1. 1 Parshas Ki Sisa describes concepts that range across a broad spectrum, from one extreme to the other including the giving of the First Tablets, the sin of the Golden Calf and the destruction of the Tablets, Moshe’s prayers for forgiveness, Moshe’s vision of G‑d’s glory, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, the giving of the Second Tablets, and the shining of Moshe’s face.2

A question arises. The Torah is not a historical record. Hence, although these events all occurred within chronological proximity to each other, we must understand: Why does the Torah mention concepts of such extreme polarity in a direct sequence?3

To clarify the radical nature of the changes in sequence: The First Tablets represent an extremely high spiritual level, “the Tablets were the work of G‑d and the writing, the writing of G‑d.”4 Conversely, the breaking of these Tablets (because of the sin of the Golden Calf), represents a most extreme descent. Conversely, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and Moshe’s vision of G‑d’s glory represent an extremely high spiritual level. Afterwards, the giving of the Second Tablets represents a further change, for they were different in nature from the First Tablets (the most obvious difference being as opposed to the First Tablets which were “the work of G‑d,” the Second Tablets were hewn by Moshe).5

Despite these differences, however, the fact that all of these concepts were recorded in a single sequence in a single Torah reading indicates that they share a connection. That connection is reflected in the name of the Torah reading Ki Sisa, which literally means “When you lift up.” Herein, lies an obvious question. The sin of the Golden Calf represents an unprecedented descent. The impurity which had blemished the souls of the Jewish people after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, had departed after the giving of the Torah, returned after this sin. This sin is the source and root of all other sins, and all the punishments suffered by the Jewish people throughout the centuries have a connection to this sin. If so, how can it have a place in the portion which reflects the ascent of the Jewish people?

All of the above difficulties can be resolved within the explanation of a unique phenomenon that is present in Parshas Ki Sisa:6 G‑d has imbued the world with the following pattern: The beginning, the head, reflects the purpose and goal of the entire entity. Afterwards, the middle sets in motion a process leading to the achievement of that purpose and then, the conclusion, where the goal is actualized and consummated.

These three stages can be defined as:

a) The Torah, “the beginning of the path,” which preceded the world and which is the purpose of creation as our Sages commented on the word Bereishis;7 b) The creation through which the world is brought into being and given a chance to fulfill its purpose; c) The Redemption, the ultimate purpose of the world’s existence.

These three stages are also alluded in the first three letters of the Hebrew Alef-beis. The alef is the first letter of the Ten Commandments and includes all the Ten Commandments within it. The beis is the first letter of the word Bereishis, the beginning of the Torah’s narrative of creation (and our Sages relate, “The world was created with a beis”). The third letter, the gimmel is the first letter of the world geulah meaning “redemption.”

In Kabbalistic terminology, these three phases can be described as: a) the Or Ein Sof, G‑d’s Infinite Light, which encompassed all existence;

b) the tzimtzum, the process of divine self-contraction which left a “vacuum and empty space;” and

c) the revelation of the Or Ein Sof within the vacuum created by the tzimtzum.8

All three stages of this process are openly expressed in our Torah reading. The First Tablets refer to the Torah as it transcends the world (and thus they begin with the letter alef). The descent into the context of worldliness is reflected by the sin of the Golden Calf.9 And the giving of the Second Tablets reflect the ultimate elevation that comes after this descent.

To explain: Our Sages interpret the final words of the Torah, “before the eyes of the children of Israel,” as referring to Moshe’s breaking of the Tablets before the eyes of the Jewish people. They continue, explaining that G‑d acknowledged the positive dimensions of Moshe’s act and even congratulated him for it.

Although the question is asked: What positive purpose did breaking the Tablets have? In Chassidic thought, it is explained that breaking the Tablets enabled a higher dimension of Torah to be revealed. Through the process of sin and teshuvah, the Jews were elevated to a higher spiritual plane as our Sages declared, “In the place of baalei teshuvah, completely righteous men are unable to stand.” And this higher level is reflected in an increase of Torah knowledge. Thus our Sages relate that if Moshe had not destroyed the Tablets, we would have received only the Five Books of the Chumash and the Book of Yehoshua. Only after the breaking of the Tablets, were we granted the other dimensions of Torah study.

The advantage of the Second Tablets is also reflected in the contrast between the First and Second Tablets mentioned above: that the First Tablets were the “work of G‑d,” while the Second Tablets were hewn by Moshe. It is true that the First Tablets represented a higher level of revelation, but the advantage of the Second Tablets lay in that their holiness permeated the realm of worldly existence. Thus the First Tablets could be broken, for worldly existence represents a contrast and even a conflict with their holiness. The Second Tablets, by contrast, are eternal, for they represent the fusion of holiness with material existence.

This level is reflected in the ultimate fulfillment to be experienced by the Jewish people, the Redemption, which will follow the teshuvah of the Jewish people. And at that time, it will be revealed how the material dimensions of the world will have become fused with their ultimate spiritual purpose, how they all exist, “for the sake of the Torah.”

Thus we can see how the totality of this threefold sequence is contained in Parshas Ki Sisa. This also leads to another concept, that the flow from one stage to another is a sequence established by G‑d. And in this process, to reach the third stage, one must undergo the descent represented by the second stage.

This gives us a different perspective regarding sin: In Chassidic thought it is explained that sin is, to paraphrase a verse, “an awesome intrigue devised against man.” If a person’s yetzer hora overcomes him and makes him sin, this is because, from Above, the yetzer hora was prompted to bring him to this sin. The Jews, by nature, are above any connection with sin. Nevertheless, G‑d, however, devises “an awesome intrigue” in order to elevate our people to a higher level by having them undergo a descent beforehand.

Since this descent is merely a means to lead to a greater ascent, it is brief — to borrow a phrase “I abandoned you for a fleeting moment.” The ascent which follows it, by contrast, is eternal. This pattern will be expressed in the ultimate Redemption. It has been preceded by an awesome descent, this present exile, but it will lead to a great and eternal ascent,10 “a redemption never to be followed by exile.”

Thus when seen in this context, the descent is not merely for the purpose of an ascent, but is itself a stage of that ultimate ascent. Thus our Sages relate that the entire purpose of the sin of the Golden Calf was to allow for the potential of teshuvah.

Accordingly, we can appreciate how all three phases mentioned above are part of the sequence of Ki Sisa, the ascent of the Jewish people. The giving of the First Tablets reflected the first phase, the revelation of the intent.11 It was followed by the second phase, the descent, the sin and the breaking of the Tablets. This in turn motivated the Jewish people to turn to G‑d in teshuvah, evoking the third phase,12 the revelation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and the great ascent that found expression in the giving of the Second Tablets and the shining of Moshe’s countenance.13

The above also enables us to understand the connection between the Second Tablets and the shining of Moshe’s countenance. The giving of the Second Tablets followed the descent after the sin of the Golden Calf. Thus, they relate to the world as it exists within its own perspective. This is reflected in the fact that they were hewn by Moshe from stone in this world. Simultaneously, they are associated with great revelation — indeed, quantitatively, a greater revelation than the First Tablets. And thus, this revelation reflects a fusion of materiality and spirituality which brought about an elevation within the physical person of Moshe himself causing his face to shine.

Indeed, this revelation was so great that it was necessary for Moshe to place a veil over his face. This veil was necessary, however, only when Moshe and the Jewish people were involved with worldly matters, the refinement of the world at large. When Moshe communicated G‑d’s word to the people, he would remove this veil.

Moreover, even in regard to the world at large, this concealment is not a permanent factor. Ultimately, through the Jews’ service in refining and elevating the world, they make it possible for there to be a revelation of G‑dliness within the context of our worldly environment. This process will be consummated in the Era of the Redemption when “Your Master will no longer conceal Himself and your eyes will behold your Master,” “the glory of G‑d will be revealed and all flesh will see.”14

The three phases of service mentioned above are reflected in our divine service every day: We begin our day with the first stage, the declaration of intent, Modeh Ani, in which we thankfully acknowledge our connection with G‑d.15 This declaration is then given expression and allowed to take form in the morning prayers and the study session which follows them.

Afterwards, we proceed to the second stage, the descent into worldliness, our occupation with our surrounding environment through our daily business affairs. At the conclusion of the day, we reach the third stage, the ingathering of all the activities performed during the day. This is communicated in the final verse of the evening service, “Indeed, the righteous will thankfully acknowledge Your name.” (Significantly, this verse employs the same verb that is used in the phrase Modeh Ani.) And in a more particular sense, the person’s giving himself over to G‑d is reflected in the final verse of the prayers recited before retiring at night, Kerias Shema al hamitah, “In Your hands, I entrust my soul.”

The above is particularly relevant in the present generation, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. The previous generations have completed the service of refining the world and our generation is confronted with the task of causing the third phase of the process, the Redemption, to actually come to fruition.

In this, we can take a lesson from the beginning of the Torah reading, the command to “lift up the heads” of the Jewish people. Significantly, this command was addressed to Moshe. It is Moshe — and similarly, the extension of Moshe that exists in every generation who infuses the Jewish people with the spiritual power to undergo this threefold process of ascent.

Similarly, the process of ascent is accomplished through the spark of Moshe that exists within every individual Jew.16 The spark of Moshe is identified with the power of mesirus nefesh, the willingness of every Jew to give himself over to G‑d.17 This source of commitment, however, is openly revealed in souls of the leaders of the generations, and will reach complete expression in the person of Mashiach.

May this be revealed in the very near future and may the happiness of the month of Adar break through all barriers and allow us to “join redemption to redemption,” and proceed from the redemption of Purim to the ultimate Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.