The mitzvah of the half-shekel is that each should contribute a coin that [is valued at] half of the dominant coin of that time. If the prevailing coin is a takal, they should give a half-takal; if it is a sela, they should give a half-sela; if it is a darcon, they should give a half-darcon.
(The Chassidic Masters)
G‑d took a coin of fire from under His throne of glory and showed it to Moses, saying: “Such as this they shall give.”
Moses could not understand: How could a mere coin serve a person as “a ransom for his soul to G‑d”? G‑d answered him by showing him a “coin of fire.” G‑d was saying: When a person performs even a modest act of charity with the fire of passion and enthusiasm, he is indeed giving a piece of his soul.
(The Rebbe of Kotzk)
(Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk)
People differ in their intellect, character and talents, in the quantity of their material resources and the timbre of their spiritual sensitivities. But all are equal in the very basis of their bond with G‑d: the intrinsic commitment to Him that resides at the core of their souls. So while every man contributed to the making of the various components of the Sanctuary in accordance with their individual capacity, all gave equally of the silver of which its foundation was made. As regards the foundation of the relationship between man and G‑d, the “rich man” cannot give more, and the “pauper” cannot give less.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Every person, upon waking in the morning . . . should wash his hands with [a minimum of] a quarter-log of water poured from a utensil . . .
Man entrusts his soul [to G‑d at night] tired and exhausted, and G‑d restores it to him rejuvenated and refreshed so that he may serve his Creator with all his capacity, this being the purpose of man. Therefore we should sanctify ourselves with His holiness and wash our hands with water from a vessel before serving Him and ministering to Him, like the kohen who would wash his hands from the basin each day before beginning his service . . .
(Shulchan Aruch HaRav)
Many miracles occurred with the anointing oil which Moses prepared in the desert.
Originally it only measured twelve log (a hin is the equivalent of 12 log, or about 4 liters). Now, consider how much the cauldron absorbed, how much the herbs absorbed and how much the fire burned, and yet it sufficed for the anointing of the Tabernacle and its vessels, and Aaron and his sons, on each of the seven days of consecration; the high priests and kings [throughout the generations] also were anointed with it. . . . And that very oil remains in reserve for the [rebuilding of the Sanctuary] in the messianic era to come, as it is written: “This shall be a holy anointing oil unto Me throughout your generations.”
(Talmud, Horiot 11b)
Since many animals were slaughtered in the sacred place each day, their flesh butchered and burned and their intestines cleaned, its smell would doubtless have been like the smell of a slaughterhouse. . . . Therefore G‑d commanded that the ketoret be burned twice a day, each morning and afternoon, to lend a pleasing fragrance to the Sanctuary and to the garments of those who served in it.
(Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed)
Many of the commentaries object to this explanation of the function of the ketoret; in the words of Rabbeinu Bechayei, “G‑d forbid that the great principle and mystery of the ketoret should be reduced to this mundane purpose.” Chassidic teaching, however, applies Maimonides’ words as a reference to the spiritual “stench” of the animal soul within man, whose sacrifice and dedication to G‑d was the deeper significance of the animal offerings brought in the Sanctuary. This explains why the ketoret was the most sacred component of the Yom Kippur service: the ketoret represents the power of teshuvah, the sublimation of the “foul odors” of man’s failings and iniquities into the “sweet fragrance” of a new, invigorated bond with G‑d.
No tribe was greater than Judah, and none more lowly than Dan. . . . Said G‑d: “Let the one come and be associated with the other, so that no man may despise [his fellow] or be arrogant, for both great and small are equal in G‑d’s sight.”
There are two dimensions to Shabbat, referred to in the dual commandments to “keep” it and to “make” it. It is a day possessing an intrinsic holiness from the very beginning of time; this holiness the people of Israel are commanded to keep and preserve. And then there is the command “to make the Shabbat”—to impart greater sanctity and meaning to it by our actions.
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)
Resh Lakish said: On Shabbat eve G‑d imparts an additional soul to the person, and at Shabbat’s end He takes it away.
(Talmud, Beitzah 16a)
The sages note the similarity of the Hebrew word kechaloto—“when he had concluded”—and the word kekallato, “as his bride,” and cite numerous ways in which the Torah, referred to in this verse, and the Shabbat, spoken of in the previous verse, are analogous to a bride:
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: If one gives a discourse on the Torah, and it is not as pleasant to those who hear it as a bride is pleasing to her spouse, then it were better that he should not have said it at all. Why is that? Because when G‑d gave the Torah to Israel, it was then as dear to them as a bride is to her spouse, as it says, “He gave to Moses kechaloto.”
A bride keeps herself secluded the whole time she is in her father’s house, none knowing her, and reveals her face only when she is about to enter the bridal chamber, as if she were thus proclaiming: “Anyone who can testify anything against me, let him come and do so.” So must a Torah scholar be as modest as a bride, but he must be renowned for his good deeds just as a bride . . .
Just as a bride comes to her groom beautiful, bejeweled and perfumed, so does the Shabbat come to the people of Israel. . . . Just as the groom dresses in his finest clothing to receive his bride, so does the Jew receive the Shabbat. Just as a groom is pampered and absolved from working all his nuptial days, so is the Jew on Shabbat.
This means that when G‑d handed the tablets to Moses, the people had already made the Golden Calf! Thus the Midrash says:
It is usual for an earthly king to bestow gifts on his subjects and furnish supplies for them as long as they are loyal to him, being then obliged to support them. But as soon as they rebel against him, G‑d forbid, he has no obligation whatsoever towards them, and he immediately cuts off their supplies as a penalty for denying his royal authority. With G‑d, however, it is not so; for while they were busy provoking Him to anger below, He was occupied in heaven with bestowing upon them a Torah of life . . .
When Moses ascended the mountain, he said to them: “After forty days, in the first six hours of the day, I shall return.” They thought that the day of his ascent should be counted as one of the forty, while he meant forty full, 24-hour days. In truth, the day of his ascent—Sivan 7—should not have been counted, since it did not include its previous night, meaning that the forty days ended on Tammuz 17.
On the 16th of Tammuz, Satan came and filled the world with darkness and confusion. Said he to them: “Where is your teacher Moses?” “He has ascended on high,” they answered him. “The sixth hour has come,” said he to them, but they disregarded him. “He is dead”—but they disregarded him. So Satan showed them a vision of Moses’ bier. This is why they said to Aaron, “For this man Moses, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”
(Rashi; Talmud, Shabbat 89a)
What did Aaron see? He saw his nephew Chur slain before him. [As related above in Exodus 24:14, Moses placed Aaron and Chur, the son of Miriam and Caleb, in charge of the camp when he ascended the mountain.] When the people demanded an idol, Chur arose and rebuked them, whereupon they rose against him and killed him. They then came to Aaron, and said to him: “We will do to you what we have done to this man” . . .
Aaron tried to busy them with tasks. He said to them: “Remove the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives”—a most difficult thing, for the women, who saw all the miracles that G‑d performed in Egypt, at the Sea and at Sinai, would surely not participate. . . . When the women did not do as the men demanded, the men removed their own jewelry, as it says, “All the people unloaded the golden earrings which were in their ears.”
They wanted to build the altar together with Aaron, but he would not allow them, saying: “Allow me to build it by myself, for it is not befitting the respect due to the altar that another should build it.” Aaron’s intention in this was to delay matters, saying to himself: “By the time I build it all by myself, Moses will come down.” But when he had built it, Moses had not yet descended.
What did Aaron do? He said: I shall postpone it until tomorrow, as it is written: “[Aaron] proclaimed: Tomorrow is a feast to G‑d!” His intention was for the true G‑d, being certain that by the morrow Moses would come and they will serve G‑d. But they “arose early in the morning . . .”
(Midrash Tanchuma; Rashi)
Said Rabbi Aba bar Acha: There’s no understanding the character of this people! They’re solicited for the Golden Calf, and they give; they’re solicited for the Sanctuary, and they give.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 1:1)
Five misfortunes befell our forefathers on the 17th of Tammuz: the tablets were shattered, the daily offering [in the Holy Temple] was discontinued, a breach was made in the city [walls of Jerusalem, allowing the Roman conquest of the city], and Apostomos burned the Torah and placed an idol in the Temple.
(Talmud, Taanit 26a–b)
What is meant by “Go down”? Rabbi Elazar said: G‑d said to Moses: “Moses, descend from your greatness. Have I given you greatness other than for the sake of Israel? And now Israel have sinned; then what do I want with you?”
Immediately, Moses became powerless and had no strength to speak. But when G‑d said, “Leave Me alone . . . that I may destroy them,” Moses said to himself: “This depends upon me,” and he stood up and prayed vigorously and begged for mercy. It was like the case of a king who became angry with his son and began beating him severely. His friend was sitting before him, but was afraid to say a word, until the king said, “Were it not for my friend here who is sitting before me, I would kill you.” Said the friend to himself, “This depends on me,” and immediately he stood up and rescued him.
Rabbi Abbahu said: Were it not explicitly written, “Leave Me alone that I may destroy them,” it would be impossible to say such a thing: this indicates that Moses took hold of G‑d like a man who seizes his fellow by his garment, and said to Him: “Master of the Universe! I will not let You go until You forgive and pardon them.”
(Talmud, Berachot 32a)
G‑d does not say “the people have become corrupt,” but “your people.” Whereupon Moses said: “Master of the Universe! Since when are they my people?” Said G‑d: “They are your people, for when they were yet in Egypt, I told you that I will bring forth ‘My hosts, My people the children of Israel’ (Exodus 7:4). Did I not instruct you not to allow a mixed multitude to be mingled with them? But you, being kindly and righteous, said to Me: ‘The penitent must always be accepted.’ Knowing, however, what they would one day do, I disagreed, but nevertheless I fulfilled your request, with the result that it was just these people who made the calf.”
This can be compared to a king who betrothed a lady with two precious pearls, which he gave her himself, sending another eight with his messenger. While she was flirting with her paramour, she lost the two pearls the king had given her, and when the king discovered this, he banished her from his house. Her intimate friend then came to plead with the king on her behalf, saying: “Your Majesty, when will you find another so beautiful and praiseworthy as she is?” The king replied: “By heaven! I gave her myself two pearls, and sent another eight with you. Should she not have at least lost two of those that I sent with you, even three of them or even all of them? But so much did she insult me, that she must actually lose the two pearls which I myself gave her! (The first two of the Ten Commandments, “I am the L‑rd your G‑d” and “You shall have no other gods before Me”—which the people violated by worshipping the Golden Calf—were given by G‑d directly to them, while the other eight were conveyed through Moses.)
There was not a corner of the heavens with which Moses did not grapple to attain G‑d’s forgiveness of Israel.
When Israel committed that act, Moses arose to appease G‑d and said: “Master of the Universe! They have given You an assistant, and You are annoyed with them? Why, this calf which they have made will be Your assistant: You will cause the sun to rise, while it will cause the moon to rise; You will look after the stars, and it will see to the constellations; You will cause the dew to descend, and it will cause the winds to blow; You will make the rains come down, while it will be responsible for the growth of plants.”
Said G‑d to him: “Moses! You err as they do! For there is nothing real in it.”
Said Moses: "If this is the case, ‘Why should Your wrath burn against Your people?’”
What was his idea in mentioning here the going out of Egypt? Because it was thus that Moses pleaded: “Master of the Universe, see from which place You have brought them forth—from Egypt, where everyone worships lambs.”
Said Rabbi Huna in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: It can be compared to a wise man who opened a perfumery shop for his son in a street frequented by harlots. The street did its work, the business also did its share, and the son’s youth likewise contributed its part, with the result that the son fell into evil ways. When the father came and caught him among the harlots, he began to shout: “I will kill you!” But his friend was there, and he said: “You were the cause of this youth’s corruption, and you shout at him? You set aside all other professions, and have taught him only to be a perfumer; you skipped over all other districts, and opened a shop for him just in the street where harlots dwell . . .”
This is what Moses said: “Master of the Universe! You passed over the entire world to have Your children to be enslaved only in Egypt, where all worshipped lambs. . . . Bear in mind whence You have brought them forth! . . .”
This is what Moses said: “Master of the Universe! When I asked You what their merit was that You should redeem them, since they are idolaters, You said: ‘You see them now as only idolaters, but I can foresee them departing from Egypt, and My dividing the Red Sea for them, and bringing them into the wilderness, and giving them the Torah and revealing Myself unto them face to face, and their accepting My kingship—yet denying Me at the end of forty days by making the calf!’ (This is the meaning of what G‑d said to Moses at the burning bush, “I have heard their cries”—I hear already their cries around the calf).
“Since You have told me of their making a golden calf long before You delivered them,” argued Moses, “why do You seek to kill them now that they have made it?” It was for this reason that Moses mentioned the exodus from Egypt in his plea for mercy.
It can be compared to a king who had an uncultivated field, and who said to a tenant-laborer: “Go improve it, and convert it into a vineyard.” The laborer went and tended the field and planted it as a vineyard. The vines grew and produced wine, which however became sour. When the king saw that the wine had become sour, he said to the laborer: “Go and cut it all down; what is the use to me of a vineyard that produces vinegar?” But the laborer pleaded: “O my lord and king! Consider what sums you invested before the vineyard was planted, and now You want to cut it all down! Do not give me the reply, ‘But its wine becomes sour,’ for this is due to the newness of the vineyard, and a freshly planted vineyard cannot produce good wine.”
Similarly, when Israel made the Golden Calf, G‑d intended to destroy them, but Moses pleaded: “Master of the Universe! Did You not bring them forth from Egypt, a place of idol-worshippers? They are yet young, as it for it says (Hosea 11:1), ‘When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.’ Be patient with them yet awhile and go with them, and they will yet perform good deeds before You.”
Moses pleaded: “Master of the Universe! Why are You angry with Israel?” “Because they have broken the Ten Commandments,” said G‑d. “Well,” said Moses, “they possess a source from which they can make repayment. . . . Remember that You tested Abraham with ten trials? Let those ten serve as compensation for these ten.” This is why Moses said, “Remember Abraham . . .”
Said G‑d: “Moses, have you become a heretic?”
But Moses answered: “If the dead are not brought to life in the world to come, then You are free to do all that You intend. But if they will live, then what will You say to the Patriarchs when they will arise and seek from You the fulfillment of the promise which You have made them? What answer will You give them? For did You not promise them that You would increase their children like the stars of heaven?”
Moses absolved his Creator of His vow. When Israel made the calf, Moses began to persuade G‑d to forgive them; but G‑d said: “Moses, I have already taken an oath that ‘he that sacrifices unto the gods . . . shall be destroyed’ (Exodus 22:19), and I cannot retract an oath which has proceeded from My mouth.”
Said Moses: “Master of the Universe! Did You not grant me the power of annulment of oaths? (See Numbers 30:3.) If a jurist desires that others should respect his laws, he must be the first to observe them. Since You have commanded me concerning the annulment of vows, it is only right and proper that You should follow this procedure Yourself.”
Whereupon Moses wrapped himself in his tallit and seated himself in the posture of a rabbinical judge, and G‑d stood before him as one asking for the annulment of his vow; for so it says, “Then I sat on the mountain” (Deuteronomy 9:9) . . .
What did Moses say to Him? A most difficult thing. Rabbi Yochanan said: The difficult thing he said was: “Do You now regret Your vow?” G‑d replied: “I regret now the evil which I said I would do unto My people.” When Moses heard this, he proclaimed: “Be it absolved for You, be it absolved for You. There is neither vow nor oath any longer . . .”
Had the first tablets not been broken, no nation or people could have subjugated the Jewish people, as it is written, “Charut on the tablets.” Do not read charut (engraved), but cheirut (free); on account of these tablets, Israel would have remained forever free.
(Talmud and Rashi, Eruvin 54a)
Rabbi Judah says: [They would have been] free from the pain of exile. Rabbi Nechemiah says: [They would have been] free from the angel of death.
Moses already knew about Israel’s worship of the Golden Calf; but when he saw how much they were enjoying their fall, he realized that their covenant with G‑d had been utterly repudiated by them.
The tablets were each six handbreadths long and three handbreadths wide. Moses held two handbreadths [of the tablets’ length], G‑d held two handbreadths, and in between were two handbreadths of space. Moses’ hands prevailed, and he grabbed hold of the tablets and broke them.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5)
What did Moses do? He went up to G‑d, and said: “This people has sinned a great sin!” When G‑d saw this, He said to him: “Moses, you too are angry with them? We cannot both be angry. When you see Me pour hot water, you pour cold, and when you see Me pour cold, you pour hot . . .”
Blot me out of Your book which you have written (Exodus 32:32)
Moses’ name appears in every Parshah in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. (The book of Genesis predates Moses’ birth; Deuteronomy consists mostly of a first-person narrative spoken by Moses.) Every Parshah, that is, except for one: the Parshah of Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20–30:10), which includes not a single mention of Moses’ name. The reason for this is that Moses said to G‑d: “If You do not [forgive Israel], blot me out of Your book which you have written.” For the censure of a righteous person, even if made conditional on an unfulfilled stipulation, always has some effect.
While Moses’ name does not appear in the Parshah of Tetzaveh, Moses himself is very much present: the entirety of Tetzaveh consists of G‑d’s words to Moses. Indeed, the Parshah’s first word is ve-atah, “and you”—the “you” being the person of Moses.
Indeed, the word “you” connotes its subject’s very self, while a person’s name is a more superficial handle on his personality. This means that Moses is more present in this Parshah—that is, present in a deeper, more essential way—than any mention of his name could possibly express.
This is fully in keeping with the Baal HaTurim’s explanation cited above. Because Moses was prepared to forgo the mention of his name in the Torah for the sake of his people, he merited that his quintessential self—the level of self that cannot be captured by any name or designation—be eternalized by the Torah. It is this level of Moses’ self that is expressed by his “nameless” presence in the Parshah of Tetzaveh.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
There is no misfortune that does not have in it something of the sin of the Golden Calf.
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 102a)
So said G‑d to Moses: “When I wanted to show you My face in the burning bush, you did not want to look [as it says, ‘Moses hid his face, for he feared to look upon G‑d’ (Exodus 3:6)]. Now that you want to, I am not willing.”
(Talmud, Berachot 7a)
Shimon ben Azzai said: I found a scroll of genealogical records in Jerusalem, and therein was written . . . that [King] Manasseh slew Isaiah. . . . He brought him to trial and then put him to death. He said to him: Your teacher Moses said, “For no man shall see Me and live,” and you said, “I saw the L‑rd sitting on a throne, high and exalted” (Isaiah 6:1) . . .
How, indeed, do we resolve the contradiction between these two verses? In accordance with what was taught: All the prophets looked into an opaque glass (seeing but a reflection of the Divine), but Moses looked through a clear glass.
(Talmud, Yevamot 49b)
There was once a king who went off on a distant journey, and left his bride with her maidservants. Because of the promiscuity of the maidservants, rumors began circulating about the king’s bride. The king heard of this and wished to kill her. When the bride’s guardian heard this, he tore up her marriage contract, saying: “Should the king say, ‘My wife did such-and-such,’ we shall say to him, ‘She’s not your wife yet.’”
The king subsequently investigated and found that the corruption came from the maidservants, and was reconciled with his bride. Said the bride’s guardian to the king: “Sir, make her another marriage contract, for the first one was torn up.” Said the king to him: “You tore it up, so you supply the paper and I shall write on it with my hand.”
The king is G‑d, the bride is the nation of Israel, the corrupt maids are the eirev rav (the “mixed multitude” who had joined the Jewish people at the Exodus, and were responsible for the making of the Golden Calf), the bride’s guardian is Moses, and the marital contract is the Torah. Thus, when G‑d forgave the Jewish people, He said to Moses: “Hew for yourself two tablets of stone.”
(Midrash Tanchuma; Rashi)
Had Israel not sinned with the Golden Calf, they would have received only the Five Books of Moses and the book of Joshua. Why? Because, as the verse (Ecclesiastes 1:18) says, “Much wisdom comes through much grief.”
(Talmud, Nedarim 22b)
(Talmud, Bava Batra 14b)
The first tablets, which were given in great fanfare and noise, were destroyed, while the second tablets, given in private, endured. For there is no better trait than modesty.
When Moses ascended to heaven, he found G‑d sitting and writing “forbearing.” Said Moses to G‑d: “Master of the Universe! Forbearing to the righteous?” Said G‑d: “Also to the wicked.” Said Moses: “Let the wicked perish!” Said G‑d: “See now that you will need this.” When Israel sinned, G‑d said to Moses: “Did you not tell Me to be forbearing only toward the righteous?” Said Moses to Him: “Did You not say to me, ‘Also to the wicked’?”
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 111a)
When Moses went in before G‑d to speak with him, he removed the veil . . . and [so he] spoke to the children of Israel that which he was commanded. . . . [After that,] Moses put the veil upon his face again (34:33–35)
Moses did not use his veil when teaching Torah to the people, even though the divine radiance emitted by his face was overpowering for them. He covered his face only after he finished communicating G‑d’s laws to them.
This teaches us how we are to approach the various involvements of life.
The study of Torah and the observance of the mitzvot should always be approached without inhibition or constraint. No matter how lofty and overwhelming the endeavor may seem, here we are in our element, since G‑dliness is the natural habitat of the Jew.
But when it comes to our other, everyday pursuits, we are treading on alien, spiritually dangerous ground. Here we must use a “veil,” qualifying and filtering our involvement with the material world. Enjoined to exploit the positive potential that resides within each of G‑d’s creations, we must exercise great caution in doing so, shielding ourselves against the negative effects of excessive involvement in material things.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)