OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah
Ki Sisa tells of the greatest sin in all of Jewish history-the chait haeigel, the sin of the Golden Calf.
Before ascending to the top of Mount Sinai, Moshe tells the Bnei Yisrael that he will be gone for forty days and forty nights. But the Jews miscalculate his absence by one day. When Moshe fails to return at the expected time, they turn to Aharon, Moshes brother, to fill the void of leadership.
In an attempt to stall them for one more day, Aharon asks the people for their gold, hoping they would refuse. But they gave enthusiastically, and so Aharon threw their gold into a fire from which arose the infamous Golden Calf.
Moshe, meanwhile, is oblivious to all this until G-d tells him to go down from the mountain for the people are corrupt. Moshe descends and as he approaches the camp, he hears singing, dancing and rejoicing around the Golden Calf.
"And Moshe turned and went down the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hand," is how the Torah describes it.
What is this "turning" that Moshe did? Why not simply write, "Moshe went down"?
We find this word vayifen-"and he turned"--twice more in the Torah in connection with Moshe.
Before the Exodus, Moshe came upon an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite. The Torah records that Moshe "turned this way and that way and he saw no man, so he smote the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."
Then, at one point during his negotiations with Pharaoh over the peoples release from Egypt , the Torah states that Moshe "turned and went out from before Pharaoh."
Why does the Torah continually stress this notion of turning-all in dealing with Moshe?
All three instances testify to Moshes turning not in a physical sense, but in a more dramatic way. Each case necessitated a spur of the moment decision--a turning point in his life and leadership.
The first act of leadership taken by Moshe was killing the Egyptian. Moshe could have sat back and waited to inherit the throne of Egypt. Instead, he took action on behalf of his brethren. His heroism necessitated his fleeing from Egypt and set the stage for his encounter with G-d.
His second "turn" was a dangerous one. Not giving proper respect and honor to the Pharaoh would normally be punished instantly with death, but Moshe wanted to show Pharaoh that he meant business. "Let my people go," he demanded, keeping in mind that with the kings honor and pride on the line, Pharaoh might never let the Jews go, despite the ten plagues.
Looking back, when push came to shove, the shoving of Pharaohs honor was the right choice.
Finally, the moment when Moshe threw down the tablets was the ultimate turn of events. He shattered the heart and soul of the Jewish People. Why? Moshe needed to shake up the people after they had committed such a horrendous sin.
In all cases Moshe acted properly. The first time led Moshe to the mantle of leadership. The second helped free the Jews from slavery. The third received the consent of the A-mighty Himself.
The Ark that stood in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple contained the new tablets as well as the original, broken ones. This served to remind the Jews of the atrocious abomination of the Golden Calf. We should keep it as a constant reminder to us.Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky
Rabbi Bogopulsky is rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in San Diego, California.