This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Ki Tisa is being sponsored Reuven and Socotta Shefi-gal of Moshav Aderet lilui nishmas Reuven’s Dad Rav Avraham Moshe ben Rav Elchanan Yochanan. To the Shefi-gal family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
We learn that while Moshe was in Shemayim receiving and learning Torah from Hashem, part of B’nei Yisrael grew anxious and fearful since they had misunderstood Moshe’s explanation regarding the Forty Days and feared that he would not return.
The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders translation of Sefer Shemot Perek 32, posuk 1 and provides explanation from Rashi (pages 493-495):
“The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain, and the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us, for this man Moshe who brought us up from Egypt — we do not know what became of him!'”
The people thought that the day of Moshe’s ascent counted as the first day of the forty, and therefore Moshe would be back on the sixteenth of Tammuz. That was a mistake. Moshe meant that he would be away a full forty days and nights, which meant that he would be back on the seventeenth.
This tragic error in the people’s calculation led to the catastrophic creation of the Eigel Zahav — the Golden Calf.
Amidst Hashem’s teaching of Torah to Moshe, HaKadosh Borchu, in American football terms, calls an audible.
The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders translation of Sefer Shemot Perek 32, posukim 7-10):
“Hashem spoke to Moshe: ‘Go, descend — for your people that you brought from Egypt has become corrupt. They have strayed quickly from the way that I have commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, prostrated themselves to it and sacrificed to it…'” “Hashem said to Moshe, I have seen this people, and behold! it is a stiff-necked people. And now, desist from Me. Let My anger flare up against them and I shall annihilate them; and I shall make you a great nation.”
Moshe prayed on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, but according to the Ibn Ezra (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash commentary on Sefer Shemot Perek 32, posuk 11, page 496):
This passage in not chronological order, for Moshe would not have prayed for B’nei Yisrael while it still harbored an avodah zora in its midst. Rather, he prayed after he had returned to the people and destroyed the Eigel, but Torah mentions it here because the reason he prayed later was in response to Hashem’s implication in the previous verse that it was up to him to save the nation.
The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders translation of Sefer Shemot Perek 32, posuk 11:
“Moshe pleaded before Hashem, his God, and said, “Why Hashem, should Your anger flare up against your people, whom You have taken out of the land of Egypt, with great power and a strong hand?”
Last year, Israel National News posted a commentary from HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zts”l:
… Moshe “pleaded before God” on their behalf (Sefer Shemot Perek 32, posuk 11).
The word for ‘pleaded’ – ‘va-yechal’ – is not the usual expression for prayer. The Sages offered several explanations why the Torah used this particular word to describe Moses’ prayer. Rabbi Elazar noted that ‘va-yechal’ shares the same root as choleh (sick). Moses prayed for the sake of Israel so intensely that he became ill from the effort.
According to Rabbi Eliezer the Great, the word ‘va-yechal’ even indicates the specific illness that afflicted Moses. Moses suffered from achilu, a fever in the bones.
Why should Moses’ efforts for the sake of the Jewish people make him ill? What is the significance of a fever in his bones?
Intensity of Prayer
The gravity of the Sin of the Golden Calf should not be underestimated. It was not a foregone conclusion that God would forgive the Israelites. Divine justice dictated that the Jewish nation deserved to be destroyed for this calamitous breach of faith.
Moses could not offer just any prayer in their defense. Their sin was beyond the normal efforts of the great leader to rectify. In order to recover, to some extent, the spiritual state they had attained at Sinai, Moses needed to pray with an intensity that exceeded his natural powers. The exertion was so great that Moses became ill. This is one implication of
the word ‘va-yechal’ – a pleading so intense that it disrupted his body’s normal functioning.
Rabbi Eliezer the Great provided an additional insight into Moses’ extraordinary prayer. Although bones are not particularly sensitive, they nevertheless contain a condensed essence of life. (The word etzem in Hebrew means both ‘bone’ and ‘essence.’) When the life-force has left all other parts of the body, it still remains in the bones. A starved individual, just barely alive, will appear to be a walking skeleton.
Moses was unable to plead the case of the Jewish people using only his natural powers. He needed to awaken all of his powers, even those hidden deeply within. His extraordinary effort was in equal measure to the people’s cataclysmic spiritual breakdown. The nation’s descent into idolatry could not be corrected by the regular influence of ethical life
alone. It was necessary that powers from the soul’s essence – from the people’s inner goodness and holiness, hidden deeply in their bones – be awakened.
Since these aspects of life are ordinarily hidden, their awakening is an unnatural, even extreme measure. Moses’ plea for the sake of Israel at that critical time was thus based on a special fire – a fire of holiness, smoldering inside their very bones.
With the miracles of Purim, the new life given to our people, still fresh in mind, this author recalls and connects a similar event in Esther’s acquiescence to Mordechai’s pleas that she appear before King Achashveirosh and her travails as she is about to enter the king’s chambers, as rendered in “127 Insights into Megillas Esther”, by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach (pages 115-117):
Esther relied on Mordechai’s judgement that it was the will of Heaven for her to make the supreme sacrifice and initiate an action that seemed to defy Jewish law, reason and her personal happiness.
…Esther …demanded that the first day of Pesach be included in the three-day fast. When Mordechai protested that it was forbidden to fast on that day, she sharply rebuked him: “So speaks the sage of Israel! If there are no Jews left in the world, what value do mitzvos have? If there are no Jews there is no Torah!”
Esther’s insistence on fasting was based on her profound analysis of the trouble facing her people. “Fast for me,” she had requested…. Her message to her people was that abstinence from food and drink would atone for the forbidden food and drink they had consumed at Achashveirosh’s banquet.
Esther also insisted on Mordechai gathering “all the Jews in Shushan” (Perek 4, posuk 15) to insure that every Jew who had attended the banquet would fast in repentance.
The spiritual energy generated by that effort… enabled Esther to achieve a near prophetic level as she marched toward her historic mission. This was her sign from Heaven that her strategy was working and it gave her confidence that she would succeed.
The ruach hakodesh that accompanied Esther on her march to the king’s chambers suddenly abandoned her when she reached his [the king’s] gallery of idols. Crying out, “My Lord, why have You forsaken me?”
The sefer then indicates that Esther questioned how she could be punished either for offering herself to the king, or for violation of Torah’s command to avoid contact with avodah zora [idols], although she was doing so against her will as part of efforts to save her people. She then came to a different conclusion: she had called Achashveirosh a dog in her prayers in the mistaken assumption that the king was just a lackey in Haman’s genocidal plot and that it wouldn’t take a major miracle to move him. This underestimation of need for Divine aid had caused the loss of her ruach hakodesh. She now realized that Achashveirosh was as dangerous as Haman. She then referred to him as a lion as she doubled-down on her prayers for a miracle.
Another version, from a source this author can’t recall, regarding Esther’s travails, indicated that she may have suffered severe abdominal pain at some point enroute to the king’s chambers.
It would seem that neither Moshe, nor Esther could plead the B’nei Yisrael’s case with natural powers. In short, in both cases, the prayers of Moshe, and then, of Esther were of such intensity as to cause physical pain and/or illness.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of two and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.