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This week we introduce two new Torah columns dealing with the Parasha. Please send your comments!

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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“If we truly look at the good side of every individual, we will achieve deep love for everyone. To do this we need not whitewash people’s faults the least bit. Taking an interest in the good side that we constantly encounter truly conceals from us all the bad sides.” (Erpalei Tohar)

Rabbi Dov BegonFounder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Israel Needs a Leader who is Upright, Wise and Beloved”

From the selection of Betzalel ben Uri we learn how an upright leader is chosen: “A communal leader is not appointed unless the public are first asked, as it says, ‘Observe, G-d has called upon Betzalel’ (Exodus 35:30). G-d said to Moses: ‘Moses, Do you consider Betzalel upright?’ Moses answered, ‘Master of the Universe! If You find him upright, shall I not find him so?’ G-d then said, ‘All the same, go tell the people.’ Moses went and asked Israel, ‘Do you find Betzalel upright?’ They replied, ‘If G-d finds him so and you do too, shall we not find him so?’ (Berachot 55a).

The chosen leader had to be upright in the eyes of G-d, Moses and the public. G-d, who examines man’s heart and mind, knew whether or not Betzalel truly had a good heart, without any private, vested interests. Moses, greatest of prophets and sages, was fully aware of whether or not Betzalel was wise and upright enough to lead the public with wisdom and understanding. As for the public themselves, they had nothing more than what their eyes could see. They could not see into a leader’s heart and mind, hence they accepted and validated whatever G-d and Moses had decided. A good leader has to be honest and upright, wise and understanding, and precisely in that order. If a leader is neither upright nor wise, even if he is popular and beloved, the country and the nation will suffer from his leadership. Therefore, we have to beg mercy and to pray to G-d for a good leader, as it says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the L-rd like watercourses” (Proverbs 21:1. Berachot 55a, Ein Aya).

Today, the State of Israel needs a leader like Betzalel, upright, wise and beloved, just like we need air to breath. An honest, upright leader who is idealistic and has values can purify the air of the corruption that has spread through the various branches of government – the legislature, the executive branch, the judicial system and the law enforcement agencies. The idealistic leader with values has the ability to breath a new spirit into our country and society, which are up to their necks in materialism, vested interests and the culture of “take what you can.” In its place he can breath in the ideals and values of giving, of devotion, of faith and hope. Such a leader will strengthen the nation’s spirit against the enemies that surround it and long to destroy it.

The State of Israel needs a wise, understanding leader who loves his people and is loved by them. This leader will know how to hoist the flag around which the nation will be united. He will know how to jibe with the spirit of each and every individual, even though their views, like their facial characteristics, differ. Israel needs a leader with enormous patience and nerves of steel, who will be able to unite all parts of Israeli society. The State of Israel needs a leader with deep roots who knows full-well the identity of the People and Land of Israel, and derives his nourishment from the Torah of Israel. With G-d’s help, such a leader will be able to stand up to the difficulties and pressures and struggles in which the State of Israel finds itself, and he will steer its course along good channels through the stormy sea to the safe harbor of complete redemption.

Shabbat Shalom!

Catch Rabbi David Samson’s weekly Torah insight on “Israeli Salad” at (produced in cooperation with Machon Meir).

Write a letter of support to Jonathan Pollard, in jail for 20 years because of his love for the Jewish People and our Land! Address letters to:
Jonathan Pollard # 09185-016
FCI Butner Medium
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Butner, NC 27509 (USA)

Rabbi Iti’el Ariel – Ramat Bet Shemesh A
“The Tablets of the Covenant and Their Soul”

The great crisis of the sin of the Calf, and its close juxtaposition to the Revelation, has greatly occupied the Rishonim [Medieval Sages], who instructed us in doctrines of faith, especially Ramban and Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi. Their defense of the Jewish People serves to place the entire Golden Calf episode in a more balanced light than that which is depicted on first reading. What is the precise scope of the sin and the sinners? What is their motive? How is the fallacious perspective of the worshippers of the Calf different from the heretical perspective of idolaters down through the generations?

These arguments focus on the historic event belonging to the past, but by reading between the lines, a central foundation in “the faith of Israel and the Torah” [an expression associated with Rabbi Elijah of Vilna regarding “Sefer HaKuzari”] is made clear: Just as the life of a private individual is characterized by constant tension between his survival needs and his spiritual aspirations, so is it regarding values of the Torah. A person’s soul constantly aspires to spiritual perfection, and even when he stumbles and is punished it is wrong to judge his whole personality only in accordance with his deeds, as though our only means of examining him is by the results.

Of course, it is entirely clear that G-d does not suffice with the fact that “the soul He gave us is pure” (morning prayers). Rather, He demands that we live real lives in accordance with the soul’s aspirations and fulfill the mitzvoth to completion. All the same, He still takes into account the gap between the body’s failings and the soul’s greatness.

There is no parashah in the Torah more appropriate than Ki Tisa for learning a similar distinction as it relates to other values as well.

First of all, regarding the breaking of the tablets, “Shem Mishmuel” (5673) deduces from our sages’ words that the tablets themselves were not really broken, because they too have a soul and an externality. True, the stones were broken, but their letters flew into the sky. They are like the soul within the body. It follows that the second tablets did not totally replace the first tablets, and the whole reason the former were disqualified was only to allow the flying letters to be enveloped once more in a different body.

For that reason, the Torah stressed during the receiving of the Second Tablets, “It is through these words that I have made a covenant with you and Israel” (Exodus 34:27). As our sages expounded, “The covenant forged with Israel revolved around spoken words.” This stresses that the stone was not the essence, nor the writing, but the content of the Oral Law that is planted within us.

It turns out that also the value of the Torah was measured on two planes, the body of the Torah and the soul of the Torah. The body of the Torah is acquired through intellectual toil, and the soul of the Torah is acquired through deepening the connection between the student of Torah and “He who teaches Torah to His people Israel” (Morning Torah Blessings). In this context, it is appropriate to quote the father of the “Shem Mishmuel” in his introduction to his work, “Eglei Tal”: “The essence of the mitzvah of Torah learning is to rejoice and take great pleasure in one’s learning. Then, the Torah’s words are absorbed in one’s being.”

The same distinction applies regarding the Sabbath: Here as well we find that this value cannot be measured only by its practical aspects – the body of the Sabbath. Rather, the essence of the Sabbath revolves precisely around its principles – the soul of the Sabbath. The soul of the Sabbath is the sign of G-d’s having chosen the Jewish People – “through His granting us this day for us to rest” (Rashi on Exodus 31:13). Only as a result of this were its practical laws decreed. For this reason, we emphasize in our Sabbath prayers, “You did not give it to the nations of the lands.” Quite the contrary, “a non-Jew who keeps the Sabbath incurs a death penalty.” In terms of its essence, the Sabbath belongs specifically to Israel, and only one who belongs to this essence can come and fulfill its practical laws.

This idea finds special expression in our sages’ exposition regarding the words, “The Israelites shall keep the Sabbath” (Exodus 31:16): “Violate one Sabbath for his sake [i.e., the sake of the Jew whose life is endangered because he was kidnapped or taken into captivity], so that he can keep many other Sabbaths.” Keeping the Sabbath is not merely a private mitzvah between a Sabbath observer and G-d. Rather, it requires him to weigh public observance of Sabbath in the aggregate. During a life-endangering situation which justifies violating the Sabbath, it is wrong to view that violation as a profanation of the Sabbath, but rather as its fulfillment. This is because there is no greater fulfillment of the Sabbath than acting to save a Jew’s life, even if one could otherwise gain a few more moments of Sabbath observance in one’s own life (see Biur Halachah, Siman 329).

Of paramount importance is the eternal election of the Jewish People. Even if it seems as though our relationship with G-d involves ups and downs, we are still promised that “the L-rd will not cast off His people, neither will He forsake His inheritance” (Psalm 94:14).

Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber
“Why did Moses Break the Tablets?”

In studying the Sin of the Golden Calf, we generally are preoccupied with the making of the calf, and with the question of what was Israel’s role and what was Aaron’s role, events that took place in the Israelite camp. Yet parallel to those events in the Israelite camp, a conversation also took place on the mountain above, between G-d and Moses. G-d told Moses, “Go down!” He revealed to Moses His intention of destroying Israel and of making Moses into a great nation. Moses stood in prayer and succeeded in averting the decree; only then, Moses descended with the tablets.

Ostensibly, Moses could have conducted himself differently. If he considered Israel unworthy of the tablets, he could have refrained from descending with them altogether, or he could have descended without them, leaving them on the mountain, intact, with G-d (since he ultimately broke them). And if he had decided to break them, he could have done it while he was still on the mountain, the moment he was informed that Israel had made the calf. Yet Moses took neither approach. Rather, he descended with the tablets, and only when he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing did he grow angry and cast down the tablets, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.

Here one can ask: If the Sin of the Calf justified breaking the tablets, why didn’t Moses break them while he was yet on the mountain? Surely G-d had just informed him that Israel had “made themselves a cast-metal calf. They have bowed down and offered sacrifice to it, exclaiming, ‘This, Israel, is your god, who brought you out of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:8). If making the calf did not justify breaking the tablets, as Moses indeed avoided doing while on the mountain, what made him break them in the end?

Up on the mountain, he was told only that the calf had been made. When he descended he saw the dancing as well (32:19). Rabbi Moshe Alshich explains that as long as a sinner is sad about his sin, there is hope that he will repent and made amends. Yet if he rejoices in his sin, his hope is lost: “Therefore, when G-d told him about the making of the calf, He did not tell him about Israel’s joy and lack of contrition over their sin. Moses therefore did not become very angry. Yet when he saw the calf and the dancing – signifying their joy – he grew very angry.” Ramban, as well, wrote (32:16), “When I saw you carousing before the calf, I could not hold back and I broke the tablets.”

This approach, by which in the camp Moses became aware of new information lacking to him on the mountain, was taken by “Akeidat Yitzchak” as well (Sha’ar 53). He brings two explanations of what changed for Moses. The first is that while he had heard from G-d that Israel had made the calf, he did not take G-d’s words literally. Rather, he assumed that perhaps Israel had committed some unsavory deed that G-d was calling a “cast-metal calf.” Or, he thought that not all of them were involved in the sin. Or, he thought that until he descended to them, they would repent. In the end, however, he reached them and saw that G-d’s words had been meant literally. Then he understood that they were unworthy of the first tablets.

The second answer is this: Hearing is not the same as seeing: “A person is impressed more by what he sees than by what he hears, even if there is no doubt involved in what he heard.” One way or the other, Moses, while on the mountain, still hoped that there was a chance for the Jewish People to be worthy to receive the tablets. Yet when he saw the reality as it was, he understood that under the circumstances, the people were not prepared to receive the tablets. Therefore, Moses, in his anger, broke them.

Yet there is still another approach that explains that the breaking of the tablets was out of worry over the Jewish People. Shemot Rabbah (43:1) states: “To what may this be compared? A prince sent an emissary to betroth a bride on his behalf. Yet the bride was behaving promiscuously with another man. What did the emissary do? He took the marriage contract which the prince had given him for completing the transaction and he ripped it up. He said, ‘Better she should be judged as an unmarried woman.’ Moses did the same: When Israel committed the same act, Moses took the tablets and broke them. Moses further said, ‘Better they should be judged as inadvertent sinners than as intentional sinners.’”

Another Midrash (ibid., 46:1) viewed Moses as breaking the tablets as a way of defending Israel: “Moses saw that by strict law, Israel had no right to survive. He therefore attached himself to them and broke the tablets. He said to G-d, ‘They sinned, and I sinned in breaking the tablets. If you forgive them, then forgive me as well,’ as it says, ‘And now, if You bear their sin’ (Exodus 32:32). Yet if You do not forgive them, do not forgive me. Rather, ‘Blot me out of the book that You have written’ (ibid.).”

There is also a third approach, according to which the breaking of the tablets was a deliberate act by Moses to influence Israel. Netziv states: “Moses wished to break the people’s spirit and to agitate them. Seeing Moses break the tablets, their marvelous, unparalleled treasure, before their eyes, saddened them so much that they didn’t have the will to protest what he had done.” Meshech Chochmah likewise explains at length that Moses’s breaking of the tablets was an educational act by which to teach the public.

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