Parshat Ki Tisa 5781: Aaron HaKohen Godol — Playing for Time?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Ki Tisa is being sponsored anonymously dedicated Lilui Nishmas for the Yahrtzeit of his father: Yehuda Leib Ha Kohen ben Moshe Shimon on Yud Alef Adar and his mother: Miriam ben Menachem Mendel on Vuv Adar. To our anonymous donor and his 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.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Ki Tisa 5781: Aaron HaKohen Godol — Playing for Time?

by Moshe Burt

This author loves to replay this parody on NFL Football as it relates to Hashem, Moshe and the sin of the golden calf (the eigel zahav):

Imagine yourself as an American football quarterback.

Your team emerges out of the huddle (huddle: the eleven players on offense in a circle as the quarterback pronounces the next play) and the quarterback stands over the center, or in “shotgun” formation a few yards behind center, and calls signals.

Suddenly, the quarterback audibles: Noun. Also called automatic, checkoff. Football . A play called at the line of scrimmage to supersede the play originally agreed upon as the result of a change in strategy [or, as football fans and experts observe; during the play itself, dependent upon what the quarterback sees as the alignment of the defense at the line of scrimmage, or the tendencies of the defensive positions during the play]. He changes up on the play called in the huddle. No, we’re not talkin’ about the “Philly Special.”

Now, think back to Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu atop Har Sinai. What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s summary of Parshat Ki Tisa in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, page 257):

Hashem speaking to Moshe on the summit of Mount Sinai, issues commandments concerning:

An indirect census to be taken of Am Yisrael’s males, twenty years and over, through individual contributions of half shekels;

The creation of the laver [Liyor: wash basin], the anointment oil and the incense to be used in association with the Sanctuary [Mishkan];

The appointment of Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur and Oholaiv ben Achisamach to supervise the construction of the Mishkan;

Shabbos Observance.

At the conclusion of these directives, Hashem presents Moshe with the two Tablets of Testimony inscribed with the Asseret HaDivrot (the Ten Declarations).

Meanwhile, at the foot of Har Sinai, the Jews grow uneasy with Moshe’s prolonged absence. They turn to Aaron and demand: “Rise up, make for us gods who will go before us, for Moshe — this man who brought us out of the land of Mitzrayim — we do not know what has become of him!”

Aaron instructs the people to contribute their gold earrings, which he fashions into a molten calf. He then declares, “A festival for the Lord tomorrow!” The Jews rise early the next morning to celebrate.

Suddenly, amidst Hashem’s teaching of Torah to Moshe, HaKadosh Borchu, in American football terms, calls an audible.

Returning to the excerpt from the Parshat Ki Tisa summary, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin summarizes Hashem’s reaction to B’nei Yisrael and the egel zahav (the golden calf) in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” (ibid, pages 257-258):

Hashem informs Moshe, who is still on the summit of Har Sinai, of the sin… perpetrated at its base. Hashem threatens the nation with immediate extinction, relenting only in response to Moshe’s impassioned pleas.

Moshe descends the mountain with the Tablets of Testimony [the Asseret HaDivrot]. When he sees the revelry… in the camp of B’nei Yisrael, …he throws the tablets from his hands in anger, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. Moshe then burns the calf, grinds its remains into powder which he sprinkles into the water and forces the B’nei Yisrael to drink, takes Aaron to task for his involvement in the sin and directs the Levi’im (who rally to his side) to execute those most directly involved in the transgression.

So, what happened to Aaron HaKohen? Rabbi Goldin presents a context regarding Moshe’s confrontation with his brother Aaron (ibid, page 286):

When Moshe descends the mountain, he confronts Aaron and exclaims: “What has this people done to you that you brought upon it such a grievous sin?” Aaron responds by pleading with his brother: “Let not my master be angry, you know that this people is disposed to evil.”

Aaron then recounts the nation’s demand [A people worried over what they perceived as their go-between, intermediary with Hashem when Moshe did not re-emerge from Har Sinai at the time that they calculated] and closes with the statement: “And I said to them, ‘Who has gold?’ They removed it and gave it to me, I threw it into the fire, and this calf emerged.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posukim 21-24)

Rabbi Goldin now poses a number of questions, of which this author brings these questions regarding Aaron HaKohen’s actions in bringing about the eigel zahav, and presents several of Rashi’s understandings regarding Aaron’s reasoning in the situation (ibid, pages 287- 291):

Why does Aaron accede to the nation’s demand without argument and create the golden calf? Should he not have attempted to dissuade the people from their ill-advised, destructive path?

When confronted by Moshe, how can Aaron defend his actions with the strange claim: “I threw it into the fire and this calf emerged”? The text clearly states that Aaron deliberately “fashioned” the gold which he received into a molten calf. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 4)

Rashi… who elsewhere defends biblical figures in the face of apparent wrongdoing strenuously works to defend Aaron in this difficult circumstances as well. He quotes a series of Midrashic traditions, each of which offers a different rationale for Aaron’s behavior.

To interrupt Rabbi Goldin’s presentation, we bring Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 5 and Rashi regarding Aaron’s defense of his actions:

“Aaron saw and built an altar before him; Aaron called out and said, ‘A festival to Hashem tomorrow!'” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 5 as rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary”)

Rashi [records]: “Aaron saw….” Aaron saw many things. He saw that Chur, the son of his sister Miriam was rebuking them [the people], and that they killed him. This is what is meant by “And he built an Altar before it,”…”And he understood from him who was slaughtered before him.” He saw more and said, “Better that the foulness of this sin be attributed to me and not to [Israel].” (“The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary,” Sefer Shemos, page 449)

We now return to Rabbi Goldin’s presentation of the understandings regarding Aaron HaKohen’s actions (“Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Shemos, pages 277- 281):

Aaron “saw” the fate of Chur. This tradition is based on Chur’s mysterious disappearance. When Moshe ascends Mount Sinai to receives the first set of tablets he appoints Aaron and Chur to lead the nation in his absence. Chur, however, suddenly and completely vanishes from the scene and is not mentioned again. The Midrash explains that Chur actively objects to the creation of the golden calf and is killed by the people. After witnessing Chur’s fate, Aaron decides to deal with the nation’s demands differently.

…Mirroring the position found in the Midrash Tanchuma (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Tanchuma on Ki Tisa 19), Rashi claims that Aaron is simply stalling for time. Fully confident that Moshe will shortly return, Aaron deliberately reacts to the people’s demands by directing them to contribute… [the women’s gold and jewelry]. Aaron calculates that the women and children’s reluctance to part with their cherished jewelry will delay the process long enough for Moshe to descend the mountain (the Midrash… suggests that Aaron knows that the women, more righteous than the men, will be unwilling to participate in the chet ha’eigel). Aaron underestimates, however, the zealous desire of the perpetrators . When the women refuse to participate, the men contribute their own jewelry… (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 2)

Rashi cites a second Midrashic tradition which even maintains that Aaron never actually fashions the golden calf at all. As soon as Aaron throws the gold into the fire, sorcerers from among the “mixed multitude” who fled Egypt with the B’nei Yisrael magically cause the golden calf to form. Aaron is thus able to later claim, “I threw it into the fire, and this calf emerged.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posukim 2, 34)

The Midrash… goes a step further and suggests that Aaron is not motivated by concern for his own safety but by fear for the nation. He believes that upon killing both a prophet (Chur) and a priest (Aaron), the people will become totally irredeemable.

Aaron saw… [that] it is preferable… that [he] build the altar rather than the people. [He] will then be responsible for the crime rather than they. Aaron realizes that if he allows the nation to build the altar as a group they will do so quickly. He therefore determines to build it himself, continuing to delay the process in the hope that Moshe will return. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Rabba Vayikra, Perek 10, posuk 3)

Finally, on the basis of pshat, Rashi defends Aaron through a thoughtful reading of Aaron’s proclamation after… [the altar emerges]: “A festival for the Lord tomorrow!” (Rabbi Goldin again citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 5) Aaron uses the term… Lord [Yud Kei, Vuv Kei], the title reserved for the G’d of Israel. Aaron’s heart, claims Rashi, is directed at all times towards Shemayim. He is certain that Moshe will return and that the morrow’s celebration will truly be “for the Lord,” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 5)

Rabbi Goldin now presents a take from Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (ibid, page 280):

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch… paint[s] a picture of developing disaster, as things proceed “from bad to worse.” Aaron recognizes that the nation’s original request is not idolatrous. He also realizes , however, that a thin line separates the people’s initial intent from idolatrous practice. If he resists and is killed for his efforts, rationalizes, the people will, “over his dead body… give themselves up to their folly with still greater unrestrained license.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 4) Aaron, therefore, both delays the process attempts to limit the severity of the crime. On the next day, however, “Aaron sees” that the nation ” has already passed across the narrow bridge from the notion of a divine intermediary to that of a “real god.” In spite of Aaron’s attempts to forestall complete tragedy, the nation falls into idolatry. ((Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posukim 5-6)

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 281):

When all is said and done, the issue of Aaron’s involvement in the chet ha’eigel is one of those cases where…. we are challenged to continue the search for understanding — even as we acknowledge that we may never know the “real truth” until Hashem sees fit to reveal it.

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 thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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!!!

Good Shabbos!
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.