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This week's parshah sheet is dedicated to the memory of Temimah Brochah bas Avraham Feivel, a young child, whose soul, just thirty days ago, was taken from this world and returned pure to its Creator. May the merit of the Torah contained within and learned be a merit for her and her parents, and may her family be "comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim."

Parshas Ki Sisa

A Spice of Life


... Take principle spices, or pure myrrh five hundred shekels ... (Shemos 30:23).
Another great example of Hashgochah Pratis (Divine Providence) is the following short Talmudic passage:
Where does the Torah allude to Mordechai? It is written, "Take principle spices, or pure myrrh (mar dror) five hundred shekels ..." (Shemos 30:23). (Chullin 139b)
In English this may be hard to see, but the Talmud is playing up the similarity of the words "mar dror" and "Mordechai," which sound somewhat alike. And, remarkably, that allusion falls out each year in our parshah, Parashas Ki Sisa, and in "Purim-month," the month of Adar.

Hence, in this week's parshah, which begins with the mitzvah of Machtzis-Hashekel, which, according to the Talmud, pre-empted Haman's right to destroy the Jewish people (see, "Redemption to Redemption: Purim, Chapter Four), there is an allusion to Mordechai. Furthermore, as we recite in "Pitum HaKetores" each morning," of the eleven different types of spices used to make up the Incense-Offering, myrrh was the fifth -- the measure of the previous four weighing seventy maneh each.

The redemption through Mordechai came SEVENTY years after the exile. As we know from many places, the number "seventy" is associated with redemption. This is why, according to the Vilna Gaon, we recite Tehillim, Chapter 20, every weekday morning; it speaks of redemption, and it precedes the prayer of redemption, "And a redeemer will come to Tzion ..." -- and, it contains SEVENTY words.

However, why does the Torah need to find an allusion to a person who lived after the time that the Torah was recorded, and why specifically in the verse dealing with the Incense-Offering?

The answer is similar to that of the other allusions, which include a connection between Haman and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Talmud isn't merely looking for an etymological connection between words that sound the same, regardless of whether or not they are intellectually related. Rather, the Talmud is also asking what is the spiritual "root" of Haman and Mordechai -- what potential in the Torah resulted in the "blessed Mordechai" and "cursed Haman" of the Purim Story?

With respect to Haman, it was the intellectual doubt that resulted from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that turned potential evil into real evil, and gave rise to Haman done the road. Likewise, it was the mitzvah of mixing the eleven spices, and then offering them on the Incense-Altar that made possible the birth of a Mordechai who could one day save the Jewish people.

In short, the concept of the spices is the idea of grinding down a hard substance until it becomes powder-like, and capable of being introduced into a mixture of other similar substances until they can become one. Then, together as this mixture, they are burned on an altar to G-d, something so holy that it is even able to stop the Angel of Death in its tracks (Shabbos 89a).

When it comes to Torah concepts, it is often the same way. As much as Torah is an open book designed to teach man the ways of G-d, one look at the Talmud reveals that it is also a "book" whose words are not to be taken at face value only. The Talmud, like Torah-life itself (and certainly this is the case on a Kabbalistic level), contains what appears AT FIRST GLANCE as "difficulties" in need of intellectual resolution.

The simpleton balks and assumes that what he sees in Torah is the way it is best understood, and turns his back on his questions and his faith. The wise man, on the other hand, "grinds" the ideas, and transforms "hard" intellectual matter into intellectual "powder," until the ideas that once seemed like squares to be fit into circles now flow together with sublime fluidity.

This is also implied by the marror that is ground for the Pesach Seder, and, by the grinding of the golden calf into powder later in this week's parshah. It is also the ability that Mordechai possessed that allowed him to see past the blackness of Haman, in order to realize that a redemption waited around the historical corner -- in spite of the fact that the rest of his compatriots were wallowing in fear and self-doubt.

Hence, this may be a leap year and we may only be in Adar Rishon, but, as the Talmud hints, it is around this time that we should moving into a Purim-mode, if we want to be ready to receive the light of redemption that is beginning to spark at this time of year.

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... Because six days G-d made the Heaven and the Earth, and on the Seventh He rested and was refreshed. (Shemos 31:17)
Immediately before the episode of the golden calf, the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos is repeated. It is no coincidence. Obviously Shabbos represents a rectification for what went wrong with the golden calf -- another example (like that of the Mishkan) of the "cure" being presented in the Torah before the "illness."

The intellectual link over here is the last word of the paragraph, "vayinafush," which can mean "rested, or "refreshed." The question is, if there are five levels of soul (Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chiyah, and Yechidah), why is Shabbos mentioned only with respect to the lowest level of all souls, the Nefesh?

The Arizal asks this question, and explains: Since the Nefesh is closest to the physical, more spiritually external world (it resides in the blood and acts as an "interface" between the physical and spiritual world), it is most affected by its unspiritual effects. In other words, it is the Nefesh that is really in the heat of the spiritual battle to balance out the physical, materialistic world with the spiritual, esoteric world.

Therefore, all the other levels of souls are more protected from the onslaught of the physical world, which makes an ongoing relationship between the Nefesh and G-d a challenge, to the say the least. Therefore, the upper levels of souls are in less need of respite from the battle come the seventh day and Shabbos.

This is why it is the Nefesh that is "severed" (kores), according to the Torah, when certain severe sins are committed. It is not the upper levels of souls that get dragged into the sin, but the Nefesh itself. In fact, that is what makes a sin so severe: the Nefesh's spiritual energy was harnessed for an evil purpose -- to accomplish a very physical goal.

Herein lies the connection to the episode of the golden calf. The golden calf represents -- even in today's terms -- the physical, materialistic world that tugs away at the Nefesh every day of life. The golden calf, as we have said on many occasions, was the physical embodiment of the drives of the body: eternal youth and fun (a calf represents frolicsomeness, and gold represents eternity). It is the bottom-line result of a materialistically-infested lifestyle, one devoid of spirituality.

Shabbos represents just the opposite, for the person who observes the seventh day as a holy day of rest. Rest from what? Rest from being overly involved in the day-to-day concerns of the six days of the week; rest from pursuing material means as goals unto themselves; rest from those things that distract us from relating to G-d all week long.

However, if a person does NOT keep Shabbos, even relatively-speaking, allowing the concerns of the material world to infiltrate the holiness of the day, then, his Nefesh does not get its spiritual respite. War-weary, the Nefesh becomes vulnerable to prolonged spiritual disintegration, until one turns his back on G-d and Judaism all together.

It is not a coincidence that the mitzvah to rest on Shabbos is juxtaposed with the incident of the golden calf. It is a warning, and great advice about how to stay spiritually on track.

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All the people pulled off the golden earrings from their ears and brought them to Aharon. He took all of it from them, and with an engraving tool formed it and made a molten calf. They said, "These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of Egypt!" (Shemos 32:3-4)

G-d said to Moshe, "Carve out two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write upon these tablets the words that were in the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning to ascend Mount Sinai, where you will stand before Me on the top of the mountain." (Shemos 34:1-2)

When they [the Jewish people] became corrupted because of the calf, the Second Tablets became necessary. In order to rectify the broken tablets, Moshe Rabbeinu needed to quarry sapphire for the second tablets in order to rectify the mineral world (Domaim), to make gall nut (for ink) to rectify the vegetation world (Tzomayach), to prepare skin for the Sefer Torah to rectify the animal world (Chayah)... and through Moshe's writing of the Sefer Torah, the world of man (Medabehr) was rectified. (Asarah Ma'ameros)

This, basically, puts into perspective the extent of the damage done to ALL of existence because of the incident of the golden calf. It was a set-back of the magnitude of the eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which, the Arizal says was the exact same mistake, if not in act, at least in intention and effect. Every level of physical creation was affected: Domaim, Tzomayach, Chiyah, and Medabehr -- Mineral, Vegetation, Animal, and Human.

But, what does it mean to be "affected"? With respect to man, we know that we became immortal after saying the words, "We will do, and we will understanding," and hence, mortal again after the catastrophe of the calf. But, what about the rest of the levels -- how were they affected, and how does their change impact man and his world?

What makes this question difficult to answer, and the answer difficult to relate to is the fact that the relationship between man and the world in which he lives has not changed dramatically over the centuries, indeed, millennia! It is as if we live in two different worlds completely, with very little harmony between the two of us.

One of the reasons why man was made from dust of the earth was so that, wherever he would go throughout history, he would feel a certain "oneness" with creation. In fact, according to the Ramban, the "us" of "Let Us make man in our image" (Bereishis 1:26) is G-d and good ole "Mother Earth," working in partnership to give birth to man.

Today, man's insatiable desire to advance technologically, and to constantly improve his materialistic lot has caused him to look at the world as vast "workshop" at his disposal. Even the animal kingdom which breathes and bleeds very much like man is viewed by many simply as an elaborate prop on man's stage. It is a strange and ungodly form of universal unity and misinterpretation of the Mishnaic phrase, "For me the world was created."

Simple things reveal this attitude, such as adults throwing garbage onto sidewalks and streets with no concern for the little they create. In cleaner cities, it is the fear of a fine for littering that instills a "clean-consciousness" in the minds of masses. But what about respect for creation, and admiration for G-d's holy world? What about simple appreciation for the gift of the universe which is so vast and awesome, just for man!

Imagine the following scenario. A man walking down the sidewalk sees two other men beating up a fourth man. Seeing a friend close by, he asks in a somewhat disconnected way,
"What's going on over there?"
"They're beating up someone, can't you see?" his friend answers him. "You want to help him out?"
"Well, I don't know if we should get involved ... those thugs could Mafia, you know. Besides, I don't know that man they're beating up ... he's a stranger to me ..."
"Stranger?! That's no stranger! That's your brother, Albert!"

If only we understood how connected to creation we are meant to be, and how our respect and concern for creation's well-being is very much a part of our own rectification. For, then, we do that which elevates creation to the level of "Holy to Hashem."

But then again, our present-day relationship to the physical world is the result of an undoing that came about because of the sin of he golden calf. And, though Moshe began the process of "tikun" immediately back at Mt. Sinai, the process is only be completed over the millennia since that time.

Lest we forget, "Adam" is "Adam" because he came from the "adammah" -- the earth. Thus, as we gain more insight into our own godliness and reasons for dignity, and appreciate our humble beginnings, then we will also gain a better understanding of the world around us, and what its true role is in bringing about the fulfillment of G-d's master plan for creation. Then, finally, all four elements -- Domaim, Tzomayach, Chiyah, and Medabehr -- can become unified, and G-d will "shepp nachos" up in Heaven, like any parent who watches all of its creations living in harmony.

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For the Conductor, a psalm of Dovid. May G-d answer you on the day of distress; may the Name of Ya'akov's G-d make you impregnable ... (Tehillim 20:1-2)
The next time a complete tehillah shows up in regular weekday prayer, it is at the end of the service, in advance of, "Uva l'Tzion" -- "A redeemer shall come to Tzion ..."

In fact, this is why, comments the Vilna Gaon, that Tehillah 20 comes at this point, in advance of the prayer about the Final Redemption. For, "For the Conductor" has seventy words, corresponding, says the Gaon, to the seventy years the Jewish people spent in the Babylonian-Median exile, during which they were oppressed by Achashveros and Haman. Since this tehillah alludes to the past redemption of Purim, it has been placed here to allude to the Final Redemption in Moshiach's time as well.

The most important line in the entire tehillah is,

Some [of our enemies fight] with chariots, and some [fight] with horses. But we [the Jewish people] -- in the Name of G-d, our G-d, we call out! (Verse 8)
That's what Dovid told Goliath too, just before he miraculously slayed him:
"You come to me with spear and javelin, and I come to you with the Name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel which you have taunted. This day the L-rd will deliver you into my hand, and I shall kill you, and take off your head, and I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines this day, to the fowl of the air and to the beasts of the earth, and the earth will know that Israel has a G-d! And all this gathering will know that not with sword and javelin does the Lord save, for the battle is the L-rd's, and He will deliver you into our hand." (Shmuel 1:17:45)
It can be pointed out that, though the English name "Goliath" means very little, his Hebrew name -- "Golios" -- means "exiles." In other words, that famous day that Dovid HaMelech stood before the Philistine giant physically, conceptually, he may have been confronting the whole concept of exile, which might explain while the entire Jewish army felt impotent before this single character.

For, as physical as exile may be -- and we have seen many times just how physical and torturous it can be -- it really is a state of mind. If we, the Jewish people are real with G-d, then G-d is real with us, and, as we see in the Chumash, that means living with Divine and supernatural protection.

However, if we are more real with the physical world than we are with the spiritual one -- the type of philosophy that gives rise to golden calves, real ones and figurative ones -- as had been the case with Shaul HaMelech's army, then, that physical world can eventually oppress us, and exile us from Torah values and lifestyle. That, the Talmud says, is what results in attack from the likes of the Hamans of history.

Hence, Tehillah #20 is an excellent introduction to "Uva l'Tzion," which talks about redemption from golus (exile). It reminds us, in very few words, what causes exile and what brings on redemption. It is what we need to know to arrive at its final verse:

G-d save! May the King answer us on the day we call!
Have a great Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston

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