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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5784

Parashat Hashavua: Beware the Heavenly Bovine

Harav Yosef Carmel

We will continue to carefully tread near the line of delving into secrets of the Divine Chariot and connect it with the notorious calf of this week’s parasha.

The sin of the Golden Calf is one of the most severe sins in our nation’s history. The students of the Gra elaborated on the idea that just as the world underwent a great change due to Adam’s sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (see Shabbat 146a), so did the world change due to the sin of the Golden Calf. Since those times, our extraordinarily difficult goal has been to return mankind to its state before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and the Jewish People to return to its state before the sin of the Golden Calf.

Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to understand how Bnei Yisrael fell from the great heights of receiving the Torah to the depths of the sin of the Golden Calf. Chazal tell us that the maidservant present at the Splitting of the Sea saw things that Yeshayahu and Yechezkel did not merit to see (Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Beshalach 3). Rashi says on the words of the Song of the Sea, “This is my G-d” (Shemot 15:2), that Bnei Yisrael pointed their fingers at Hashem’s glory, which was revealed to them.

The simple explanation is as follows. Those who passed through the sea saw Paroh’s army of chariots sink into the sea. Paroh thought that he was a deity, the ruler of the world and its creator. Yechezkel said about him: “I am after you, Paroh, King of Egypt, the great sea beast (tannin) who lurks in the midst of his Nile, who said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made myself’” (Yechezkel 29:3). (These words about the tannin may remind of us of the snake, who played a major role in the sin of Adam and Chava.) Bnei Yisrael merited seeing as part of that revelation of Hashem the horses and chariots of fire that serve Him, as the greatest prophets did.   

A midrash teaches us that they unfortunately used their experience in the revelation as part of the cause of the sin of the Golden Calf (another indication of the care needed when delving into the topic of Hashem’s Chariot). Hashem used a double language of seeing regarding what Bnei Yisrael went through in Egypt (Shemot 3:7). The midrash (Shemot Rabba 42:5) explains that Hashem said that while Bnei Yisrael saw one thing, Hashem saw two: 1. Bnei Yisrael accepting the Torah at Sinai; 2. When Hashem left Sinai in His Chariot, they took one of the elements of the Chariot, a bull (see Yechezkel 1:10), and used it to anger Him (with his son, the calf).

Parashat Ki Tisa often coincides with Parashat Para, in which the Torah describes the purification process using the ashes of a red heifer (mother of the calf). Chazal tell us that the process of the red heifer is an atonement for the great sin. Rashi brings the idea of “The mother shall come and clean up the excrement of her son.” The ashes of the heifer hint at the crucial characteristic of humility and connects us to Avraham Avinu, who said, “I am dirt and ashes” (Bereishit 18:27).

Humility and understanding that no one possesses all of the truth is very important in our days. When groups of people believe that only their ideas and ideals have value, it is a recipe for hatred, which only brings trouble and weakens us before our enemies. Let humility be the cure!

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