Dvar Torah on Parshat Ki Tissa

This Shabbat my wife and I were luncheon guests at Ilana and David B’s table and this is a summary reworking of my Dvar Torah.

I first mentioned that the whole series of instructions we have been reading these past weeks in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) presents an odd building plan.  The first thing to be described in the Aron (Altar).  But that’s like, as an example, noting a fireplace first and then working out.  But that was done to stress the importance of what is in the Mishkan, spiritual labor, rather than just the physical elements.

Then I noted two language oddities.

In the conversation Moshe has with God during the fiasco of the Golden Calf in Exodus Chapter 32, God tells Moshe verse 7

וַיְדַבֵּר יְ-וָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה, לֶךְ רֵד, כִּי שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

That is,

And the LORD spoke unto Moses: ‘Go, get yourself down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly;

But Moshe comes right back and tells God

לָמָה יְ-וָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם

That is,

LORD, why are you angry against your people, that you brought forth out of the land of Egypt

It is almost comic.

Your people, no your people.

So, whose people are they? Of Moshe? Or of God?

Moshe does not retreat and argues: they are your responsibility. Do not pass it off to me.

A second language item that interested me was that the making of the Golden, or Molten, Calf had a second stage.  Aharon builds an altar.  Did he need to do that? Why?

וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו

The Hebrew word for ‘saw’ there is very close to ‘he feared’. Did he fear or,as the Midrash implies, he sought to delay as much as possible so that Moshe would return and resolve the difficulty?  He had what to fear as Hur, who was first asked to make the Calf, was killed after he refused (input from Shabtai).

But the main theme is connected to these verses at 30-31:

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם: אַתֶּם חֲטָאתֶם חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה, וְעַתָּה אֶעֱלֶה אֶל יְהוָה אוּלַי אֲכַפְּרָה בְּעַד חַטַּאתְכֶם. וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּא חָטָא הָעָם הַזֶּה חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה


And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said to the people: ‘You have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the LORD, peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin.’ And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin

The Rebbe Yitzchak  Kalisch of Worka comments that of all the things to say, why does Moshe seemingly increase the seriousness of the sin of the people? He had to say “a great sin”? Why needle God? What could he gain speaking thus instead of placating him?

His insight is that the situation could be compared to a case when a small child is playing on a table and falls off. If the injuries are minor, the father most probably would yell at the child and maybe even strike him.  But if they are more serious, the father would rush to the child, comfort him and take him quickly for medical attention. The admonition would be saved for later, if at all.

Similarly, Moshe seeks to appeal, in a psychological sense, to God’s realization that, yes, the sin was great, almost unforgivable, but now is not the time to admonish or even punish but to reach out and save the people of Israel. The danger of losing the nation of Israel is in the balance.

So should we all relate to those close to us, or even farther away, who have erred or strayed.



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Aryeh as an Acronym

As the Shelah HaKadosh, Rabbi Yeshayah Horowitz, records in his “Two Tablets of the Law“,


The period of Ellul through to Hoshanna Rabba is suggested by the word Aryeh – אריה – in the verse “The lion has roared, who will not fear?” (Amo 3:8) as an acronym.

The alef – א is Ellul.

The reish – ר is Rosh HaShana.

The yud – י is Yom Kippur.

The hey – ה is Hoshanna Rabba.

These are the four time elements of a month and days that instill in us awe, respect and even fear – of our doings this past year, of the things we could have done, of the things we could have done better, of the things we shouldn’t have done as we did them. And of what awaits us in this coming year and can we do better.

I thought to add that we have just celebrated Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, a holiday of joy, of happy expressions. We have the Torah and we have the way to do better.

If we engage not in a feeling of fear and awe but, in a feeling of joy, we use the tools by which to do good, our joy and happiness will exponentially increase and erase that feeling of dread.

May we be blessed with a good new year.


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On Going, Together As One

My Dvar Torah this Shabbat at the table of Ilana and David Lev with guests Sophie Simons, Glenda Kantor and my wife, Batya.


The word, to go, is quite present in this week’s Torah portion.

It opens with וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; “and Moshe goes”.

And the people of Israel are told that God goes with us: הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּךְ as is Yehoshua told the same: וַי-וָה הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ לְפָנֶיךָ, “It is He that goes before you…fear not, neither be dismayed”.

And, of course, that verb is used multiple times throughout the Torah. In Genesis Chapter 22, Abraham arises early and goes to bind his son Yitzhak: וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ

But my attention was caught at this verse, 31:14

  וַיֹּאמֶר י-וָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֵן קָרְבוּ יָמֶיךָ לָמוּת–קְרָא אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, וַאֲצַוֶּנּוּ; וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Behold, the days approach when you will die; call Yehoshua, and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may give him a charge.’ And Moses and Yehoshua went, and presented themselves in the tent of meeting.

The verbs’ conjugation in the Hebrew go from plural וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ – ‘both of you should present yourselves’ – to singular – ‘went’ – to the plural of ‘presented themselves’.

To make it clear: the verb, in the singular, refers to two persons, and is definitely in the plural relating to the two persons as illustrated by the cantillation marks that join Moshe and Yehoshua:

וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ מֹשֶׁה֙ וִֽיהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ

Even the Aramaic Targum confirms this: וַאֲזַל מֹשֶׁה וִיהוֹשׁוּעַ.

To explain this, let’s look at two comments by Hassidic Admorim.

The first is Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, a foremost disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and one of the earliest champions of the Hassidic movement.  In his Toldot Yaakov Yosef, published in 1780, he interprets Moshe’s ‘going’ as proceeding from one level to the next:


as if moving from one spiritual level to another.

Another Admor, Kolonymus Kalman Epstein, a pupil of Elimelech of Lizhansk, notes in his Maor VaShemesh,


that the ‘going’ is to be interpreted as at the end of his days, Moshe is preceding to shed off himself his physicality and, in the process of leaving this world, becoming more and more spiritual and at one with God.

Nevertheless, I did not yet find a specific address to the question of the verb alterations. Why use a singular form for two people?

My suggestion is that in their going to the presence of God at the Tent of Meeting, Moshe and Yehoshua become as one.  Moshe is talking, we can imagine, with Yehoshua. He may be imparting wisdom, instruction, tips, insight. The pupil is to become soon the master, the leader, the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and Moshe is trying, just prior to God finalizing this transfer of authority, both spiritual and national, to assure that Yehoshua is prepared.

In that process, the two become as one and the verb form indicates that.And this is unlike what occurred when Avraham walked together with his son Yitzhak: וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, יַחְדָּו. There, the two ‘went’, in the plural, even though they went ‘together’.

Moshe and Yehoshua are the true ‘together’, as one.

That becoming as one is perhaps one of Moshe’s last successes.


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Labor, Not Commerce

My dvar torah this week, Parshat VaYishlach, at the table of Sophie Simons:

In his words seeking to convince Yaakov to be absorbed and dwell together in full integration with the Shchemites after the rape of Dina, Hamor states

ח  וַיְדַבֵּר חֲמוֹר, אִתָּם לֵאמֹר:  שְׁכֶם בְּנִי, חָשְׁקָה נַפְשׁוֹ בְּבִתְּכֶם–תְּנוּ נָא אֹתָהּ לוֹ, לְאִשָּׁה. ט  וְהִתְחַתְּנוּ, אֹתָנוּ:  בְּנֹתֵיכֶם, תִּתְּנוּ-לָנוּ, וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵינוּ, תִּקְחוּ לָכֶם. י  וְאִתָּנוּ, תֵּשֵׁבוּ; וְהָאָרֶץ, תִּהְיֶה לִפְנֵיכֶם–שְׁבוּ וּסְחָרוּהָ, וְהֵאָחֲזוּ בָּהּ.

8 And Hamor spoke with them, saying ‘The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter. I pray you give her unto him to wife. 9 And make ye marriages with us; give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. 10 And ye shall dwell with us; and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.’

And further on, in turn, appealing to his fellow town-dwellers, Hamor, as well as his rapist son, speak so:

כא  הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה שְׁלֵמִים הֵם אִתָּנוּ, וְיֵשְׁבוּ בָאָרֶץ וְיִסְחֲרוּ אֹתָהּ, וְהָאָרֶץ הִנֵּה רַחֲבַת-יָדַיִם, לִפְנֵיהֶם; אֶת-בְּנֹתָם נִקַּח-לָנוּ לְנָשִׁים, וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵינוּ נִתֵּן לָהֶם.

21 ‘These men are peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade therein; for, behold, the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters.

The use of the word to trade or, to engage in commerce, in the relationship with the land indicates a purely materialistic attitude, looking at the physical and fiscal benefit that the land can provide.

The land is a tool for growing food for man and beast but little more.

Judaism seeks to apply to the land a more spiritual value, to raise it above the mundane and materialistic and, in doing so, to uplift man.  The land not only provides sustenance but, as per the paradigm of commandments dependent on the land, as explained here, there is a:

category of mitzvot that can only be observed in a specific place is Mitzvot ha-Teluyot ba’Aretz, commandments that are dependent on the Land of Israel. These are mitzvot that can only be observed if you are in the
Land of Israel. Out of the 613 mitzvot, there are approximately twenty-five that are dependent on being in the Land of Israel.  These mitzvot can generally be divided up into two categories. There are mitzvot that play a social role within society, and there are mitzvot whose purpose is to either accentuate, or perhaps to create, the sanctity of the Land of Israel.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook added that

the primary holiness of the Land is reflected in the mitzvah to settle it, and the obligation of mitzvot ha-teluyot ba’aretz is an expression of this special holiness.

These mitzvot are a major social tool which even a secularist like Ze’ev Jabotinsky recognized when he based his social-economic approach for the future state of Israel on the Bible.  As observed:

Jabotinsky viewed economy as a huge game of monopoly: The players can buy and sell assets, some get rich and some get poor, but once in 50 years, the game is over. Just like in the game, the “rich” willfuly return their “property” to the game box in order to start a new game, so it should be in economy: the rich should understand that it’s only a game, and return all their wealth to the public once in 50 years.

To simply exploit the Land of Israel for its commercial value is not Judaism.  We are commanded to work the land — לעֲבֹד, אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, and the inference of ‘work’ is also a religious intimation.

The land is more than earth; it is a base for heaven.



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Purim – From One to None

Chapter Three of the Book of Esther contains Haman’s perception analysis of the Jewish People in verse 8:

וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ–יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים

which translates as

And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples…

A suggested re-reading of that could describe the situation of the Jews as a people scattered and dispersed but among themselves who exist among other nations since they are in Exile.

‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed abroad among the peoples…’

In fact, being in Exile is the major, not the sole, factor that causes this lack of internal unity, joint self-respect and shared communal values.

Some of the comments on Israel’s actions and policies and those of its leaders among so-called Jewish intellectuals, personalities (including comedians), lay leaders and religious figures illustrate well this curse.  As reflected in the words of the Pslamist, detachment, both physical, mental and psychological, from the idea of a Jewish homeland, a status of soverign power, of a religion and culture that is moral and ethical and truly safeguards the Jewish people no matter how unobservant and non-practicing they are, is what leads to this weakness of mind, of resolve and of commitment:

“How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps 137:4)

It is asked why did Haman seek to destroy all of Persia’s Jews if it was only Mordechai who annoyed him, being disrespectful?  The last Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that, as is recorded (Esther 3:4), the advisors continuously reminded Haman that Mordechai “had told them that he was a Jew”.  Haman then realized that it was because Mordechai was a Jew – not that he was but a Mordechai who was acting alone but acting out of convictions of what is right and just and true based on his traditions, his moral code and his Torah – that he was being confronted with something deeper, something more complicated.  And that is why his hate grew to include all Jews.

We, all of us Jews, are one.  If sections cannot grasp that and seek to separate, to disperse themselves from the main body of Jews and Judaism, then they will become none.


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Did the Savraner Rebbe Have Bratslav In Mind?

In the collection of the Admor of Savran, Moshe Tzvi, entitled ליקוטי שושנים, I read an interesting vort for the parsha of Behar, p. 89. But first, some background.

As noted:

In late 1834, Rabbi Moshe Zvi, the Savraner Rebbe, instigated fierce and fanatical opposition to Reb Noson and the Breslover Chassidim (— and some refer to it as a smear campaign —) . This opposition led to Reb Noson’s temporary imprisonment by the authorities. After his release, Reb Noson fled from city to city in the Ukraine, only returning to Breslov in the spring of 1835. Shortly afterwards he was banished from Breslov and was under court order to remain in the city of his birth. Though he obtained permission to travel to Uman for Rosh HaShannah and for other select occasions, he was virtually a prisoner in Nemirov. His confinement also put him at the mercy of his opponents, who seized every opportunity to torment him. With the Savraner’s sudden death in 1838, the relentless opposition waned and Reb Noson returned to Breslov later that year.

One reason for this suggested is that the Savraner Rebbe wanted to marry Rebbe Nachman’s daughter but Rev Nosson opposed it.

Rebbe Nachman was also opposed by Aryeh Leibe of Shpola:

The Shpole Zeide, was antagonistic to Rav Nachman of Breslov. When some of the Zeide’s students heckled Rav Nachman, the Zeide censored them. Every movement needed opposition, he explained. He had been providing a service.

Another, fuller retelling:

Shortly before Rosh Hashana 1800, Rebbe Nachman moved to the town of Zlatopol. The townspeople invited him to have the final word on who would lead the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayer services. The man chosen to lead Neilah, the final prayer service of Yom Kippur, did not meet the Rebbe’s approval. Suddenly the man was struck dumb and forced to step down, to his great embarrassment. After the fast ended, Rebbe Nachman spoke in a light-hearted way about what the man’s true intentions had been, and the man was so incensed that he denounced Rebbe Nachman to Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola, known as the “Shpoler Zeide”, a prominent Hasidic rabbi and early disciple of Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz, who was a leading figure in the first generation of Hasidut. Thus began the Shpoler Zeide’s vehement campaign against Breslov Hasidism…The Shpoler Zeide saw Rebbe Nachman’s teachings as deviating from classical Judaism and from the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

Some postulate that the Zeide felt threatened because Rebbe Nachman was moving in on his territory and taking disciples away from him. Still others claim that Rebbe Nachman was a threat to other rebbes because he opposed the institutional dynasties that were already beginning to form in the Hasidic world. (Rebbe Nachman himself did not found a dynasty; his two sons died in infancy and he appointed no successor. ) A number of prominent figures of Hasidut supported Rebbe Nachman against the Shpoler Zeide’s opposition, including Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Rabbi Gedalia of Linitz, Rabbi Zev Wolf of Charni-Ostrov, and Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk. At one point, a number of Hasidic rabbis gathered in Berditchev to place the Shpoler Zeide in cherem (a rabbinic form of excommunication) for showing contempt to a true Torah scholar. Their effort was nixed, however, when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak heard about the idea and persuaded them to desist.

Now, to return to the vort:

“The verse (25:17) reads: וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת-עֲמִיתוֹ, וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱ-לֹהֶיךָ: כִּי אֲנִי יְ-וָה, אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם – ‘And you shall not wrong one another; but thou shalt fear thy God; for I am the LORD your God.’. The Holy Grandfather/Zeide Rebbe [Aryeh] Leib of Shpola ran into the Holy Rebbe of Savran when he [the latter] was still quite young and still learning with the Rav Ber of Mezeritch and the Savraner Rebbe was working on his prayers and would be jumping and hopping around withh all his strength with great exuberance and the Holy Zeide told him that the above verse’s meaning is that one beeds be careful even in an insignificant measure not to fake your respect for God [for that is wronging God] but that the respect must be truly genuine. And in his later years, the Savraner Rebbe, when he became great, would relate that what he heard rested in huis mind for 15 years afterwards and would severely torment him”.

I am supposing that another aspect of the rivalry between the Savraner Rebbe and the Bratslav (the former would stone the Bratslav synagogue and break its wondows and beat up the chassidim) is reflected in this vort given the exhuberance and exhiliration of the custom of Bratslav.


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