Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Ki Sisa


Vayomer Hashem el Moshe kach lecha samim nataf ush’cheiles v’chelbena samim u’levona zakah … v’asisa osah ketores (30:34-35)

At the end of the morning prayers on Shabbos, we recite a passage describing the contents of the incense which was burnt in the Beis HaMikdash. This section is preceded by a declaration of faith in the Unity of Hashem known as “Ein Keilokeinu” – there is none like our G-d. As beautiful as this passage is, it is interesting to note that no comparable introduction is said before the passages recounting the other sacrifices which were brought. What is unique about the incense offering?

The Gemora in Yoma (26a) relates that no Kohen was permitted to offer the incense more than once in his life. Because this service contained a special power to bring riches to whoever merited to perform it, nobody was allowed to do so a second time in order to allow other Kohanim to share in this unique opportunity.

Based on this Gemora, the Noda BiYehuda (Orach Chaim 1:10) posits that because a person who says the passages dealing with the sacrifices is considered as if he actually offered them, the recounting of the incense service contains a unique potential to bring wealth. The Sages were afraid that the person reciting it may attribute his good fortune to “Kochi v’otzem yadi” – his own hard work and intelligence. They therefore required that before doing so, he must declare to himself and to the world the Oneness of Hashem as a reminder of the true Source of the wealth he is about to merit.


Re’eh karasi b’shem Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur l’mateh Yehuda v’amalei oso ruach Elokim b’chochmah uvisevunah uv’daas uv’kol melacha lachshov machshavos la’asos bazahav uvakesef uva’nechoshes (31:2-4)

            A fundraiser for the Volozhin yeshiva once returned from a fundraising trip and informed Rav Chaim Volozhiner, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva, that a certain wealthy benefactor had ceased his donations. Rav Chaim went to visit the supporter to find out the reason for his actions. The man explained that he was happy to assist the yeshiva pay for necessities which allow the students to learn properly, but he had no interest in having his money used to purchase frivolous luxuries such as the fancy new clothing and wagon used by the yeshiva’s collectors.

Rav Chaim responded by asking the man to resolve a difficulty in our verses. After Hashem said that He would fill Betzalel with Divine wisdom, which our Sages explain includes the deep mystical knowledge with which Hashem created the universe, what purpose was there in adding that He would also teach him the mundane skills needed to work with metals? Relative to the aforementioned ability, what kind of praise was this?

The man was at a loss to answer. Rav Chaim explained that every contributor to the Mishkan hoped that his donation would find its way into the most holy components, such as the Aron. However, Hashem recognized that not all of their intentions were equally for the sake of Heaven. He desired that each donation should be used for a purpose which corresponded to the purity with which it was given. It is this profound wisdom to which the Torah refers in relating that Betzalel knew how to discern the intentions of each item’s contributor – lachshov machshavos – and to assign its use and location accordingly.

Similarly, Rav Chaim concluded, everybody wants his donation to the yeshiva to be used for the loftiest purposes. Unfortunately, nobody today possesses the ability of Betzalel to determine the purity of motive of the supporter. Nevertheless, Hashem continues to ensure that every ruble is directed in accordance with the motivation of the benefactor. He concluded, “If your intentions are truly noble, Hashem will see to it that your generous contribution will be put to use for holy purposes, if only you will reconsider your decision about donating” – which the man was happy to do.

V’atah dabeir el B’nei Yisroel leimor ach es Shab’sosai tishm’ru (31:13)

In Parshas Ki Sisa, the mitzvah of building the Mishkan is related before the commandment to observe Shabbos. In Parshas Vayakhel, however, the order is reversed (35:2-19). The Meshech Chochmah notes that Rashi explains that in Parshas Vayakhel Shabbos is written first to teach that the building of the Mishkan may not be done on Shabbos. If so, why is the order in our parsha different?

Rav Meir Simcha points out that after the Mishkan was actually constructed and assembled, the Divine Service which took place inside was performed on Shabbos, even thought it often involved otherwise-forbidden labors. This is because the purpose of Shabbos is to testify to Hashem’s Kingship, in particular with respect to His Creation of the universe.

In the Mishkan, the Divine Presence was palpable and tangible. As such, it was permissible to perform the Service there, since the Kohen doing so was able to feel and testify to Hashem’s dominion. Before the Mishkan was fully erected, however, the Shechinah didn’t yet rest inside. Work on its construction was consequently forbidden, as it didn’t yet offer an alternative means to reach the goal of the observance of Shabbos.

Before the sin of the golden calf, however, the Divine Presence rested throughout the entire Jewish camp, and the Mishkan was merely intended to serve as a place for additional holiness. At that time, it would have been permissible even to construct the Mishkan on Shabbos for the same reason that it was later permitted to offer sacrifices inside once it was completed. In Parshas Ki Sisa, the Torah is addressing the Jews on their pre-sin level. It therefore reverses the order to teach that at that time, the building of the Mishkan was indeed permissible even on Shabbos.

Vayishma Yehoshua es kol ha’am b’raah (32:17)

As Moshe and Yehoshua approached the Jewish camp during the worship of the golden calf, Yehoshua heard the sound of the people shouting. However, in rendering our verse into Aramaic, the Targum Yonason writes that Yehoshua overheard the sound of the people crying while rejoicing before the golden calf. As happiness and tears represent contradictory emotions, this is difficult to comprehend. Were the Jewish people happy or sad?

Rav Yerucham Levovitz once remarked that there is no way to know whether a yeshiva student will merit a portion in the World to Come because this is dependent upon the actions he chooses with his free will. However, one thing of which it is possible to be certain is that the student will certainly have no share in the pleasures of this world.

Even if he one day chooses to leave the Torah path and attempts to enjoy the forbidden temptations of this world, he still won’t be able to take true pleasure from them. After he has spent his formative years learning Torah and listening to ethical discourses about the severity of sin and the ephemeral nature of the illusory pleasures of this world, his inner voice will nag him so much about the foolishness of his actions that the feeling of guilt will outweigh any temporary enjoyment he may have otherwise felt.

The Oznayim L’Torah suggests that similarly, after the Jewish people heard Hashem speak directly to them at Mount Sinai, the Torah became an intrinsic part of them. Even though they appeared to the naked eye to be festively celebrating and dancing around the golden calf, their souls were weeping in mourning. It was this unique combination of superficial happiness and profound sadness and regret which Yehoshua overheard.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available! To receive the full version with answers email the author at [email protected].

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     If the Torah commands us (Devorim 9:7) to remember the sin of the golden calf, why is there no annual reading to enable us to do so as we do with Parshas Zachor? (Artzos HaChaim, Shu”t Arugas HaBosem 205, Shu”t Doveiv Meishorim 2:43)

2)     After Moshe learned the entire Torah during his first 40 days on Mount Sinai, why did he need to spend a second set of 40 days (34:28) after the sin of the golden calf relearning the Torah which had already been taught to him? (Darash Moshe, Pirkei Torah)

3)     Rashi writes (34:29) that Moshe descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets on Yom Kippur. How was he permitted to carry the Tablets from the mountain, which is a private domain, to the Jewish camp, a public domain, on Yom Kippur? (Ramban 18:13, Shu”t Rivash 96, Panim Yafos, Chasam Sofer 20:22, Tzafnas Paneiach and Rinas Yitzchok Devorim 10:5)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.