1. Parshas Ki Sisa possesses a problematic dimension. The literal meaning of the opening verse of Parshas Ki Sisa is: “When you will lift up the heads of the children of Israel,” elevating the level of the Jewish people, and indeed elevating their “heads,” their loftiest potential. Nevertheless, the body of the Torah reading concerns the sin of the Golden Calf, the most serious of all sins, the ultimate source for the exile. How does such a series of events correlate to the theme of Ki Sisa, the elevation of the Jewish people?

It is possible to explain the connection between the two themes as follows: The elevation of the Jews to the highest peaks can come despite the fact that one has descended to the lowest depths. Furthermore, the descent is itself a phase in the ascent. Every descent is in essence for the purpose of ascent, and is capable of bringing one to a level higher than that enjoyed before the descent. Thus it is through the descent of the sin of the Golden Calf that the Jews can reach the peaks of Ki Sisa.1 After the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jews were able to rise to the level of baalei teshuvah, and “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand, even the totally righteous are not able to stand.”

Similarly, this concept is reflected in the advantage possessed by the Second Tablets, the giving of which is described in our Torah portion, over the First Tablets to the extent that G‑d thanked Moshe for breaking them, as it were. The first tablets were associated with the level of “the righteous,” while the second tablets were associated with the higher rung of baalei teshuvah.

This explanation, however, is insufficient. Firstly, the very principle that an ascent requires a descent requires explanation. Furthermore, the wording of the opening verse, “When you will lift up the heads of the children of Israel,” appears to indicate that everything which follows in the Torah reading comes as a result of this elevation. The converse, that the elevation comes as a result of the descent of the sin, does not fit the simple meaning of the Torah’s verses.

Furthermore, the concept that Ki Sisa, i.e., the elevation experienced by the Jewish people, is associated with the giving of the second tablets also raises a question. It is in Parshas Ki Sisa that the great qualities possessed by the first tablets are mentioned.2

These points lead to the following conclusion: The process of the Jews’ elevation, Ki Sisa, is many-phased. One of those phases involves the first tablets, i.e., the service of the righteous before the sin of the Golden Calf. Then, we precede to the Golden Calf. The intent, however, is not the sin of the Golden Calf, but rather, how the Golden Calf exists in the Torah, i.e., a high spiritual rung as will be explained. Indeed, it is the potential generated by this service which brings about — when necessary — the nullification and the transformation of the sin of the Golden Calf.

To explain: As mentioned above, the expression “When you lift up the heads of the children of Israel” indicates that: a) one rises to a level above the head, i.e., the quality of faith which transcends the intellect. This is an innate potential possessed by every Jew. As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, this potential “transcends intellect.” Therefore:

Even the most simple among the people and the sinners of Israel sacrifice their souls for the Sanctification of G‑d’s Name... so that they will not deny [the existence of] the One G‑d. [This service is carried out] without any knowledge or meditation, but rather [emanates from a level which] transcends knowledge and understanding.

b) The head itself is raised to this level. The intellect is raised to the point where it negates avodah zorah, the service of other gods, not only as an act of faith which transcends intellect, but as an expression of the intellect itself.

The internalization of this quality of faith represents an elevation of the Jews’ potential. By expressing an affirmation of G‑dliness and a negation of other gods, [sources of influence,] not only on a level where intellect does not operate, but within the context of our understanding, the worship of other gods is utterly negated and G‑d’s Oneness is affirmed in the most complete manner.

[Were this affirmation to be made on the level of faith alone, the possibility would exist that although one believes, one would think differently. Thus, on the levels of conduct where “the light of faith” does not shine, G‑d’s Oneness would not be affirmed. When this oneness is internalized within the power of intellect, however, it permeates every dimension of our conduct.]

This concept, the negation of belief in other gods and the affirmation of G‑d’s Oneness, also lies at the heart of the Haftorah which describes the confrontation between the prophet Eliyahu and the prophets of Baal [I Melachim, Chapter 18]. As a result of Eliyahu’s challenge to the prophets of Baal, their failure in evoking a response from their divinity, and G‑d’s miraculous wonders, the people proclaimed, “G‑d is the L‑rd, G‑d is the L‑rd.”

This narrative describes a very low spiritual state for the Jewish people, a time in which they were unable to appreciate who to believe in Baal or, l’havdil, G‑d. Nevertheless, through the confrontation arranged by Eliyahu,3 the people were able to know — i.e., grasp with their intellect, not only with their power of faith — that “G‑d is the L‑rd.”

In order for a Jew to negate belief in other gods — not only through the service of teshuvah which transcends intellect, but also on the level of intellect, it is necessary to “lift up one’s head.” A Jew’s head refers to his study of the Torah. “Lifting up one’s head,” refers to reaching a higher plane of Torah study.

To illustrate this concept: Yerovam ben Nevat is connected with the concept of idol worship. He made, not only one Golden Calf as the Jews did in the desert, but two. Nevertheless, despite this descent, his potential was great and he had reached a very high peak of Torah study. Thus, our Sages relate that Achiyah HaShiloni4 could find no fault in Yerovam’s Torah knowledge and together with him, developed new insights into the Torah. Indeed, Yerovam was able to understand the teachings of the Book of Vayikra which deals with the sacrificial offerings on 103 different levels.5

Here we see a connection to idol worship, because 103 is numerical equivalent to the Hebrew for “calf” (עגל). Thus, in its source, Yerovam’s potential was on a very high rung, a rung that is connected with the ultimate source for a “calf,” the “face of an ox,” which makes up “G‑d’s Chariot” in Ezekiel’s mystic vision.

Thus we see a two dimensional process: a very high source, but — to allow for free choice — a potential for descent to the very lowest levels, and ultimately, the correction of that descent, and a new ascent. Nevertheless, the descent and the subsequent ascent need not be part of the process of Ki Sisa. Ideally, as the “calf” exists within the Torah, it refers to an elevation of the head, a high level of Torah study which negates totally — not only from the point of view of faith, but also from the perspective of intellect — the possibility of believing in other gods.

To cite a parallel to this concept: In Hilchos Avodas Kochavim, the Rambam writes:

The worshipers of false gods have composed many texts concerning their service, [describing] what is the essence of their service, what practices are involved, and what are its statutes. The Holy One, blessed be He, has commanded us not to read those books at all, nor to think about them or any matters involved with them.... This prohibits enquiring about the nature of their service even if you, yourself, do not serve them.

Nevertheless, this prohibition applies only for a common person. In contrast,

A court must know the types of worship [practiced by gentiles] because an idolater is only stoned to death when we know that [he has worshiped a false god] in the mode in which it is traditionally worshiped.

Thus, although a common person is forbidden to study the nature of idol worship, a Torah judge is required to study these subjects. Because of his elevated spiritual level, his connection with idol worship helps bring about the nullification of idolatry. Thus his involvement with such matters is a holy service, the very opposite of idolatry in its usual sense.

Similarly, our Sages praise Yisro’s declaration, “Now I know that the G‑d, the L‑rd, is greater than all the other gods.” Because he had served “all the other gods,” his statement of awareness of G‑d’s existence was all the more powerful, reflecting the transformation of evil into good. This statement represented a complete nullification of idolatry which, as the Zohar explains, was one of the necessary preparatory steps for the giving of the Torah. Here again idolatry ultimately serves a positive purpose.

In this context, we can explain the place of the narrative of the Golden Calf within the process of Ki Sisa. In an ideal sense, the nullification of idolatry should be expressed in a manner that precludes any connection to such service (the first tablets). If, however, for some reason, there is a descent into idolatry, there is the potential for an ascent to a higher level through the service of teshuvah. Indeed, the sin itself can be transformed into a positive influence (the second tablets).

The latter process, however, must involve a slightly different approach. After the descent of sin, it is impossible to begin directly with the nullification of idolatry by elevating one’s intellectual faculties. Instead, one must first arouse a level that shares no connection to idolatry whatsoever, the essence of the soul which transcends intellect.6 Afterwards, the process of Ki Sisa involves having the essence of soul influence the powers of intellect and emotion. Thus, the negation of the worship of idolatry will come, not only from the essence of the soul, but also from our conscious powers.

This is also implied by the verse, “Hew out two tablets of stone like the first ones.” The second tablets involve, not only the arousal of the essence of the soul, but also that — like the service associated with the first tablets — the essence permeate through our conscious powers.

This concept is also alluded to in the verse which precedes the entire narrative of the sin of the Golden Calf and the giving of the second tablets: “And He gave to Moshe... the two tablets of the testimony.” Our Sages note that the word לוחות is written in a short form לחת, lacking a vav. They interpret this as an allusion, teaching us that the right and the left tablets were equal.

The two tablets correspond to the positive mitzvos — the fundamental thrust of the first five commandments — and the negative commandments — the basic thrust of the second five commandments. Thus this relates to our Sages’ teaching, “G‑d made a single statement. I heard two things;” that the first two commandments, the affirmation of G‑d’s presence and the negation of other gods, and similarly the positive and negative dimensions of the Shabbos laws were communicated at once, because they share a singleness of purpose.7

This emphasizes how even the negative commandments which warn us to refrain from action are mitzvos and thus share the intent of establishing a tzavsa, connection and bond of unity, between G‑d and man and between Him and the world at large. Furthermore, this goal is reflected in the potential we are granted to fulfill the negative commandments through positive action, i.e., through studying the laws of the negative commandments, it is considered as if one actually observed them.

This leads to another concept, that the fundamental aspect of the negative commandments is the form in which they exist in their source. There they represent elevated levels of holiness as explained above in regard to the connection between the negation of idolatry and the 103 planes of Torah study. Through emphasizing the source of the negative commandments, a powerful dimension of the light of Torah is revealed.8 This light shines in all places, even where there are negative forces involved, negating those negative forces and nullifying their influence.9

This then represents the process of Ki Sisa, the elevation of the Jewish people, and its connection with the first and the second set of tablets. Both sets of tablets share the same thrust, the negation of idolatry and all the negative forces which stem from it,10 not only from the standpoint of faith, but also from the perspective of intellect. Because of the negative dimensions brought about by the sin of the Golden Calf, the second tablets also required the arousal of the essence of the soul. However, their ultimate intent is the same, revealing the complete level of service that can be achieved through Torah study, when that Torah study is elevated and enhanced through the service of “lifting up the heads of the children of Israel.”

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2. A connection can be established between the above concepts and the Purim holiday which we have just celebrated. This is of greater significance this year, because this year the celebration of Purim is unique, involving a three day continuum of happiness for Purim is followed by Shushan Purim and Shabbos, which the Torah calls “the day of your rejoicing.”11

Purim is associated with the service of mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the Sanctification of G‑d’s name as epitomized by Mordechai’s refusal to bow for Haman. His example inspired the entire people as reflected by the verse, “And they told him of Mordechai’s people.” Throughout the entire year, the Jews displayed mesirus nefesh which transcended intellect. And to commemorate this, our celebration on Purim is Ad d’lo yoda, above the confines of intellect.

Purim, however, also has an effect on our conscious powers as reflected in our Sages’ interpretation of the verse, “And the Jews had light” as referring to the study of the Torah.11 Even the mitzvah of becoming drunk on Purim can be interpreted as becoming involved in the study of the secrets of the Torah as hinted at in our Sages’ statement, “When wine goes in, the secrets come out.”

In a complete manner, this involves the study of the teachings of Chassidus. And it is through this study that the belief in the potential for other gods [i.e., sources of influence] is nullified, not only from the perspective of faith, but also from the standpoint of our conscious powers. This will “raise up the heads of the children of Israel,” elevating their intellectual potential through the study of Chassidus. Furthermore, this will lead to the ultimate elevation, the coming of Mashiach12 who will reveal the secrets of the Torah and, indeed, reveal “the new Torah that will emerge from Me.”

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3. Purim is thirty days before Pesach. As the Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Aruch, thirty days before Pesach, we should begin studying the laws of the holiday. Similarly, since the celebration of the Pesach holiday involves many expenses, it is proper that efforts be made to provide everyone who lacks with their Pesach needs. Although there are organizations that are involved with these activities throughout the entire year, there must be an increase in these efforts in connection with the Pesach holiday, providing them with both food and clothing so that they can celebrate the holiday in an ample manner, as befits “free men.”

Our Sages teach that tzedakah brings close the redemption.13 May our efforts bring close the ultimate redemption and thus we will proceed to Parshas Vayakhel in its most complete expression, “the great congregation” which “will return here” with the coming of Mashiach. May it be in the immediate future.

4. Our Sages note that even after the Purim miracle, we remained servants of Achashverosh. Similarly, we are also “servants of Achashverosh.” Nevertheless, although we are in the midst of exile, the dominant nation in this exile is a generous country, a country who offers assistance to many nations and offers assistance to its Jewish residents. In appreciation, may G‑d grant that country success in its war against Basra and may we soon merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, “Who is that coming in soiled garments from Basra?” with the coming of redemption.