Monthly Archives: February 2014

Shabbat Shekalim

Shekalim is the first of the four special Shabbatot that precede the new year that starts in Nissan. We read a special Maftir, about the commandment of giving a half-shekel, and a special Haftarah. A very special Haftarah, where the word “silver” appears 14 times in 17 verses. It’s about money. It is also one of the best stories, with one of the best back-stories in all of Tanach.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shekalim

Shabbat Shekalim is either Rosh Chodesh Adar, or the Shabbat Mevarchim when we announce Rosh Chodesh Adar. That means that Purim is right around the corner. The Haftarah of Shekalim connects also to Purim.

So: when we read it for Mishpatim, we have: Parshat HaKessef: A Matter of Money, but when we read it for VaYakhel or Pekudei, there’s a completely different focus and message: Shekalim: Accounting

And once you’ve read all of that, here is an extra bonus Midrash:

א”ר יוחנן אם ראית לדור שמתמעט והולך חכה לו למשיח שנאמר ואת עם עני תושיע. כי אתה תאיר נרי במרדכי. ואלהי יגיה חשכי באסתר. דבר אחר כי אתה תאיר נרי ביהושבע ואלהי יגיה חשכי ביהוידע.

R’ Yohanan said: If you see a generation that gets weaker and weaker, expect Moshiach, for it says “a poor people I will save.” “For you light my candle” is Mordechai, “and Hashem will disperse my darkness” is Esther. Or, “For you light my candle” is Yehosheva, “and Hashem will disperse my darkness” is Yehoyada.

In the bleakest moment, when everything appears lost, there is someone who steps up to bring light to the darkness. That someone might be Mordechai and Esther, or it might be Yehosheva and Yehoyada, whom we meet in the introduction to the Haftarah.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Shabbat Shekalim, Special Shabbatot

Shabbat Shekalim – Accountability

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot that precede the Passover season. For the Maftir at the end of the Torah reading, we read verses that describe the commandment to give a half-shekel for the census. The money would be used for the communal sacrifices for the entire year. Besides the Maftir, we also read a special Haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim. It tells us how King Yehoash raised money in order to repair the Temple. One of the things that the Haftarah tells us is how the money was handled:

וְלֹא יְחַשְּׁבוּ אֶת הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר יִתְּנוּ אֶת הַכֶּסֶף עַל יָדָם לָתֵת לְעֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה כִּי בֶאֱמֻנָה הֵם עֹשִׂים
And they did not audit the men who were given charge of the silver to give to the craftsmen, for they were working on the basis of trust. (Melachim II 12:16)

The Midrash uses this verse to discuss the level of responsibility and transparency that is required from people who handle public funds:

עליו נאמר (מ”ב =מלכים ב’= יב) ולא יחשבו את האנשים אשר יתנו את הכסף, ולא יחשבו זה דורו של יואש שהיו עושין באמונה, שנו רבותינו מי שהיה נכנס לתרום את הלשכה לא היה נכנס לא בפרגוד חפות ולא באנפליא שאם יעשיר יאמרו מתרומת הלשכה העשיר, שאדם צריך לצאת ידי הבריות כדרך שהוא צריך לצאת ידי המקום
It says (in the Haftarah), “They did not audit the men to who were given charge of the silver” – this was the generation of Yehoash, who were trustworthy. The rabbis said: Whoever would enter the treasury would not do so wearing rolled up sleeves or a cloak, so that if he were to become wealthy, people would not be able to say, “Ah, he made his money by taking from the treasury.” A person needs to look good for people just as much as he needs to look good for G-d.
(Midrash Shemot Rabba Pekudei 51)

The Midrash says that the men who were working “on the basis of trust” were trustworthy not only because they were known to have good character. They were trustworthy because of the precautions they took to be beyond reproach: that is, they would not enter the treasury with folds or pockets.

The Midrash continues by comparing their behavior to that of Moshe Rabbeinu, who had been the treasurer for the Mishkan, as is described in the Parshiyot of VaYakhel and Pekudei, which are read for Parshat Shekalim on leap years:

משה היה גזבר לעצמו על מלאכת המשכן…נכנס משה אצל בצלאל ראה שהותיר מן המשכן אמר לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבון העולם עשינו את מלאכת המשכן והותרנו מה נעשה בנותר, אמר לו לך ועשה בהם משכן לעדות, הלך משה ועשה בהן כיון שבא ליתן חשבון אמר להם כך וכך יצא למשכן וביתר עשיתי משכן לעדות, הוי אלה פקודי המשכן משכן העדות
Moshe Rabbeinu was himself the treasurer of the building of the Mishkan. […] He entered Betzalel’s workspace and saw that the donations were in excess of what was needed to make the Mishkan. He turned to G-d and said, “Master of the Universe! We made all the work for the Mishkan and there is a remainder. What should we do with the remainder?” He said, “Go make me a Mishkan HaEdut (a place of assembly)”. Moshe went and had that made. When the time came to give the accounting, he said to them, such and such was used for the Mishkan, and with the remainder I made the Mishkan HaEdut, as it says, “This is the accounting of the Mishkan, Mishkan HaEdut.”
(Midrash Shemot Rabba Pekudei 51)

The Torah makes a point to tell us that all the donations were carefully accounted for, and all the funds that had been donated by the community were used for the good of the community. The Midrash implies that even Moshe Rabbeinu himself might be suspected of dipping into the cash, and that no one, not even Moshe Rabbeinu, can be put in charge of public funds without having to make a careful accounting. No one person can be trusted with that much money.

The Haftarah of Shekalim, which we read right before Rosh Chodesh Adar, also has parallels in Megillat Esther. When Haman gets Achashverosh drunk and convinces him to kill all the Jews, he says the following:

אִם עַל הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר כֶּסֶף אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה לְהָבִיא אֶל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ: וַיָּסַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדו ֹוַיִּתְּנָהּ לְהָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי צֹרֵר הַיְּהוּדִים: וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְהָמָן הַכֶּסֶף נָתוּן לָךְ וְהָעָם לַעֲשׂוֹת בּוֹ כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֶיךָ:
If it pleases the king, let it be written to destroy them,and ten thousand measures of silver,I will weigh out into the hands of the contractors to bring to the king’s treasury. The king took his ring from his hand,and gave it to Haman ben Hemdata Agagi, enemy of the Jews. The king said to Haman: “The money is given to you, and the people, to do with it however you please.” (Esther 3)

The phrase, “into the hands of the contractors,” does not appear anywhere else in Tanach – except in the Haftarah of Shekalim:

וְנָתְנוּ אֶת הַכֶּסֶף הַמְתֻכָּן עַל יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה הַמֻּפְקָדִים בֵּית ה’
They gave the coined silver into the hands of the contractors who were assigned to Beit-Hashem. (Melachim II 12:12)

These “contractors” were the people that the Haftarah describes as being very trustworthy, the ones who were beyond reproach in their handling of the funds. If Haman suggests channeling the money through them, then part of Haman’s argument to Achashverosh was that the ten thousand measures of silver would not delivered by him personally, but rather that the money would be supervised by an impeccably trustworthy source. When Achashverosh answers him, “the money is given to you,” what he’s saying is that he has absolute trust in Haman. He doesn’t need accountants, Haman himself can take care of everything. The money, the people’s lives, the entire kingdom – Achashverosh hands everything over to Haman with no auditing whatsoever.

As we have seen from the Parsha and the Haftarah, the Torah does not approve of placing that amount of trust in any human being: Moshe Rabbeinu himself had to account for the way he used money dedicated for the Mishkan; the “contractors” for the renovation of the Beit HaMikdash could not go into the treasury wearing loose cloaks. Yet Achashverosh places no limits and no controls on Haman’s power. This is so dangerous and so reckless, that when Mordechai tells Esther about the meeting between Achashverosh and Haman, he says:

וַיַּגֶּד לוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּוְאֵת פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָן לִשְׁקוֹל עַל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיְּהוּדִים לְאַבְּדָם:
Mordechai told [Esther’s proxy] about all that had happened to him,and about the matter of the money, that Haman had said to weigh out to the king’s treasury to destroy the Jews. (Esther 3:7)

The way Achashverosh handled “the matter of money” showed the unreserved trust that he had in Haman, and the complete and utter power that he placed in this one man.

The Midrash connects that “matter of money” with Parshat Shekalim:

אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש גלוי וידוע לפני הקב”ה שעתיד המן הרשע לשקול שקלים על ישראל לפיכך הקדים שקליהם לשקליו:
Reish Lakish said: Hashem knew that the evil Haman would weigh shekalim against Israel, therefore, He pre-empted his shekels with their shekels. (Megilla 13:2)

This Midrash goes on to explain that the half-shekels given by the entire Jewish People at Sinai, at six hundred thousand people times a half-shekel each, added up to ten thousand measures of silver, the same amount that was mentioned in the Megilla. Haman promised Achashverosh the amount of silver that would have been given by the entire Jewish People for the commandment of “Shekalim.”

Reish Lakish did not see this as a coincidence, and neither did Mordechai. By handing over ten thousand measures of silver, Haman attempted to “buy” each and every member of the Jewish People from Achashverosh. Not only did Achashverosh give him unlimited power, he gave them unlimited power over the entire Jewish People, with no constraints whatsoever.
This is why Mordechai tore his clothes in despair, and why Esther risked her life to go to the king.

However, as Reish Lakish pointed out, the commandment of Shekalim pre-empted Haman’s attempt to “buy” us from Achashverosh. We were already “paid for” – with the half-shekel that we gave to our King, the King of Kings.

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

1 Comment

Filed under Connections, Shabbat Shekalim, Special Shabbatot


The Haftarah of VaYakhel is from Melachim, a description of the making of the Temple, which parallels nicely the Parsha of VaYakhel, which describes the making of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYayakhel

The Haftarah is very short (to make up for last week, Ki Tisa, which was very long), and on the years that Chanukah starts on Friday night and has two Shabbats, it is also read on the second Shabbat Chanukah. But for a completely different reason than we read it for VaYakhel.

The reason we read it for VaYakhel, since you asked, is here: Labor of Love

Leave a Comment

Filed under Sefer Shemot, VaYakhel

VaYakhel – Labor of Love

The Parsha of VaYakhel could have been much, much shorter. It could have just said,

“And Moshe told the Jewish People all the things that G-d had commanded them regarding building the Mishkan (tabernacle). The Jewish People did all the things that G-d commanded.”

End of Parsha.

If it wanted to be a little more descriptive, it might have included chapter 25, the first chapter of Parshat VaYakhel. In it, Moshe first warns them about keeping Shabbat, then he tells them about all the things that need to be made, and asks for donations. We hear about how all the people donated everything that was necessary, after which it could have ended with, “And the Jewish People made all the things that G-d commanded.”

End of Parsha.

Instead, we have chapters 26, 27, and 28, which are in the format of:

“He made fifty golden hooks…”
“He made goatskin curtains …”
“He made wooden boards…”
“He made a woven hanging for the entrance…”

and so on,  thirty-odd times[1].

The Haftarah has a similar format. The chapter of Melachim that is read for the Haftarah describes the making of the objects needed in the Temple. Here too, the list is very detailed, including objects like pots, shovels, nets, and basins. Here too, this chapter (of which the Sefardim read one subset of verses and Ashkenazim another) repeats the word “he made”, ויעש, many times[2]. The Haftarah that we read is even known by its first few words, “ויעש חירם”, “Hiram made”, referring to the chief craftsman of the project.

Hence we see that both in the Parsha and the Haftarah, there is an emphasis on the detailed craftwork that was required for the various objects needed in the Temple, with a specific emphasis on the craftsman.

Why is this important?

Pulpit rabbis and Bar Mitzvah boys who find themselves having to give a speech about this Parsha tend to find refuge in its first few verses. Moshe gathers the people, and the first thing he does, as we mentioned earlier, is tell them that they must keep Shabbat.

(א) וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם:
(ב) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַה’ כָּל הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת:

1) Moshe gathered the entire congregation of Bnei Israel; he said to them, these are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do:
2) Six days you will do melacha[3], and the seventh day will be holy, Shabbat-Shabbaton to Hashem; whoever does melacha will be put to death. (Shemot 35)

Keeping Shabbat means that you do melacha for six days, and during the seventh day, you do not do any melacha. What is melacha? It’s something that one does, a form of labor or work. But what kind, exactly?

A bit later in the same chapter, when the chief craftsman of the Mishkan, Betzalel, is introduced, we hear more about what it entails:

ל) וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רְאוּ קָרָא ה’ בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה:
לא) וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱ-לֹהִים בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל מְלָאכָה:

30) Moshe said to Bnei Israel: Look, Hashem has called the name of Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur of the tribe of Yehudah.
31) He has filled him with the Spirit of G-d: with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and with all melacha.

Similarly, when chief craftsman of the Temple, Hiram, is introduced (a few verses before he appears in our Haftarah[4]), it says:

יג) וַיִּשְׁלַח הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה וַיִּקַּח אֶת חִירָם מִצֹּר:
יד)….וַיִּמָּלֵא אֶת הַחָכְמָה וְאֶת הַתְּבוּנָה וְאֶת הַדַּעַת לַעֲשׂוֹת כָּל מְלָאכָה בַּנְּחֹשֶׁת וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת כָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ:

13) King Shlomo sent for and got Hiram of Tzor.
14) … He was filled with the wisdom, the understanding, and the knowledge to do all forms of melacha in bronze. He came to King Shlomo and he made all of his melacha.

From the juxtaposition of melacha with “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”, we can infer that melacha refers to skilled labor, or craftsmanship. In fact, the Laws of Shabbat define melacha as the set of activities that were needed to build the Mishkan and its contents, activities that require a certain amount of skill or competence. Moreover, actions that are not done in a skillful manner do not count as melacha. Examples of this are: doing something unintentionally, having two people do a task meant for one individual, or doing something for a particular purpose and accomplishing something else as a result. In other words: if it’s done without “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”, it is not truly melacha.

Now one might think that the fact that G-d does not want us to do melacha on the day that He made holy, on Shabbat, it means that G-d does not think very highly of this type of work, or even work in general. Perhaps the ideal for human beings is to be spiritual beings who spend their time in contemplation, rather than in activity.

But that is not the message that we get from Parshat VaYakhel. Shabbat is meant to remind us of Creation. When G-d created the world, He did not rest for seven days. Rather, He acted for six days and rested on the seventh. Human beings were created “be’tzelem Elokim”, in the image of G-d. We are His partners in Creation; He has given us power over nature, the ability to work with wood and metal to create things that nature cannot bring forth on its own. Just as He created for six days, we, too, are expected to act, to be “filled with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”, and to create things for six days. We are then commanded to also emulate Him by holding back, by refraining from melacha, from craftwork, on the seventh day, on Shabbat. Not because melacha is not important, but because it is an expression of our godliness, of our “Tzelem Elokim”, as is Shabbat itself.

Having given us the ability to create, a portion of Himself, as it were, G-d is delighted in seeing us do so. So much so that He lists every one of the actions of craftsmanship involved in implementing the joint G-d / human project, the Mishkan.

The Ramban, in attempting to answer the question posed above, regarding the purpose of Parshat VaYakhel’s detailed repetition of the work of the Mishkan, says the following:

ועל הכלל כל זה דרך חבה ודרך מעלה, לומר כי חפץ השם במלאכה ומזכיר אותה בתורתו פעמים רבות

In general, all of this shows affection and regard, that is, that Hashem desires this melacha and mentions it in His Torah several times (Ramban, Shemot 36:8)

The reason that the Torah repeats each and every act of melacha, of creation, thirty-odd times, is that Hashem gets nachas from seeing His children act in “tzelem Elokim”, in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

It is precious to Him, and it should be precious to us, also.

Dedicated to the memory of Rose Alster, z”l, my grandmother (in-law), Elta Bubby to thirty-odd great-grandchildren, whose yahrtzeit was this past week, 19th Adar. She got nachas from hearing every detail of each and every one of their actions, as they were each precious to her. She is still precious to us all.

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


[1] According to the search results of Bar-Ilan’s Morashti CD, 37 times.

[2] Seven times in the entire chapter, 2 of them in the Haftarah that we read.

[3] The word melacha was deliberately left un-translated, as it does not have a direct parallel in English. The rest of this essay attempts to pin down its precise meaning.

[4] This is the section of the chapter read by Sefardi shuls for VaYakhel. They read our section next week, for Pekudei, while we read the section after that.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Connections, Sefer Shemot, VaYakhel

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot, Yahrtzeit

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot

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.”

1 Comment

Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot


In the Haftarah of Tetzaveh, the prophet Yehezekel tells the Jewish People in exile the precise dimensions of the altar of the final Temple.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Tetzaveh

The obvious connection between directions of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and directions for the Third Temple turns out to have a deeper dimension when one actually compares the two texts: Tetzaveh – Atoning for the Atoner?

Here’s a bonus extra Midrash, which questions the timing of this prophecy:

כשהקב”ה מראה ליחזקאל את צורת הבית מה הוא אומר הגד את בית ישראל את הבית ויכלמו מעונותיהם ומדדו את תכנית (יחזקאל מג) אמר יחזקאל לפני הקב”ה רבש”ע עד עכשיו אנו נתונים בגולה בארץ שונאינו ואתה אומר לי לילך ולהודיע לישראל צורת הבית וכתוב אותו לעיניהם וישמרו את כל צורותיו ואת כל חוקותיו וכי יכולין הן לעשות הניח להם עד שיעלו מן הגולה ואח”כ אני הולך ואומר להם א”ל הקב”ה ליחזקאל ובשביל שבני נתונים בגולה יהא בנין ביתי בטל א”ל הקב”ה גדול קרייתה בתורה כבנינה לך אמור להם ויתעסקו לקרות צורת הבית בתורה ובשכר קרייתה שיתעסקו לקרות בה אני מעלה עליהם כאלו הם עוסקין בבנין הבית

When G-d showed the form of the House to Yehezkel, what did He say? “Tell the House of Israel about the House, and they will be ashamed of their sins, and measure the blueprint”.  Yehezkel said before G-d, “Master of the Universe! We are in the throes of exile in the land of our enemies, and you are telling me to go and inform Israel about the shape of the house and write it before their eyes so they will keep its forms and laws.  Is it possible for them to do this?! Let them be until they come out of exile, and then I’ll go and tell them.” G-d said to Yehezkel, “Just because My children are stuck in exile, the building of My house should be abandoned?” G-d said to him, “Reading it in the Torah is as great as building it. Go and tell them, and they will be involved in reading about the form of the House in the Torah, and in the merit of reading it, that they are involved in reading about it, I will count it for them as if they are involved in building the House.”  (Midrash Tanchuma Tzav 14)

Leave a Comment

Filed under Sefer Shemot, Tetzave

Tetzaveh – Atoning for the atoner?

While the bulk of Parshat Tetzaveh lists the commandments of the consecration of the Cohanim and their complicated attire, the Haftarah is connected textually to a handful of verses that describe the consecration of the Altar itself.
The Parsha:

וְעָשִׂיתָ לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו כָּכָה כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֹתָכָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תְּמַלֵּא יָדָם. וּפַר חַטָּאת תַּעֲשֶׂה לַיּוֹם עַל הַכִּפֻּרִים וְחִטֵּאתָ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ בְּכַפֶּרְךָ עָלָיו וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתוֹ לְקַדְּשׁוֹ. שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תְּכַפֵּר עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֹתוֹ וְהָיָה הַמִּזְבֵּחַ קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בַּמִּזְבֵּחַ יִקְדָּשׁ.

You shall do for Aharon and his sons thus, according to all that I have commanded you; seven days you shall consecrate them. A bullock of purification offer each day as atonement, and purify the Altar in atoning for it, and anoint it to make it holy. Seven days atone for the Altar, and make it holy, so that the Altar will become holy of holies; all that touches the Altar becomes holy. (Shemot 29:35-37)

The Haftorah, whose topic is the rebuilding and rededication of the Altar in the final Beit HaMikdash, contains the following:

וְנָתַתָּה אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם אֲשֶׁר הֵם מִזֶּרַע צָדוֹק הַקְּרֹבִים אֵלַי נְאֻם אֲ-דֹנָי ה’ לְשָׁרְתֵנִי פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר לְחַטָּאת. וְלָקַחְתָּ מִדָּמוֹ וְנָתַתָּה עַל אַרְבַּע קַרְנֹתָיו וְאֶל אַרְבַּע פִּנּוֹת הָעֲזָרָה וְאֶל הַגְּבוּל סָבִיב וְחִטֵּאתָ אוֹתוֹ וְכִפַּרְתָּהוּ….
שִׁבְעַת יָמִים יְכַפְּרוּ אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְטִהֲרוּ אֹתוֹ וּמִלְאוּ יָדָיו.

You shall give to the Cohanim of Levi, who are the descendants of Tzadok, who are close to Me, says Hashem Elokim, to serve Me, a bullock as a purification offering. You shall take of its blood, and place it on the four horns, and on four corners of the ledge, and on the ledge around it, and you will purify it and atone for it….
Seven days atone for the Altar, and cleanse it, and consecrate it.
(Yechezkel 43:19-20, 26)

What can we learn about the Altar, if we focus on the terms that are repeated in both texts?
In both the Parsha and the Haftorah, we are told to bring a “bullock of purification” for the Altar. This implies that there was a sin that needed to be cleansed. What sin would that have been? Additionally, while the stated function of the Altar is to effect atonement to those who bring sacrifices, here it says “seven days atone for the Altar”, implying that the Altar itself needs atonement. For what?

Rashi suggests that the “bullock of purification” comes to atone for a sin related to another member of the cow family, the Golden Calf. Even though the Parshiot that describe the Mishkan, Terumah and Tetzaveh, are written in the Torah before the story of the Golden Calf, there is a lot of symbolism in the Mishkan that appears to be directly related to it. According to Rashi, this bullock is an example of this symbolism. The purification of the Altar through the bullock atones for the sin of idolatry on the part of the Jewish People — in particular, for the Sin of the Golden Calf.

The Haftorah supports this theory when it says, in its first verses, that the Jewish People will only be given the instructions for the new Beit HaMikdash when they are ashamed of the actions that caused the previous Beit HaMikdash to be destroyed, namely, idol-worship. The “bullock of purification” brought on the new Altar would remove any association it might have had with pagan rites and practices, atoning for the misuse of altars in idolatry.

The Midrash, however, traces the connection between the Altar and its potential for Atonement to Creation itself. Explaining why Adam was created specifically from “Adamah”, earth, the Midrash says:

מן האדמה, רבי ברכיה ורבי חלבו בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן אמרו ממקום כפרתו נברא, היך מה דאת אמר (שמות כ) מזבח אדמה תעשה לי, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא הרי אני בורא אותו ממקום כפרתו והלואי יעמוד.
“From the earth”: R’ Berechiah and R’ Chelbo in the name of R’ Shmuel bar Nachman said: He was created from the place of his atonement, as it says, “Make Me an Altar of earth” (Shemot 20). God said, Let Me make him from the place of his atonement, and hopefully, it will work out. (Midrash Bereishit Rabba 14)

The Midrash tells us that Adam was made of Adamah because the Altar would one day be made of Adamah, which would allow it to atone for him.
The concept that mankind would need atonement was built into the fabric of Creation. Adam was given freedom of choice. Yet, he was created from Adamah as a part of the finite, material world. Because of his limitations as a mortal, it would be inevitable that some of the choices he made would be wrong ones, and in creating the world, God prepared a way for him to cleanse himself of at least some of their consequences.

The Recanati, a 13th century kabbalistic commentator, quotes the Zohar and Midrashic sources that equate the seven days of Creation with the seven days of consecrating the Altar. After describing the kabbalistic model of the world where ideal “forms” are expressed in the physical world, he explains the purpose of the seven days of consecration:

יש לך לדעת כי מחטא אדם הראשון שהטיל הנחש פגם בצורה עליונה לא נשלמה הצורה עד ז’ ימי המילואים מלואים ממש.
You should know this: from the sin of Adam, when the snake caused a flaw in the “ideal form”, that “form” was not completed until the seven days of consecration, literally, “days of completion.” (Recanati on Shemot 29:1)

According to the Recanati, the seven days of consecration are atoning for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. That is why the purpose for the atonement of the Altar is not spelled out specifically, neither in the Torah nor in the Haftorah. The sin which the Altar cleanses is not something specific to their generation, but rather one that is common to all of humanity. Adam’s sin was arrogance, of wanting to be something other than what God created, something other than a being made of “Adamah.”

Idolatry has its roots in the same attitude as Adam’s sin: wanting to “know good and bad”, the desire to decide what is good and what is bad based on your own judgment, the urge to make your own gods in your own image. The alternative that Adam was given was to subjugate his judgment to that of God, and he proved himself unwilling to do so.
The purpose of the Torah is to bring the world back to the state that Adam was in before he sinned, and to undo the mistake that he made. Chazal tell us that when the Jewish People agreed to accept the Torah at Sinai, they reached a level where Adam’s sin no longer had a hold on them. Unfortunately, the Jewish People were unable to sustain this level, and the Sin of the Golden Calf caused them to crash back down.

According to the Recanati, the building of the Altar and the seven days of its consecration allowed the Jewish People to reach toward that level again. The word “consecration”, or literally, “completion”, refers to the wholeness that the world achieved when the Altar of the Mishkan, built to atone for Adam’s mistakes, became functional.
The Beit HaMikdash also had an Altar which was also consecrated for seven days, and it also had the potential to reverse Adam’s sin.. When it was destroyed, that possibility was lost with it — but only temporarily. The Haftorah tells us that there will be another opportunity, another Altar, another set of seven days of consecration, and the world will be purified and made complete once again.

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Sefer Shemot, Tetzave