Category Archives: Ki Tisa

Rav Chessed ve’Emmet

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat Ki Tisa / Parah, 20 Adar 5777, in memory of my father, whose Yahrzeit is 23 Adar

The Sin of the Golden Calf made it clear that despite all the miracles of the Exodus, of the Splitting of the Sea, and of the Revelation at Sinai, the Jewish People really did not understand G-d. They were too bound up in the pagan mindset of Egyptian culture, where every god had his own set of characteristics.

Therefore, Moshe asked G-d to describe Himself to him in terms of His characteristics, and G-d responded:

ה’, ה’, אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים רב חסד ואמת
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, patient, and has “great kindness and truth” (Shemot 34:6)

This expression, Rav Chessed ve’Emmet, which is usually translated as “great kindness and truth,” is actually quite hard to interpret. Rashi says that “Chessed” is when one is given more than one deserves, and “Emmet” is when one is given precisely what one deserves. He sees the two words as antonyms – Chessed vs Emmet.

As you know, I do a fair amount of translation, having translated all the Haftarot, and I must say that this interpretation does not work for most of the times that these words are used together in Tanach. For instance, the verse made famous by Yonatan Razael’s beautiful song:

קטונתי מכל החסדים ומכל האמת שעשית את עבדיך
“I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and all the truth that You have done for Your servant” (Bereishit 32:11)

It makes sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me beyond what I deserved,” but how does it make sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me that is precisely what I deserve?”

Moreover, what does it mean to have “great truth”? Truth is binary; something is either true, or not. But here we have “Rav Emmet,” a lot of truth. So there’s such a thing as only some truth, and a lot of truth? And sometimes, we can also have all the truth?

Dr. Amos Chacham, who wrote the Da’at Mikra commentary of Yeshayahu and Tehillim, points out that the word “Chessed” is not only used together with “Emmet,” it is also used together with “Brit” (covenant). For example:

לְעוֹלָם אֶשְׁמָר לוֹ חַסְדִּי וּבְרִיתִי נֶאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ
I will always keep for him My “Chessed”, and My “Brit” is faithful to him. (Tehillim 89)

It is very clear that the two parts of the verse are parallel; the words “Chessed” and “Brit” are synonyms, not antonyms. “Chessed” here is the fulfillment of promises. The three words, “Chessed,” “Emmet,” and “Brit” are variations on the same theme – the idea of keeping one’s word.

In English, we would translate “Chessed” as “loyalty,” “constancy,” “devotion.”

I’m not saying that “Chessed” isn’t kindness; the actions that result from it are indeed kind. However, Chessed does not come from feelings of compassion or benevolence; it comes from commitment.

And what, then, is “Rav Chessed?”

To help us understand the distinction between plain “Chessed,” and “Rav Chessed,” I will tell you a story about my father, z”l.

When my sister and I were growing up in America, we were a small family. Just parents and two children (although two children is already a big family for Russians 😉 ). With the exception of some very dear friends who were distantly related to us, all of our extended family was behind the Iron Curtain, and we were able to be in touch, with great difficulty, with only a handful of them.

Then our parents came to live in Israel, and it turned out that we had a whole bunch of second and third cousins, many times removed, who lived here. One of them was Aunt Donya, my father’s mother’s youngest first cousin, who was at the time in her early eighties, living in Ashdod. Needless to say, my father made an effort to make contact and visit her. That is “Chessed,” devotion – remembering connections and commitments, and strengthening them, despite the passage of time.
But my father did not stop there. He called Aunt Donya every single week, every Tuesday, for ten years. In fact, she was one of the first people to find out that he had passed away, because it was Tuesday, and he hadn’t called.

That is “Rav Chessed” – great devotion; unfailing commitment.

Emmet must also be understood from that perspective. It is not binary truth, true or false; it is truth over time, that is, keeping one’s word. The blessings of the Haftarah are phrased in those terms:

הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן, הָאוֹמֵר וְעוֹשֶׂה, הַמְדַבֵּר וּמְקַיֵּם,שֶׁכָּל דְּבָרָיו אֱמֶת וָצֶדֶק
“The faithful G-d, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfills, all of Whose words are truth and justice. “

How do we know if prophecy is true? When it is fulfilled. So when the prophet Yechezkel says in the Haftarah:

וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם
I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land. (Yechezkel 36:24)

We look around us, and we see that these words have been fulfilled. How lucky are we, our generation, to be able to say that?

So now we know that “Rav Chessed ve’Emmet” means that G-d keeps His word despite the passage of time, with great commitment and devotion.

This is important because in the pagan mindset, this is not at all obvious. In the pantheons of many cultures around the world, there is a god who is described as a “trickster” – Loki – a god whose main characteristic is his unpredictability; not only can he not be trusted, he goes out of his way to wreak havoc. There is something in the human psyche that makes us want a god like that, perhaps to explain the chaos in the world around us.

This has even affected Jewish culture: there is an expression in Yiddish: “Der mensch trakht un gott lacht,” “man plans and G-d laughs.” But for us, it is not coming from the same place. It is not that we think that G-d enjoys it when our plans go awry, and that He’s doing it out of some perverse pleasure in our pain. It is that we realize that His plans are greater than ours, and that we are limited human beings who can only do so much.
As we say on Yom Kippur:

מה אנו מה חיינו מה חסדנו מה כוחנו
“What are we? What are our lives? What are our commitments? What is our strength?”

But Hashem, our G-d, He is Rav Chessed ve’Emmet – He speaks and He fulfills His word.

Now, to explain “Rav Emmet.” The Haftarah helps us here as well:

וְהוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת הֶעָרִים וְנִבְנוּ הֶחֳרָבוֹת
I will cause the cities to be settled, the ruins rebuilt (Yechezkel 36:33)

G-d words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if Yerushalayim had been rebuilt within its original boundaries. But that is not what we see. We see hill after hill covered in buildings, miles of them. Hundreds of thousands of people.
G-d promised:

וְהָאָרֶץ הַנְּשַׁמָּה תֵּעָבֵד
This abandoned land will be tilled (36:34)

His words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if the land were simply supporting its population. But we export cut flowers to Holland, and tropical fruit to Italy.

This is what Yaakov Avinu meant when he said, “I am not deserving of all the Emmet that You have done for Your servant – for I crossed the Jordan River with just my walking stick, and now I have grown to two full camps.”

G-d had promised him that He would take care of him. And He did, through very trying times. That promise would have been fulfilled if he had just gotten back safely. When Yaakov looks around at what he was given, he is overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet, of fulfillment.

We also look around, and we are also overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet.
Because that is our G-d, Hashem, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfils. G-d Whose characteristics are Rav Chessed ve’Emmet.

Unfailing devotion, and eternal, overwhelming commitment.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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In His Ways

(Translation of the D’var Torah that I gave in our shul on 18 Adar 5776, 27 Feb 2016. It was written as a speech, not an essay, and is not actually about the Haftarah.)

This Dvar Torah is in memory my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l, whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday.

There is a Mitzvah in the Torah – “והלכת בדרכיו” – “you should act in His ways”. Chazal explain, “Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful; just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.” The list of these qualities is found in our Parsha, after the Sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe is in the cleft of the rock, and G-d passes in front of Him and calls out:

” ה’ ה’ אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים, רב חסד ואמת, נוצר חסד לאלפים, וכו’…”
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, with great kindness and truth, remembering kindnesses for thousands of generations, …” (Shemot 34:6-7)

A person who acts in these ways of Hashem, what is he like?

“Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful” – this is understanding that the person before you is not perfect. He doesn’t know everything, he doesn’t control everything, he does not succeed at everything. He wants to do well, to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always work out for him. Because he’s not perfect, and that’s fine. This is mercy.
What is “gracious”(חנון)? Chazal say that this is when one gives free (“חינם”). My father used to say that when someone asks you for help, of course you have to help. But real giving is to help without being asked – to understand what is missing and to find ways to give it. This is “gracious.”

“Slow to anger” is when you understand that because nobody is perfect, and nobody succeeds 100%, then it is possible that if a person fails today, he might succeed tomorrow. Or sometime in the future. (And this is particularly important when dealing with children, and even more so, with teenagers. In the end, they’ll be perfect, don’t worry) – this is “slow to anger”.

“Great kindness” – there are people who are very happy to give to others, but only within their own community, to people who are like them. When it comes to others, who are different … not so much. “Great kindness” is giving to all, regardless of who they are.

“Remembering kindness for thousands of generations” – when my father came to live in Israel, it turned out that we have family all over the country. He would send me regards from, the grandchildren of the cousins of my grandmother… someone whom he had known as a child, and was kind to him then, and now he is in contact with their great-grandchildren.

And so on.

But why is this list of G-d’s qualities, which is the basis of the commandment, “act in His ways”, why is it not in mentioned at Matan Torah at Sinai? Why does G-d only tell Moshe about these qualities after the Sin of the Golden Calf, as if it was “Plan B”? What was “Plan A”?

In the Ten Commandments, it says, ”

“אנכי ה’ אלוקיך…פוקד עון אבות על בנים… לשונאי.. ועושה חסד לאלפים לאוהבי”
“I am Hashem, your G-d.. keeps in mind the sins of the father … for those who hate Me; do kindness for thousands of generations for those who love Me” (Shemot 20:5)

At Matan Torah, at Sinai, we returned to the state of before the Sin of Adam – there was no death, there was no illness, all was clear. And so G-d spoke in black and white – “those who love Me, those who hate Me.” 100%. This was a state like in the Garden of Eden, of perfection. But it did not last. Apparently, it could not last.

When Moshe did not come back on time, the Jewish People said, “this man, Moshe, we do not know what became of him.” They didn’t know! Aharon, also – it’s clear that he really just did not know what to do; he tried to delay them, he told them, “tomorrow”, because he didn’t know.

We are not perfect. We do not know everything. We only see what is in front of us, and no more. We cannot make decisions based on perfect knowledge about what will be tomorrow. We only know what we have today – “one day at a time.”
So, we make mistakes, we are not perfect. And the truth is, that this is sad. It says that when the Jewish People understood this, that they would not be able to survive with G-d treating them as either “those who love Me” or “those who hate Me”, expecting success of 100%, they mourned. They took off the “jewels”, the crowns, as it were, that they received at Matan Torah, that were symbols of their existence in the state of Eden, because it is impossible to live like that. And this is very sad.

So then, G-d showed them that He can be with them without the 100%. That He understands that they do not know everything, do not control everything, do not succeed at everything, and that sometimes, they don’t even know to ask for help.

Just as He is merciful, so you should be merciful. Just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Ki Tisa – Life and Death

It is a D’var Torah that was given on the occasion of the yahrtzeit of my father, z”l, and of the fathers of two other members of our shul. It was written to be a speech, not an article. The sources are paraphrased as needed. It is not strictly related to the Haftarah.

Shabbat Shalom. This D’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, the memory of Shaul’s Galek’s father, Chaim ben Shaul and Zelda, and the memory of Ziva Feigenbaum’s father, Dov Ber ben Zorach Yaakov.

I’ll start with a truly depressing verse from Kohelet:

כִּי הַחַיִּים יוֹדְעִים שֶׁיָּמֻתוּ וְהַמֵּתִים אֵינָם יוֹדְעִים מְאוּמָה וְאֵין עוֹד לָהֶם שָׂכָר כִּי נִשְׁכַּח זִכְרָם:
“For the living know that they will die, the dead know nothing, and there is no reward for them, for their memory has been forgotten” (Kohelet 9:5)

There is a Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah (9) on this verse:

R’ Chiya and R’ Yonatan were at a funeral. R’ Chiya saw that R’ Yonatan had his tzitzis out, and told him to cover them as it is rude to the denizens of the cemetery, it hurts their feelings. (In fact, that is the Halacha, not to wear tzitzis out in a cemetery). R’ Yonatan said to him, “Rebbe, but doesn’t it say, ‘the dead know nothing?” R’ Chiya answered, “You might know Mikra, text, but you don’t know Midrash! (and apparently, Kohelet must be studied with Midrash…)  ‘For the living know that they will die: those are the righteous, that even in their death are called ‘living’; ‘the dead know nothing’: those are the evildoers,  that even in their lives are called ‘dead’. How do we know that the righteous are called living, even in their death? As it says, in Parshat Ki Tisa – at that difficult time after the Sin of the Golden Calf, but before G-d actually forgave them:

G-d said to Moshe, “Go, go up from here, you and the people that I brought up from Egypt, to the land about which I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to tell them, to their descendants I will give it.” (Shemot 33:1)

G-d said to Moshe regarding the promise, “to tell them”, as if he is supposed to go now to the Avot and tell them that G-d is now fulfilling the promise. As if they’re still alive and he could talk to them.  From this, R’ Chiya derives that tzaddikim, the righteous, are considered living even when they’re dead.

But in what sense are the considered living? In reality, they are dead, they are gone. Moshe cannot actually go talk to the Avot…

Another Midrash: (Taanit 5b)

R’ Yochanan said: “Yaakov Avinu is not dead.”. They said to him, “What do you mean, not dead? They had a funeral, they eulogized him, they buried him?!” He said, “I derive this from the Mikra, the text, from a verse in Yirmeyahu that says: “Do not fear, Yaakov … I will rescue you from afar and your descendants from captivity” (Yirmiyahu 30)  – it identifies his descendants with him: just as the descendants are living, so too, he is living.”

We have already determined what “living” is: the righteous are called living even in their death. “His descendants are living” equals “his descendants are righteous”, that is, his descendants follow his ways, and continue in his path.

So Avraham Avinu is not dead, because each one of his descendants that does Chessed and welcomes people into their home continues the path of Avraham Avinu; thus Avraham Avinu is not dead.

Yitzchak Avinu is not dead, because each one of us that plants something here in the Land of Israel continues the path of Yitzchak Avinu.

Yaakov Avinu is not dead because each one of us that has a dream and a destiny, and is willing to struggle to achieve it, continues the path of Yaakov Avinu. Thus, Yaakov Avinu is not dead.

As long as his descendants are living, he, too is living.

In Parshat Ki Tisa, when Moshe is told about the Sin of the Golden Calf, and G-d says to him, “Leave Me alone, and I will wipe them out”, Moshe tries to convince G-d not to destroy the Jewish People. He says: “Remember what You promised to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, Your servants, that You swore to them” (Shemot 32:13).

Now, this argument, that if G-d destroys the Jewish People, He will not be able to fulfill His promise, what kind of argument is it? What information does it add? G-d couldn’t think of this on His own? He was like, “Oh, yeah, right, I promised…”  ?!

What G-d meant was as follows: If the Jewish People do not continue in the path of the Avot, then they are not living, they are dead. And like it says in Kohelet, “the dead know nothing”. The promise does not apply to them. It is over. To this, Moshe argues, “No, that is not so!”

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 44) on this verse compares Israel to a grapevine. In the winter, the grapevine looks utterly dead. Dry pieces of wood, with no signs of life. But then the spring comes, and the grapevine begins to bud and to blossom with new branches. They draw their strength from what had appeared dead but was actually the source of life.

Moshe Rabbeinu said to G-d: “It is true, at this moment everything looks dead and lost. But the strength of the Avot is found within us – they are not dead, they are living! That is, unless G-d destroys the Jewish People, in which case there really will not be any continuation for Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and then the promise is indeed void. But as long as the Jewish People exist, there is hope!”  And G-d accepted his argument …

As long as there are descendants who continue the path of their fathers, they are not dead, they are called, “living”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Ki Tisa

The Haftarah of Ki Tisa is on the long side, but one of the best stories in all of Tanach, Eliyahu on Har HaCarmel:
Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Ki Tisa

Why is this the Haftarah of Ki Tisa? Something to do with the sin of the Golden Calf, but not the way one might have thought. See Who’s to blame?

Speaking of which: the 1972 Israeli song “Izevel”, about Jezebel, the queen.

Har HaCarmel, what it might have looked like after several years of drought

Har HaCarmel, what it might have looked like after several years of drought

Achav was worried about his horses dying in the drought. Here is Tel Megiddo, where some of them were stabled

Achav was worried about his horses dying in the drought. Here is Tel Megiddo, where some of them were stabled

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Ki Tisa – Who’s to blame?

The Haftarah of Ki Tisa is the story of Eliyahu at Har HaCarmel, where he proves to the Jewish People that Hashem is G-d and the idol Ba’al is imaginary.  At first glance, this Haftarah appears to be the natural choice for the Parsha of Ki Tisa, which recounts the Sin of the Golden Calf:  Moshe had to deal with idolatry, and Eliyahu had to deal with idolatry. However, the situations are not parallel, they are inverse. The Parsha starts with the Jewish People serving G-d whole-heartedly and follows with them devolving into worshipping a golden statue. Conversely, the Haftarah starts with the Jewish People serving a pagan god, and follows with them saying “Hashem is G-d,” and serving G-d whole-heartedly.

If one wanted to match the Sin of the Golden Calf with a chapter of Prophets on the topic of idolatry, there is a plethora of chapters to choose from[1];  all of the prophets dealt with idolatry in one way or another. So why was this chapter chosen?

What the Parsha and the Haftarah have in common is not the idolatry, and not Moshe’s or Eliyahu’s ways of dealing with it, but rather how each of them defended their people before G-d. According to the Midrash (Talmud Bavli Berachot 32-33), both Moshe and Eliyahu put the blame for what happened on G-d Himself.

Eliyahu said,

לז) עֲנֵנִי ה’ עֲנֵנִי וְיֵדְעוּ הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי אַתָּה ה’ הָאֱ-לֹהִים וְאַתָּה הֲסִבֹּתָ אֶת לִבָּם אֲחֹרַנִּית:

“Answer me, Hashem, answer me!   So that these people shall know that You, Hashem, are G-d, for You have turned their hearts backwards.” (Melachim I 18:37)

Eliyahu accuses G-d of having turned the hearts of the Jewish People away from Him. They cannot bear the entire blame for their actions if G-d set up a situation that they were not able to handle. The Jewish People had never had an aristocracy; Achav is only the second generation in his dynasty, and the concept of a royal family was relatively new. When Jezebel, the royal princess of the House of Tzidon, became the queen, she saw it as her mission to show the Jews how things ought to be done; to introduce the rituals of the wealthiest, most cosmopolitan, most admired culture in the region into their society, by force if necessary. How could they be expected to match wills with someone like her,  to withstand that level of pressure?

We all know that G-d is the ultimate matchmaker. If He had caused this match to fail, or caused Achav to marry someone more suitable, none of this would have happened. Eliyahu holds G-d responsible.

Similarly, according to the same Midrash, when Moshe said,

יא) … וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָה ה’ יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּכֹחַ גָּדוֹל וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה:

“Why, Hashem, should You be angry at Your people, whom You have taken out of the land of Egypt, with great might and a strong hand?” (Shemot 32:11)

… what he really meant was, “You have no right to be angry after leaving them for generations in the most pagan culture in the world!”

Here is a Midrash that puts it all into a metaphor that only Chazal could permit themselves to use:

א”ר הונא בשם ר’ יוחנן משל לחכם שפתח לבנו חנות של בשמים בשוק של זונות. המבוי עשה שלו והאומנות עשתה שלה והנער כבחור עשה שלו יצא לתרבות רעה. בא אביו ותפסו עם הזונות התחיל האב צועק ואומר הורגך אני. היה שם אוהבו אמר לו אתה איבדת את הנער ואתה צועק כנגדו. הנחת כל האומניות ולא למדתו אלא בשם והנחת כל המובאות ולא פתחת לו חנות אלא בשוק של זונות.כך אמר משה רבון העולם הנחת כל העולם ולא שעבדת בניך אלא במצרים שהיו עובדין טלאים ולמדו מהם בניך. ואף הם עשו העגל לפיכך אמר אשר הוצאת מארץ מצרים דע מהיכן הוצאת אותם.

R’ Huna said from R’ Yohanan:  It’s analogous to a scholar who opened for his son a perfume shop in a red-light district full of prostitutes. The location did what it does, the profession did what it does, and the guy did what a guy does.

His father came and caught him with the prostitutes, and started screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” The father’s friend was there, and said to him, “You destroyed the boy, and now you’re screaming at him? Of all possible professions you taught him perfumery; of all possible locations, you opened him a shop in a red-light district?!”

So, too, Moshe said, “Master of the Universe! Of all the nations in the world in which to enslave Your children, You picked Egypt, who worship calves? Your children learned from them and also made a calf!”  This is why Moshe said, “whom You have taken out of Egypt”. You should realize where You took them out of!  (Midrash Shemot Rabba 43)

Like Eliyahu, Moshe blames G-d for the failure of the Jewish People. It is G-d who is responsible for their pagan mindset. If He didn’t want them to have that influence, He should not have put them in that situation in the first place[2].

This attitude is more than a little bit chutzpadik. If it weren’t Chazal that said it, we certainly would not have dared to interpret Moshe’s or Eliyahu’s words in this manner. But was it wrong of them to blame G-d? Were they punished for it? We know that neither prophet was perfect; Moshe was punished for hitting the rock in his anger rather than speaking to it, and Eliyahu, as we will read in the Haftarah of Pinchas, was censured for some of the things he said. Here, however, there is no hint of censure; not in the text and not in the Midrash. On the contrary, G-d listens to both Moshe and Eliyahu, implying is that the argument is valid and He accepts His share of the blame.

Or maybe He is just really happy that the Jewish People have leaders who are willing to go to such lengths to defend them.

Copyright © Kira Sirote  
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] For instance, Melachim I 12, where King Yeravam makes golden calves and says: “These are your gods, Israel that took you out of Egypt”.

[2] This Midrash directly contradicts the popular saying, “G-d does not put people in situations they cannot handle.”

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