"כי תשא את ראש...ונתנו איש כפר נפשו לה'...זה יתנו...מחצית השקל"
“When you take a census...every man shall give G‑d an atonement for his soul...This they shall give...a half-shekel.” (30:12-13)

QUESTION: Rashi writes that Moshe had difficulty understanding what Hashem was telling him; He therefore, showed him a fiery coin which weighed a half-shekel.

Why was it so difficult for Moshe to comprehend?

ANSWER: When Hashem spoke about the half-shekel, He called it “kofer nafsho” — “atonement for the soul” — for Torah violations. Moshe could not comprehend how money can accomplish forgiveness for the soul. Therefore, Hashem said to Moshe, “Zeh yitnu” — They should give just such a coin (a fiery coin). The giving of a coin in itself cannot atone for a grave sin such as worshipping the golden calf. However, if one gives with warmth and enthusiasm that stems from the fiery core of the Jewish soul, then a half-shekel can truly become the cause of forgiveness, even for sins that affect the essence of the Jewish soul.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ג)


"זה יתנו כל העבר על הפקדים מחצית השקל...."
“This shall they give — everyone who passes through the census — a half-shekel....” (30:13)

QUESTION: Rashi says, “He showed him a kind of coin of fire, the weight of which was a half-shekel, and He said to him, ‘Thus shall they give.’ ” What is the reason for a half-shekel?

ANSWER: Hashem told the prophet Hosea, “Ephraim is united in idol-worship [joined to idols, lit.], let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). From this our Sages (Bereishit Rabbah 38:6) derive that the power of peace and unity is so great that even when the Jewish people, G‑d forbid, sin, if unity prevails among them, G‑d does not rebuke or punish them.

The construction of the Mishkan was a means of attaining forgiveness for the worshipping of the golden calf. The half-shekel teaches us that no Jew should consider himself complete. He must know that he needs to be united with the collective Jewish people. When there is peace and unity among the Jewish people, Hashem says, as it were, ‘I have no dominion over them.’


"זה יתנו כל העבר על הפקדים מחצית השקל...."
“This shall they give — everyone who passes through the census — a half-shekel....” (30:13)

QUESTION: Rashi says, “He showed him a kind of coin of fire, the weight of which was a half shekel, and He said to him, ‘Thus shall they give.’ ” Why a fiery coin?

ANSWER: Hashem demonstrated a fiery coin, to illustrate the positive and negative qualities of money. Fire has both beneficial and destructive effects. On the one hand, it can destroy, but through the smelting of metals, it can also unite and join together. Similarly, money can destroy a relationship or family, or unite and help build a beautiful family. The fiery coin was Hashem’s way to caution the Jewish people to use money properly and reap its benefits.

(נועם אלימלך)


"ולא יהיה בהם נגף בפקד אתם זה יתנו כל העובר על הפקודים מחצית השקל"
“So that there will not be a plague among them when counting them. This shall they give — everyone who passes through the census — a half-shekel.” (30:12-13)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah call the half-shekel that averts a plague “machatzit” (מחצית) and not “chatzi” (חצי)?

ANSWER: The word “machatzit” (מחצית) — “a half” — has five letters, and the middle letter is a "צ", the first letter of the word tzedakah.” Flanking the "צ" there is a "ח" and a "י", which spell the word "חי"— “life.” The exterior letters of the word are "מ" and "ת", which mean death. Thus, the Torah is suggesting that "צ" — tzedakah — is the power which stands for the Jew and which can represent the difference between life and death. Tzedakah can distance death and bring life to those who practice it.

(פרדס יוסף)

* * *

The "צ" in the word "מחצית" can be a reference to a tzaddik (righteous person). Being in the surroundings of a tzaddik and closely attached to him, one can benefit from his holiness — “chai” (חי) — profound spiritual life. Detaching oneself from the tzaddik is equivalent to the opposite of life, heaven forbid.

(עיטורי תורה)


"מחצית השקל תרומה לי-ה-ו-ה"
“A half-shekel, an offering to G‑d.” (30:13)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the half-shekel and Hashem’s holy four letter name?

ANSWER: The giving of tzedakah is connected to the four-letter name of Hashem (the Tetragrammaton). The "י" represents the coin. The "ה" represents the hand (five fingers) of the giver. The "ו" corresponds to the stretching out of the giver’s arm, to the other "ה", the hand of the receiver.

Hashem placed His hand upon His throne and swore that His Name and throne are incomplete as long as the Jewish people remained in exile (Rashi 17:16). When the Jewish people will be redeemed from exile, the last two letters will be restored, thus causing His Name and throne to be complete.

The prophet explains that tzedakah is the medium through which we will be taken out of exile (Isaiah 1:27).

By stating that the half-shekel is an offering to Hashem, the pasuk hints that through the giving of a half-shekel for tzedakah we will merit the coming of Mashiach and the ultimate redemption. Thus, the missing half of G‑d’s name will be restored.


"אך את שבתתי תשמרו"
“However, My Sabbaths you must observe.” (31:13)

QUESTION: Why is Shabbat expressed in plural?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 119b), two angels accompany a Jew on his way home from shul Friday night: one is good and the other is evil. When they enter the house and find a nice atmosphere prevailing and a table adorned with Shabbat candles, the good angel blesses the family that they should merit the same spiritual atmosphere the next Shabbat. Reluctantly, the evil angel answers, Amen.”

Thus, proper observance of one Shabbat is a source of Angelic blessing to observe another Shabbat.

(מלא העומר)


"ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את השבת לדרתם ברית עולם"
“The Israelites shall keep Shabbat, to make the Shabbat an eternal covenant for their generations.” (31:16)

QUESTION: Why is the word “ledorotam” (לדרתם) — “for their generations” — written without a "ו"?

ANSWER: A person arrives home Friday night accompanied by the above-mentioned angels, who bless the family.

The word “ledorotam” (לדרתם) without the "ו" can be read “ledirotam,” (לְדִרֹתָם) meaning, “their dwelling places.” The Torah is teaching us, “la’asot et haShabbat” — the Jewish people should strive to make the Shabbat beautiful and majestic, “ledirotam” — in their dwelling places. In this way they will receive blessings from angels.

(עיטורי תורה)


"ויקהל העם על אהרן ויאמרו אליו קום עשה לנו אלהים"
“The people gathered around Aharon and said to him, ‘Get up and make us a god.’” (32:1)

QUESTION: Avodah zarah — idol worship — is one of the three transgressions for which there is a rule (Sanhedrin 74a), “Yeihareig ve’al ya’avor” — “Be killed instead of transgressing.” Why didn’t Aharon let himself be killed rather than make the golden calf?

ANSWER: A person is required to let himself be killed only if someone wants to force him to bow to an idol. In this case they demanded Aharon to make, “for us” a god. As far as Aharon was concerned, it was only a question of “Lifnei iveir lo titein michshol” — “Do not place an obstacle in front of the blind” (Vayikra 19:14) — which includes helping someone violate Torah law. There is no requirement to let yourself be killed in order not to cause one to transgress Torah law.

(אמרי שפר)


"ויקרא אהרן ויאמר חג לה' מחר"
“Aharon announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to G‑d.’” (32:5)

QUESTION: How was it possible that a tzaddik like Aharon should make such a declaration?

ANSWER: The golden calf was made on the sixteenth day of Tammuz, and on the seventeenth day of Tammuz Moshe came down from heaven. Upon seeing the golden calf and the revelry, he broke the Tablets.

Many years later, on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, our enemies penetrated the wall which surrounded Jerusalem and went on to destroy the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, the seventeenth day of Tammuz has become a day of fasting. The prophet tells us, however, in the name of Hashem that “the fasting which takes place in the fourth month (17 days in Tammuz) will in the times of Mashiach, be converted to a day of joy and festivity” (Zechariah 8:19).

Indeed, Aharon was heart-broken over what was taking place and realized that this would bring trouble to the Jewish people. However — he hinted that eventually, “tomorrow” — the 17th day of Tammuz — will become chag laHashem” — “a festival to G‑d.”

(מעינה של תורה)


"לך רד כי שחת עמך"
“Descend — for your people have become corrupt.” (32:7)

QUESTION: On the words “Leich, reid” — “Descend” — Rashi comments, “migedulatcha” — “from your high position.”

Why was Moshe demoted because of the sin of the Jewish people?

ANSWER: Later in our parshah, it states "כי לא תשתחוה לאל אחר" — “You shall not bow to another god” (34:14). The letter"ר" (in the word “acheir” — אחר) can easily be exchanged with a "ד". Therefore, to prevent the possibility, G‑d forbid, of reading "אחד" which would mean, “You shall not bow down to the one and only G‑d,” the "ר" is enlarged.

In the Shema Yisrael (Devarim 6:4), the word אחד is written with a large "ד" to emphasize that G‑d is one, and should not be mistakenly read as“acheir” (אחר) — “G‑d is another.”

Rashi is suggesting that, in addition to telling Moshe to physically descend from heaven to earth, Hashem demoted the enlarged holy letters of the Torah "ר" and "ד" saying, “I made you bigger for the benefit of the Jewish people. I wanted to help them avoid making a mistake in reading. Since they have committed idolatry, obviously this was of no avail. Consequently, Reid migedulatcha — the letters 'ר' and 'ד' should temporarily descend from their heights.”

(מרגניתא דרב)


"ויחל משה את פני ה' אלקיו"
“Moshe pleaded before G‑d, his G‑d.” (32:11)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis, “Elokav” — “his G‑d?”

ANSWER: The Ten Commandments start with the words, Anochi Hashem Elokecha...” — “I am G‑d, your G‑d....” “Lo yiheyeh lecha” — “You shall not have...” (20:2-3). Since Hashem was speaking to all the Jews, He should have expressed Himself in the plural — “Anochi Hashem Elokeichem...Lo yiheyeh lachem.” Rashi writes that this was in order to enable Moshe to speak in defense of B’nei Yisrael after the sin of the golden calf: “Your command ‘You shall not have other gods,’ was directed to me alone” (“Elokecha...lecha” is in the singular).

Thus, the pasuk reads “Elokav”his G‑d, in the singular — indicating that Moshe now said, “G‑d, why are you angry with Your people? The commands of faith in G‑d and not to make idols were directed only to me and not to the entire Jewish people. The Jews never violated any command!”

(פרדס יוסף)


"זכר לאברהם ליצחק ולישראל עבדיך"
“Remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael Your servants.” (32:13)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe mention our forefathers when he entreated Hashem on behalf of the Jewish people?

ANSWER: In the year 1801 (תקס"א) the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, was imprisoned a second time for his activities on behalf of the Chassidic movement, and he was released on the fifth day of Chanukah. (According to Hayom Yom the release was on the 3rd day of Chanukah.)

A prominent Jew, Reb Nota Notkin, offered to use his influence in the government to gain the release of the Alter Rebbe if he would agree to meet with three very prominent Rabbis of the “misnagdishe” (non-Chassidic) community. The Alter Rebbe agreed, and the first one he visited was the venerable sage renowned for his Torah knowledge, Hagaon, Reb Moshe Chayfitz. Without formally greeting the Alter Rebbe, he immediately started asking him questions, which the Alter Rebbe answered successfully. The Gaon then said, “I will now ask you a question that I asked many scholars and no one was able to answer it. If you can answer it, I will respect you greatly.”

The Midrash Rabbah (44:7) says that when Moshe prayed for the Jewish people, Hashem said, “When Avraham prayed for Sodom, I was ready to spare them if he came up with ten tzaddikim; I will do the same now.” Moshe replied, “You have me, Aharon, Elazar, Itamar, Pinchas, Yehoshua, and Kaleiv.” Hashem said, “I see only seven.” Moshe was in a quandary and asked, “Are the deceased righteous alive [in the world to come]”? Hashem responded in the affirmative. “If so,” responded Moshe, “Zechor le’Avraham, le’Yitzchak, ule’Yisrael avadecha” — “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael Your servants, and together with them there are ten.”

Another Midrash on this subject (Devarim 3:15) says that Moshe offered to come up with 80 tzaddikim. He mentioned the 70 elders and the seven tzaddikim, as mentioned in the previous Midrash. When Hashem said, “That was only 77,” Moshe replied, “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael, Your servants.” How do we explain the contradiction between the two Midrashim?

The Alter Rebbe explained: There is discussion in the Gemara (Horayot 5b) whether each tribe is considered a “kahal” (community) or if, when the Torah uses the word “kahal,” it refers to the entire community of Israel.

The Midrash in our parshah follows the opinion that the entire people are considered one “kahal.” Thus, to gain forgiveness for Klal Yisrael, it was sufficient to have ten tzaddikim.

The other Midrash follows the opinion that each tribe is called a “kahal.” Since in the making of the golden calf, the tribe of Levi did not participate, only eleven tribes were in need of forgiveness. Each tribe had to find seven tzaddikim and could use our forefathers, the fathers of Klal Yisrael, as the other three. Therefore, Moshe mentioned 77, which is seven for each tribe and said, “Remember Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael, Your servants. Add to each tribe our three ancestors and now they each have the merit of ten tzaddikim and deserve to remain alive.”

The Gaon Reb Moshe Chayfitz was greatly impressed with the Alter Rebbe and showed him honor and respect. He personally gave him a chair to sit on and instructed his wife to prepare a splendid repast for their honored guest.

(סיפורי חסידים)


"וירד משה מן ההר ושני לחת העדת בידו"
“Moshe descended from the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hand.” (32:15)

QUESTION: What was the shape of the Tablets?

ANSWER: The generally accepted illustration of the Tablets, square on the bottom with rounded semi-circular tops, is inaccurate.

The Gemara (Bava Batra 14a) states that each of the Tablets was six tefachim (hand breadths) in length, six tefachim in breadth, and three tefachim in depth.

From this alone, we see that the Tablets were square at both ends (66 tefachim) and not rounded at one end.

Furthermore, the Gemara accounts for all the space in the Ark — how it was filled up — either by the Tablets and the sefer Torah or the Tablets and silver pillars (called “amudim”) alongside them. There were no spaces unaccounted for, as there would have been if the Tablets had been rounded at one end.

(כ"ק אדמו"ר, עי' שערי הלכה ומנהג ח"א ע' קצ"ט)


"לחת כתובים משני עבריהם מזה ומזה הם כתבים"
“Tablets inscribed on both their sides; they were inscribed on one side and the others.” (32:15)

QUESTION: Rashi says that it was “ma’aseh nisim” — “miraculous work.” What was so miraculous about the writing on the Tablets?

ANSWER: The letters on the Tablets were chiseled out. When a samach (ס) or a final mem (ם) is chiseled through a stone, there is nothing to prevent the center piece from falling out. The miracle of the Tabletswas that the center piece of the samach and final mem hung suspended in the air. Though they were not attached to the body of the tablets they did not fall out.

In addition, there was also a miracle in regard to the words: The letters were chiseled straight through the stone, yet it was possible to read the writing from either side from right to left, though normally all the words on the opposite side should have been backwards.

(מס' שבת ק"ד ע"א, ועי' ילקוט מעם לועז)

* * *

There are also various opinions as to how the commandments were written on the Tablets. According to Rabbi Chaninah there were only five on the front of each Tablet. Others say that all the ten were written on the front of each Tablet. According to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on each Tablet there were ten on the front and ten on the back, a total of forty on the two Tablets. Rabbi Sima’i is of the opinion that there were four sets of the ten commandments on each Tablet, one on front and one on back and also on the width of each side.

(ירושלמי שקלים פ"ו הל"א)


"מזה ומזה הם כתבים"
“They were inscribed on one side and the other.” (32:15)

QUESTION: When a "מ" and a "ס" are engraved through a stone, the center piece will fall out. Miraculously, in the Tablets the center piece hung in the air (Shabbat 104a). What is the significance of this miracle?

ANSWER: The letters "מ" and "ס" spell the word “mas” — “tax.” When a person earns money, he “taxes” his income by setting aside a portion for pleasure, and a portion for necessities.

The Jewish people are known as “the People of the Book,” and have always established yeshivot, without which the continuity of our people would be in jeopardy. Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to “tax” their income for this noblest charity — supporting Torah institutions — and one often wonders, how will the yeshivot continue to exist? How will they meet their budgets? Hashem demonstrated to Moshe that the "מ" and the "ס" of the Tablets — the “tax” that is necessary to support Torah — will miraculously always be there.

(הרב מאיר ז"ל שאפירא מלובלין)


"ויחר אף משה וישלך מידו את הלחת וישבר אתם תחת ההר"
“Moshe’s anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.” (32:19)

QUESTION: When Moshe saw the golden calf, he immediately wanted to break the Tablets. The elders grabbed onto them and did not let him throw them down, until he finally overpowered them and shattered the Tablets. (Avot DeRabbi Natan 2). What was the basis of the dispute between Moshe and the elders?

ANSWER: There are people who excel in inter-human relationships, but lack in their relationship with Hashem. They generously help a person in need but are lax in the performance of purely spiritual mitzvot. On the other hand, there are people who are meticulous in their relationship with Hashem, but much is to be desired in their dealings between man and man. The Tablets consisted of the Ten Commandments, five on each stone. The first five belong to the category of mitzvot between man and G‑d, while the other five are mitzvot between man and man.

The elders argued, “It is true that the Jewish people violated what is written in the first group of Commandment, but they are all from the category of mitzvot between man and G‑d. Let them at least remain with the second group of Commandments, which belong to the category of mitzvot between man and man.”

Moshe insisted, “Although they were written on separate stones, the two stones were united, in order to accentuate their inseparability. The rationale for obeying the ethical principles of the Torah in dealing with fellow human beings is not because they are self evident and logical, but because these principles were given at Sinai and are the word of Hashem.”

(פרדס יוסף)


"ויעשו בני לוי כדבר משה ויפל מן העם ביום ההוא כשלשת אלפי איש"
“The Levites did as Moshe had ordered, and approximately 3,000 people were killed that day.” (32:28)

QUESTION: Why were 3,000 people killed?

ANSWER: Concerning this pasuk there is a wondrous Midrash which quotes the pasuk, “One who steals an ox and sells it or slaughters it chamishah bakar yeshaleim tachat hashor — must pay back five oxen for the ox” (21:37). What is the connection between this pasuk and our subject?

This Midrash can be explained as follows. King Shlomo says, Echad mei’elef matzati ve’ishah bechol eileh lo matzati” — “One man in a thousand I have found, but one woman among them I have not found” (Ecclesiastes 7:28). The Midrash on Ecclesiastes explains that the first part of the pasuk refers to the sin of the golden calf (a young ox — see Rashi 32:4). This means that one of every 1,000 men committed the sin of worshipping it. The latter part of the pasuk refers to the fact that though the men proclaimed, “Eileh elohecha, Yisrael” — “This is your god, O Israel” (32:8), not one Jewish woman participated in any way.

The census of the Jewish community numbered 600,000. Thus, if one of every thousand sinned, there were 600 sinners. The wondrous midrash is teaching us that to atone for this grave iniquity, five people died for every single sinner. Consequently, the Levites killed a total of 3,000 people.

(קול אליהו)

* * *

There still remains a question: Why does the Torah say “approximately 3,000”? Perhaps the reason is that the actual number of males between twenty and sixty years of age was 603,550 (Bamidbar 2:32). Accordingly, 603 people actually sinned, and if five were punished for each one, the total would be 3,015. The Torah therefore says, “approximately 3,000 people” in order to round it off to the nearest large number.


"אנא חטא העם הזה חטאה גדלה ויעשו להם אלהי זהב: ועתה אם תשא חטאתם ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת: ויאמר ה' אל משה מי אשר חטא לי אמחנו מספרי"
“‘I implore, this people has committed a grievous sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now if You would forgive their sin — but if not, erase me now from this book that You have written.’ G‑d said to Moshe, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me I shall erase from My book.’” (32:31-33)

QUESTION: 1) Why did Moshe have to identify the sin of the Jewish people for Hashem? 2) Moshe should have said, “If You forgive their sin, good! But if not, erase me now from this book that You have written”? (See Rashi.) 3) In Hashem’s response, is not the word “li” — “against Me” — superfluous?

ANSWER: Moshe said to Hashem, “By worshipping the golden calf the Jewish people has committed two sins: 1) ‘This people has committed a grievous sin’ — against You, G‑d, for You had commanded them, ‘You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence’ (20:3) 2) ‘and made themselves a god of gold’ — the making of the golden calf as a replacement for me, their leader, was a blatant insult to me.”

Thus, Moshe said further to Hashem, “And now — im tisa chatatam ve’im ayin — whether You forgive them or not — “mecheini na misifrecha asher katavta — erase what they did against me from this book that You have written — because I am forgiving them wholeheartedly.”

Hashem responded, “If you, a mortal being, are prepared to forgive them for the sin that they committed against you, then ‘whoever has sinned against Me I shall erase from My book’ — I, too, will forgive them for the sin that they committed against Me.”

(ילקוט הדרוש - שמות)


"ויאמר ה' אל משה מי אשר חטא לי אמחנו מספרי"
“G‑d said to Moshe, ‘Whoever who has sinned against Me I shall erase from My book.’” (32:33)

QUESTION: Why was it necessary for Hashem to tell Moshe that He would erase only those who sinned. He should have simply said, “I do not accept your proposal to be erased”?

ANSWER: When the Jews sinned with the golden calf, Moshe requested to be erased from Hashem’s book in the event He did not forgive them. Hashem’s response to Moshe was a rhetorical question and not a statement, thus revealing His great mercies. Hashem said, “Do you think that ‘the one who sinned against Me I will erase from My book?’ ” This means that the Jews are an eternal people: all of them have a place in My book and are inscribed forever. None of them will be erased from my book, so much more you, who has never sinned! Therefore, your concept of being erased cannot be applied.”

(פרדס יוסף)


"וביום פקדי ופקדתי עליהם חטאתם"
“When I will have to punish them for something else, I will take their sin into account.” (32:34)

QUESTION: Hashem is always interested in the welfare of the Jewish people. Why then does He not want to forget entirely about the sin of the golden calf?

ANSWER: Hashem’s statement can be interpreted as an act of loving kindness between Him and the Jewish people. Hashem is saying “Uveyom pakdi — Should there come a time when the Jews will, G‑d forbid, sin again and I will have to consider what to do, at that time — ufakadeti aleihem chatatam — I will take into account the terrible transgression they committed with the calf. I will rationalize the following: Just as when they worshipped the calf, which was indeed a grave iniquity, I forgave them; likewise, even if they sin in the future, I will forgive the Jewish people and not destroy them, G‑d forbid!”

(ר' יעקב דוד מאמשינוב זצ"ל)


"ויגף ה' את העם על אשר עשו את העגל אשר עשה אהרן"
“And G‑d plagued the people for their making the calf which Aharon made.” (32:35)

QUESTION: Aharon made the calf, not the people. Why were they struck with “mitah bidei shamayim” — “A heavenly death”?

ANSWER: According to halachah (see Kiddushin 43a), if one appoints a messenger to violate a Torah law in his behalf, the messenger is liable, because one must listen to the teacher — Hashem — and not to the pupil. Nevertheless, the sender is absolved only “bedinei adam — “in our courts” — but “bedinei shamayim” — “in the heavenly court” — the sender is also held responsible.

Therefore, they were struck with a heavenly punishment for Aharon’s making of the calf, because he did it on their request and the heavenly court considers them liable for the actions of their emissary.

(פנים יפות)


"ויאמר ה' אל משה גם את הדבר הזה אשר דברת אעשה כי מצאת חן בעיני"
“G‑d said to Moshe, ‘Also this thing which you have spoken I will do, for you have found grace in My eyes.’” (33:17)

QUESTION: What was Hashem referring to with the words “this thing”?

ANSWER: Moshe was the greatest prophet of the Jewish people. Only to him did Hashem speak “face to face” (33:11). All others received their prophecies in an indirect way. Therefore, when Moshe conveyed a prophecy he would use the term “zeh,” indicating “this is the thing that Hashem has spoken — I saw it directly.” All other prophets would say “koh”“thus said Hashem.”

When the Jews sinned with the golden calf, Hashem removed Himself from the Jewish people and also demoted Moshe. No longer did He speak to him “face to face.” Therefore, when Moshe had to convey Hashem’s instructions to the Levites, he said “Koh amar Hashem” — “thus said Hashem” (32:27).

Moshe was greatly perturbed about his demotion and Hashem’s changed relationship with the Jewish people, and he beseeched Hashem to return everything to its original status. Hashem accepted his plea and told him that He would personally continue to lead the Jewish people.

Hashem said, “Regarding hadavar hazeh asher dibartaThis thing which you have spoken — your request to continue speaking with the term ‘zeh,’ as you have done previously — I will grant your request, because you have found favor in My eyes.”

(אמרי צדיקים בשם בעל מנחת חינוך)


"וראית את אחרי ופני לא יראו"
“You will see My back; however, My face will not be seen.” (33:23)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that Hashem showed Moshe “kesher shel tefillin — the knot of the tefillin shel rosh — head tefillin. Moshe asked Hashem to show him His glory, how did seeing the tefillin satisfy him?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 6a) says that Hashem dons tefillin in which it is written, “Who is like Your people, Israel, one nation on earth (1 Chronicles 17:21).

When the Jewish people sinned by worshipping the golden calf, Moshe was very concerned about Hashem’s future relationship with them. Upon seeing that Hashem was still wearing His tefillin, Moshe was very happy because it demonstrated that Hashem still loved His people and praised them highly.

(שו"ת תירוש ויצהר סי' קס"ו)


"וראית את אחרי ופני לא יראו"
“You will see My back, however, My face will not be seen.” (33:23)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that Hashem showed Moshe the “kesher shel tefillin” — the knot of the tefillin. There are different customs concerning how to make the knot of the tefillin worn on the head. (See Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:52.) What kind of knot was on Hashem’s tefillin?

ANSWER: The tefillin consist of two parts. One is placed on the hand and the other on the head. The hand represents inter-human relationships (bein adam lechaveiro). With our hands we extend aid and assistance to our friends. The head is the seat of the human intellect by which we perform mitzvot between man and Hashem (bein adam leMakom).

There are people who excel in their inter-human relationships but who are lacking in their connection with Hashem. On the other hand, there are people who study Torah diligently and consider themselves close to Hashem, but unfortunately their behavior leaves much to be desired in their inter-human relationships. Of course a Jew should excel in both.

Moshe asked Hashem to show him His glory so that he would have a better understanding of what Hashem wants of the Jewish people. Displaying the “kesher shel tefillin” was an allegory, with the message that it is a Divine wish for each Jew to bind together the significance of the two tefillin. A person should do his utmost to help a fellow Jew and to serve Hashem.

(הדרש והעיון)


"נצר חסד לאלפים נשא עון ופשע וחטאה ונקה לא ינקה"
“Preserver of kindness for two thousand generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful transgression and sin, and He cleanses — but He will by no means clear the guilty.” (34:7)

QUESTION: This pasuk concludes the passage known as the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.” How does, “He will by no means clear the guilty” fit in?

ANSWER: Rabbi Meir says, “Al tistakeil bekankan elah bemah sheyesh bo” — “Do not look at the vessel, but rather at what it contains” (Pirkei Avot 4:20). The word “kankan” (קנקן) — “vessel” — is composed of the middle letters of the words venakeih yenakeh”נקה ינקה).

Possibly, Rabbi Meir is alluding that when we look at the words “venakeih lo yenakeh” (ונקה לא ינקה) — superficially, they do not appear to fit among the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. However, when we take out the "נק" from "ונקה" and the "נק" from "ינקה", then the remaining letters in each word spells half of Hashem’s name (י-ה, ו-ה). Thus, by not looking at the letters ",קנקן" the words "ונקה לא ינקה" fit very well among the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

(חיד"א על פרקי אבות)


"אלהי מסכה לא תעשה לך. את חג המצות תשמר שבעת ימים תאכל מצות"
“Do not make any idols...Keep the festival of matzot; eat matzot for seven days.” (34:17-18)

QUESTION: What is the connection between idol worship and eating matzot?

ANSWER: Haman’s plan to destroy the Jewish people was a punishment for worshipping idols in the days of Achashveirosh (Megillah 12a). Before Esther went before Achashveirosh to plead for the Jewish people, she told Mordechai to declare a three-day period of fasting. Since the fast day took place on Pesach (ibid. 15a), the Jews were unable to properly observe Pesach that year by eating matzah for seven days. The Torah is hinting at this event by telling us “Elohei maseichah lo ta’aseh” — “Do not worship any idols” and consequently you will be able to eat matzah seven days during Pesach.

(ילקוט האורים)


"שלש פעמים בשנה יראה כל זכורך ולא יחמוד איש את ארצך בעלתך לראות את פני ה' אלקיך"
“Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Master; Hashem, no man will covet your land when you go up to appear before Hashem” (34:23-24)

QUESTION: Why is Hashem’s assurance that “no one will covet your land when you make your pilgrimage” given at the second time when the Torah speaks of pilgrimage and not at the first in Parshat Mishpatim (23:17)?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Eiruvin 54a) says “Had the first set of Luchot — Tablets — not been shattered, no nation or tongue would have had ascendancy (domination) over the Jewish people, as it says, ‘charut’ — ‘engraved.’ Do not read this as it is written ‘charut’ — ‘engraved,’ but as it were written ‘cheirut’ — ‘freedom.’ ” Thus, the verse can be understood: “freedom on acount of the Tablets.”

The Tablets were shattered because of the Jews’ sinning with the golden calf and had this not occurred every nation would have feared Israel and they would never have been exiled from Eretz Yisrael.

Now, the first mention of pilgrimage occurs in Parshat Mishpatim, which was said before the sin of the golden calf. At that time there was no need to assure the Jews that no one would covet their land since everyone feared the Jewish people and therefore the concern that their land might be coveted in their absence never occurred to anyone.

However, the second Biblical reference to pilgrimage is in Parshat Ki Titta, and is mentioned after the sin of the golden calf occurred. Hence, the Jewish people were now destined for exile and those who remained would have to live side by side with their captors. They had good reason to fear that if they were all to go up together for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem their land might be coveted by the non-Jews who remained behind. Therefore, Hashem assured them that this would not occur and that they could make the pilgrimage without fear.

(משך חכמה)


"כי קרן עור פניו"
“The skin of his face sent forth beams of light.”(34:29)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (47:6) states that Moshe was given a sufficient amount of ink to write the entire Torah. However, a small measure of ink remained in Moshe’s quill, and he rubbed it on his head, causing the radiance.

Why was there leftover ink and why is it alluded to in this parshah?

ANSWER: Originally, it was intended that Moshe’s name be mentioned in every parshah from the beginning of Chumash Shemot until the end of the Torah. When Moshe pleaded, “Erase me from your book,” G‑d responded by omitting his name from Parshat Tetzaveh. Thus, a small measure of ink remained.

It is particularly appropriate in Parshat Ki Tissa, in which Moshe demonstrates mesirat nefesh — willingness to give his life for Klal Yisrael — to tell us the reward he received.

(חנוכת התורה)