Jews were suffering because of a terrible, terrible, lack of emuna (belief).  This is a lack of belief that even in our own times we don't see.  What does this mean?  We have non-believing Jews today-are they greater `believers' than the Jews in the time of Mordechai and Esther?

The Talmud says that the reason the Jews were deserving of destruction, was that "they enjoyed the banquet of that evil one" [Megilla 12a].  What was so bad about partaking in the banquet of Ahashuerus?  Was it treif [non-kosher]? G-d forbid!  "The drinking was according to the law, nothing was forced" [Esther 1:8].  It was Glatt [unquestionably kosher].  It was Cholov Yisroel [supervised milk].  It was Yashan [Bread made from permitted grain].  It had all the hiddurim [done in best possible way].  So what was the sin?  The sin was that the Jews attended a Feast by the gentiles at which the gentiles took out the Vessels of Service (Klei Sharays) of the Beis Hamikdash and the Jews sat there and KEPT ON FEASTING!

Across the world there are Jews that have very little relationship, unfortunately, with Judaism.  But if they would go to even a non-Kosher meal and the hosts would take out vessels and say, "These are the utensils of the Holy Temple", which Jew would not react?  Which Jew would not get up and yell, "These are my utensils!  These are the vessels of our Beis Hamikdash!"?  The fact that the Jews in Shushan could sit there through a meal and use those vessels was a terrible sin!

What was wrong with them?  What was wrong with those Jews was that they were 'hopeless Jews'.  They were Jews who had lost all hope.  They had counted the 70 years of the Exile, and knew that the Exile was supposed to be over and yet the Redemption had not yet come.  Those were Jews who had seen the building of the Second Beis Hamikdash stopped in its tracks.  Those were Jews who had come to the conclusion that there would be no Redemption.  Those were Jews who said, "Mashiach is not going to come".  Those were hopeless Jews.  The difference between those Jews and the Jews of our day is that today, as non-observant as a Jew may be, he is at least a believer in Redemption, and he knows that there is hope.  That is what the story of Purim restored.  There was a decree.  The Jews were motivated to do Teshuva [repent] and the Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the World) came back and breathed life into this dead body of the Jewish people and gave them hope.  That is what happened on Purim.  G-d took His breath of Life and restored hope to a forlorn nation.

The great Rav Hutner said that as we all know, there is a mitzvah to emulate G-d.  If on Purim, G-d brought the dead back to life, if He took hopeless and downtrodden Jews and gave them hope, it becomes our mitzvah on Purim to do the same thing.  Therefore Maimonides says that on Purim there is no greater mitzvah than to gladden the hearts of the unfortunate and downtrodden.  The essence of the day is to give hope, meaning, and comfort to broken-spirited people...  because that's what G-d did.  Therefore, a person who does this will be comparable to G-d.