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Shabbat Parashat Shemini | 5769

Parashat Hashavuah: The Connection Between the Bull and the Calf

Harav Yosef Carmel

Before the Mishkan began normal operation, Aharon and Bnei Yisrael were commanded to bring special korbanot. Aharon had to bring a calf as a chatat (sin offering) (Vayikra 9:2). Bnei Yisrael had to bring a goat as a chatat in addition to a calf (ibid.:3). The midrash (Sifra, Shemini 1) relates the following exchange between Moshe and Aharon. Moshe told him the calf was needed for atonement for his part in the sin of the Golden Calf. Bnei Yisrael required not only atonement for the calf but also for that which the goat represents, the selling of Yosef, which was concealed when the brothers dipped his coat in goat blood. These two sins share a powerful connection. Both have had major consequences throughout history. The Torah says: “On the day I reckon, I will reckon upon them their sin” (Shemot 32:34). Rashi (ad loc.) cites the midrash that all punishments Israel receive will partially be a payback for the Golden Calf.

Regarding the sale of Yosef, the chilling midrash that is famous from the Yom Kippur davening tells that a Caesar told ten great Jewish leaders that they should be executed in place of their forefathers who sold their brother, Yosef. There is no shortage of stories of anti-Semites claiming that the Jews deserved what they got. However, this midrash says that a Divine message confirmed that this punishment should come for that reason.

What is the connection between the sins? The Malbim explains with an argument we call mah nafshach (either way you want it) that the sins are intertwined. One of the excuses for the sale was that the brothers saw in Divine Spirit that a descendant of Yosef (Yeravam) would erect statues of a calf in Beit El and Dan to keep people away from Yerushalayim. If calf statues justify execution, then the brothers’ offspring, who sinned with a statue of a calf, also deserve execution. He also suggests another similar idea. After the Golden Calf, the people explained themselves, that they had good intentions of using the calf to help their service of Hashem. Of course, the results were horrendous. Yosef’s brothers had the opposite approach. Although they had tried to kill Yosef and remove him from the nation, his resulting journey to Egypt was actually necessary for the fledgling nation, as had been decreed long before, and led to their national development. They wanted the positive results to erase the negative intentions. Whether the bad result or the bad intentions are the biggest problem, acts that were problematic for each reason should have doomed Bnei Yisrael.

In any case, we see from the midrashim that the historical (and ongoing) sins of between man-and-man and between man-and-G-d are intimately connected. We must strive for excellence in both and look forward to the day in the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash when Hashem will say, “I have forgiven.”

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga  Brachfeld



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in loving memory of
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