Our Parsha describes the unsettling incident when a portion of the Jews worshipped the golden calf. This occurred while our leader Moshe was in heaven for 40 days and nights being taught by G-d Himself the entirety of Torah with all its laws and details.
Issues began when the Egyptian contingent that joined the Jews during the Exodus misunderstood Moshe’s directive that he would be away for forty days and forty nights. They began counting starting from the day that Moshe departed. However, Moshe meant that he will be back in forty complete days. Since our day begins at sunset, Moshe meant the counting to begin the night after he ascended Mount Sinai.
The mistaken Egyptian contingent grew impatient and panicked at the thought that Moshe was late and was not returning. They expressed their anxiousness and worry about the future without Moshe, and this uneasiness spread to some of the Jews and it unfortunately led to the creation and worshipping of the golden calf.
Before Moshe descended with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, G-d informed Moshe what was happening. At that point, G-d expressed His discontent with the nation and wished to destroy them due to the grave sin of idol worship. Moshe defended the Jews and was allowed to descend. When Moshe actually saw the levity surrounding the golden calf, he threw down the tablets and they shattered at the foot of the mountain.
The Torah describes that the tribe of Levi, the only tribe that did not participate in worshiping the golden calf, gathered with Moshe and took care of destroying the idol and wiping out those who participated.
For the next eighty days the Jews repented while Moshe was in heaven pleading for the Jews. G-d finally forgave the Jews, and Moshe descended with a second set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments. He descended on the 10th day of the Month of Tishrei, which became forever our day of atonement – Yom Kippur.
What was different between the first tablets and the second tablets? The answer is, there was a spiritual difference. After G-d’s revelation, the Jews became immortal – they were akin to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. Their level of spirituality was beyond our comprehension. Every Jew was adorned with spiritual crowns and there was no concept of forgetfulness of Torah, hence they did not need toil to understand Torah. However, after the incident of the golden calf and the shattering of the tablets, the nation was stripped of their crowns and they became mortal beings and forgetfulness of Torah became a reality. For the second tablets the Jews had to labor to understand and to retain Torah. The demanding study of our Oral Law of Mishna and Talmud that we now have is a consequence of the incident of the golden calf.
Today is an auspicious day to mention the toil of Talmud study, for the Daf Yomi ― the page a day worldwide Talmud study ― completed the large and intricate Tractate of Baba Kama. Its 119 pages discuss laws concerning monetary responsibilities, damages, disputes and theft.
The Torah speaks of the Mitzvah that each adult male must contribute a half Shekel to the Temple treasury for the purpose of conducting a census of the Jews. The census was not done though a head count, rather it was determined by counting the amount of half Shekel coins that were contributed.
The Talmud teaches us that when one contributes Tzadaka, it accelerates the coming of our Redemption. The Talmud continues and tells us that there are ten tough things that G-d created in the world. A mountain is tough, yet metal can penetrate the stone. Metal is strong, yet fire can melt it. Fire is harsh, yet water douses it. Water is mighty, yet clouds retain them. Clouds are threatening, yet wind dissipates them. Wind/air is harsh, yet a person’s body survives on it. A person’s body is powerful and enduring, yet fear weakens it. Fear is uncompromising, yet wine soothes it. Wine is tough by intoxicating, yet sleep sobers the person up. Death is the most difficult of all – yet, Tzadaka saves one from death, as King Solomon states in Proverbs – “Tzadaka Tatzil M’maves – Tzadaka saves from death!
King Solomon continues and states, “Some contribute generously and they wind up with more money.” “One who gives to the poor will not lose.”
When the Torah speaks of the half Shekel contribution, it uses the word ונתנו which is a palindrome; it can be read backward and forward. The Baal Haturim teaches us that this is a hint that when you give to Tzadaka you indeed get back!
When one shares Torah with others it is like sharing a flame of a candle – nothing gets diminished from the source of illumination. What is even more, as its light is passed on, its radiance gets even greater and greater!
With this publication of the Shabbat Message, we complete 29 years of producing the weekly message! One thousand five hundred and thirty-nine editions, with tens of thousands of recipients through email and on various platforms!
I feel privileged to share Torah ideas with a broad spectrum of Jews, from those with limited backgrounds all the way to venerable scholars. The beauty and magic of Torah is that each person can perceive, understand and appreciate a message and thought on their own level.
My deepest thanks go to my wife Malki for all her encouragement and support, and to the editors, Rabbi Shmuel Flam and Mrs. Madeleine Jacobs for always being so graciously available to review and perfect the message.
To the readership; thank you for your comments, questions, encouragement, critique and support. It is greatly appreciated!
Thank you Hashem for everything and beyond! Dovid