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Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Ki Sisa

Ki sisa es rosh B’nei Yisroel lif’kudeihem (30:12)
Hashem commanded Moshe regarding the proper manner in which to take a census of the Jewish people, but in doing so, He used a peculiar expression. Instead of instructing Moshe, “Go count the people,” the literal translation of the verse is, “When you pick up the heads of the Jewish people to count them.” Why did Hashem use this awkward, and seemingly imprecise, expression when commanding Moshe about the census, and what lesson does it teach us? Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that whenever a person gets excited about the prospects of increasing his Torah study, his evil inclination attempts to derail him by arguing that his Torah study is so limited both in quantity and in quality as to be insignificant and even, G-d forbid, a waste of time. The yetzer hara shows a person that his more intellectually-gifted friends and neighbors are able to learn more hours and more in-depth, and to retain their knowledge much better than he could ever hope to do. In light of these arguments, a person may be tempted to give up.

To counter this flawed argument, Hashem employed this peculiar expression in commanding Moshe regarding the census. Just as a modern Jew could get discouraged about his service of Hashem when comparing it to others, certainly one in the desert, who lived in the shadow of Moshe and Aharon, could be susceptible to the same fallacy. He may feel that although he is “worth” 1 in Hashem’s eyes, those around him are “worth” 100 or even one million. This will leave him distraught and despondent.

Therefore, Hashem specifically commanded Moshe regarding the census using the expression “pick up their heads.” When each Jew realizes that he is counted in Hashem’s eyes as the same 1 as every other Jew, he will recognize how precious and valuable his personal efforts and struggles are in Hashem’s eyes. This understanding will allow him to “pick up his head” and hold it high with a newfound self-confidence.

Although others may seem light-years ahead of us in the quantity and quality of their mitzvos, the lesson of Parshas Ki Sisa is that everybody is judged uniquely in Hashem’s eyes, based on a benchmark of what he is personally capable of doing. A person who overcomes his own personal struggles to maximize his G-d-given potential should certainly walk around with his head held high.


Va’yei’asfu eilav kol B’nei Levi (32:26)
The seven Aliyos into which each parsha is subdivided are generally evenly spaced. However, this week’s parsha contains 139 verses, yet the first two Aliyos contain a disproportionate 92 verses, or two-thirds of the entire parsha. Why is this?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the majority of the parsha discusses the sin of the golden calf, a national embarrassment of unprecedented proportions. For somebody to be called up to the Torah when this sin, in which his ancestors may have played a role, is being recounted would be humiliating. The tribe of Levi proved their faithfulness by refusing to take part in the sin and assisting Moshe in punishing the wrongdoers. Therefore, the first two Aliyos, which are given to descendants of the Levites, are atypically lengthened until the narrative of the golden calf is completed.


Vayipol min ha’am bayom ha’hu ki’shloshes alfei ish (32:28)
On the Torah’s statement that the Levites killed 3000 Jews for their role in the sin of the golden calf, there is a perplexing Medrash which teaches that our verse illustrates the Torah’s rule (21:37) chamisha baker y’shalem tachas hashor – when a person steals an ox and slaughters or sells it, he must pay the owner five times its value. As these verses have no apparent connection, how is this Medrash to be understood?

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly explains that our Medrash can be understood in light of a second Medrash. Shlomo HaMelech cryptically writes in Koheles (7:28) adam echad me’elef matzasi v’isha b’kol eileh lo matzasi – one man out of one thousand I found, but not a single woman did I find. The Medrash elucidates that Shlomo was referring to the sin of the golden calf, in which one out of each thousand men sinned, yet not a single woman participated (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:10).

However, if there were 600,000 men and only one out of 1000 transgressed, this translates to only 600 sinners. The Medrash is bothered why 3000 people died for a sin in which only 600 participated. The Medrash answers that when a sin occurs through forbidden actions involving a cow – in this case, the golden calf – the Torah prescribes that the punishment must be five times the actual crime. In this case, five times the 600 sinners is exactly the 3000 people who perished.


V’im ayin m’cheini na misifr’cha asher kasavta (32:32)
The Arizal writes that Moshe mystically contained within him a spark of the soul of Noach, and part of his life’s mission was to rectify Noach’s mistakes. What were these errors, and how did Moshe fix them?

The Zohar HaKadosh notes that the Haftorah for Parshas Noach curiously makes reference to îé ðç – “the flood-waters of Noach” (Yeshaya 54:9). If Noach was the only one found worthy of salvation in his generation, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to refer to the flood of his wicked contemporaries? The Zohar HaKadosh explains that during the 120 years Noach spent building the ark, he neglected to pray for the repentance of his contemporaries. The Medrash compares Noach to a captain who saved himself while allowing his boat and its passengers to drown. Had he been more concerned about them, he could have prevented the flood. Hence, it is memorialized as “the flood of Noach.”

How did Moshe correct Noach’s lack of concern for others? Although Divine Providence brought him to Pharaoh’s palace where he was spared the fate of his fellow Jews, Moshe felt their pain from his youth and sacrificed his own growth for their sake. In spending the 120 years of his life living completely for others, Moshe perfectly rectified the 120 years that Noach spent building the ark solely absorbed in ensuring his own salvation.

After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe proved the extent of his dedication. Hashem wanted to destroy the people and create a new nation consisting of Moshe’s descendants. Moshe had every right to be furious with the Jews. Instead, he prayed that if Hashem refused to forgive their actions, He should erase Moshe’s name from the entire Torah. This selflessness represented the ultimate correction of Noach’s errors, which is hinted to in the word m’cheini (“Erase me”), whose letters also spell Mei Noach – the flood-waters of Noach.

The Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, understood this lesson well. He was one of the most indefatigable builders of all that was destroyed in the Holocaust. He explained that he was haunted by his inability to save the rest of his generation, accusing himself of falling pray to the error of Noach. Instead of being dejected over his perceived failure, he reasoned that if he was unsuccessful in rescuing the previous generation, he would at least do everything in his power to help save the next one.

The lesson for us is clear. We live in a time when there are numerous “floods” surrounding us – religious, financial, and emotional. We cannot content ourselves with our own personal survival. We must each prepare an answer to the question we will one day have to answer, “Did you do all that you could to help save your contemporaries from their floods?”


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) Rashi writes (30:31) that the anointment oil will remain for use in the Messianic era. For what will it be used? (Ramban Sefer HaMitzvos 3:7, Minchas Chinuch 107, Ayeles HaShachar)

2) The Gemora in Yoma (85b) derives from 31:16 that we are required to desecrate Shabbos to save a fellow Jew’s life. If a Jewish court has convicted somebody of a capital crime and sentenced him to death, may one still desecrate Shabbos in order to save his life? (Biur Halacha 329:4)

3) How was Moshe permitted to break the Tablets (32:19), which contained Hashem’s name, when the Gemora in Sanhedrin (56a) rules that it is forbidden to cause the erasure or destruction of Hashem’s name? (Rokeach, Moshav Z’keinim, Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:8, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Tzafnas Paneiach, Ayeles HaShachar, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

4) The Medrash teaches (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 45) that prior to Moshe throwing down the Tablets and breaking them, the writing that was on the Tablets miraculously flew away. As the letters weren’t written on the Tablets but were carved through them, how was it possible for them to fly away? (Maharsha Pesachim 87b, Korban HaEidah Yerushalmi Taanis 23a)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.

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