V’atah kach lecha besamim rosh mar deror chamesh me’os (30:23)
When the Megillah first introduces us to Mordechai, it tells us not only his name, but the names of several of his ancestors, recording that he was Mordechai the son of Yair, who was the son of Shimi, who was the son of Kish (Esther 2:5). Why does the verse mention all of these generations, especially when the commentators point out that these weren’t his actual father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, but more distant ancestors? The Gemora (Megillah 12b) explains that each name teaches us something: “Ben Yair” teaches that Mordechai was “me’ir eineihem shel Yisroel bi’tefilaso” – he lit up the eyes of the Jews through his prayers, “Ben Shimi” indicates that Hashem was “shama el tefilaso”– listened to his petitions, and “Ben Kish” hints that “hikish al dal’sei Rachamim” – Mordechai knocked on the doors of Mercy.
The Vilna Gaon explains that a person has 4 primary senses: sight, hearing, smell, and speech. Three of these are needed for the purpose of learning Torah: sight to see what one is learning, hearing to listen to what the Rabbi is teaching, and speech to share one’s knowledge with others. The sense of smell has no connection to Torah study, but its place is in the Divine Service in the Temple, as the verses in the Torah which discuss the offerings repeatedly speak about them as being a “reiach nicho’ach l’Hashem – pleasant smell to Hashem. Today when we don’t have offerings, we instead have prayer in their place.
The Gemora in Chullin (139b) asks where Mordechai is hinted to in the Torah, and it answers that he is alluded to in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sisa, where the Torah lists the choice spices that were used in creating the anointing oil. The first of the spices is called “mar deror” – pure myrrh – which the Targum translates into Aramaic as “mara dach’ya”, which sounds like Mordechai.
The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah is teaching us that the choicest of all of the spices is Mordechai, which means that he is the most connected to the concept of prayer which corresponds to the sense of smell. For this reason, the Gemora teaches that he had all four of the senses present in his prayers, as he lit up the eyes of the Jewish people with his entreaties, Hashem listened to his prayers, he knocked on the doors of Mercy by speaking his petitions, and his very name and essence connote that his prayers were the epitome of a “reiach nicho’ach l’Hashem.”
Ra’isi es ha’am hazeh v’hinei am k’shei oref hu (32:9)
A mere 40 days after accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people committed the worst sin in the history of their nation: the making and worship of the golden calf. Hashem’s preliminary reaction was to create a new nation which would be descended from Moshe, a plan which was fortunately rejected as a result of Moshe’s fervent prayers on their behalf.
Curiously, Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that a careful reading of our verses reveals that even this terrible sin didn’t arouse sufficient Divine wrath to warrant the annihilation of the Jewish people. Only after Hashem added that they were a stiff-necked people did He conclude that they were deserving of eradication. Although stubbornness is an undesirable trait, how can its severity be compared to the grievous sin of the golden calf, and how can we understand that this was the primary cause of Hashem’s initial decree?
Rav Shalom answers that no matter how grave a sin a person may commit, it is always possible to correct his ways. However, this is dependent upon his willingness to critically examine his ways. After Hashem noted that besides having committed a terrible sin the Jewish people were also stubborn and inflexible, there was no longer a chance that they would be willing to admit the error of their ways. Only at this point was their fate sealed.
The importance of accepting rebuke is illustrated by the following humorous story. At one time, certain bus routes in Jerusalem were separated by gender for reasons of modesty. Late one stormy Friday afternoon, a pregnant woman missed the last bus for women before Shabbos. When the final men’s bus approached, she attempted to board.
A fanatical man on the bus began vocally protesting her “immodesty.” One of the other passengers attempted to defend her, asking the extremist, “What about the law prohibiting the public embarrassment of another Jew?” The zealot turned to her supporter and responded, “You’re right, so why are you embarrassing me?!”
This lesson can also be applied to marriage. When considering a person as a prospective spouse, the Chazon Ish advised that it is impossible to completely examine every attribute, viewpoint, and philosophy of the person in question. Therefore, in addition to making a good-faith effort to clarify the most important issues, it is also critical to find out whether the person is intransigent in his thinking.
No matter how similar and well-matched two people may seem, there will inevitably arise differences of opinion and style in confronting life’s challenges. As long as each person is open-minded and flexible, willing to listen to and understand the viewpoint of the other and then reconsider his own, this needn’t be a cause for concern. However, if one spouse is stubborn and set in his ways, refusing to even consider alternate viewpoints, this presents a tremendous danger to the future peace and harmony in his home, and the Chazon Ish advised that one stay far away from such a match.
Although many of us go through life convinced that we are always correct (and wondering when those around us will finally realize it), the lesson of the golden calf is that more important than the propriety of our deeds is our willingness to question them, maturely admit when we are wrong, and attempt to improve and learn from our mistakes.
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.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) We are not only permitted but required to desecrate Shabbos in order to save a fellow Jew’s life. This would seem to indicate that human life is more important than observing Shabbos. On the other hand, the Torah decrees (31:14) that any Jew who performs forbidden labor on Shabbos is to be put to death, which implies that Shabbos takes precedence over human life. Which of the two is in fact more valuable? (Meshech Chochmah)
2) The Gemora in Nedorim (38a) relates that during the initial 40 days that Moshe was on Mount Sinai, he learned the entire Torah from Hashem each day, only to forget it, until finally Hashem gave him the knowledge as a gift (31:18). What was Hashem’s purpose in teaching him the Torah for 40 consecutive days when He knew that Moshe would forget? (Atarah L’Melech pg. 196)
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)
© 2010 by Oizer Alport