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Ki Tisa 5772

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

On Behalf of the People – Rav Yonatan Horovitz Parshat Ki Tissa is often read in tandem with one of the four parshiot that precede Pesach. This year, however, no additional parshia accompanies the reading of Ki Tissa. As a result of this, we find ourselves with a rare opportunity to study the official haftara of this parsha, the story of Eliyahu at Har HaCarmel. At first glance, the episodes in the parsha and the haftara would seem to be very different if not complete opposites. The highlight, or lowlight, of the Torah reading is the sin of the Golden Calf. A mere forty days after witnessing the revelation at Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael are found dancing around a molten image proclaiming "these are your gods Israel that took you out of Egypt". (Shemot 32:4). The haftara, on the other hand, recounts how after many years of widespread idolatry, Am Yisrael reaffirm their belief in The Almighty and declare "Hashem Hu HaElokim, the Lord, He is God" (Melachim Aleph,18:39). The parsha describes the people rebelling against God; the haftara describes the nation's return to God. It is possible that this contrast is the very reason for the choice of haftara. As in various other instances, the haftara is intended to counter the events of the parsha and offer us a hopeful conclusion to our Shabbat morning learning. The haftara tells us that even when we have stooped to the lowest level of idolatrous practices, there is still a way to return to God. We suggest that there are additional reasons for this story being this week's haftara. Chapter 18 in Melachim Aleph describes how Eliyahu gathers all of Am Yisrael together at Mount Carmel and forces them to make a decision:"Ad matay atem pos'chim al shtey haseifim, how long will you be hopping between two opinions?”, Eliyahu demands of the people. It is time to make a decision as to whether you wish to follow the Ba'al or whether the true God is Hashem.This suggests that the people did not worship ONLY avoda zara but rather believed in Hashem AND idols. This situation may seem strange to us but it would seem to describe a common phenomenon in biblical times. Sh'muel also castigated his generation by telling them to worship Hashem alone. (Sh'muel Aleph, 7:3). The temptations to serve idols were obviously very strong but there was still an attachment to God. It is possible that the first instance of this is found in this week's parsha. The mefarshim are divided as to whether the sin of the Golden Calf was actual idolatry or rather a misguided attempt to serve Hashem by use of a tangible object. If we take the latter approach then it would appear that Am Yisrael continued to believe in God but nevertheless worshipped an idol. It is not exactly the same as the situation described in the time of Eliyahu but maybe this sin became the basis for the mistakes which were made later on. If that is the case, then Eliyahu is attempting to rid Am Yisrael of this notion once and for all. We cannot share our loyalties; we must serve Hashem and Hashem alone. A further parallel can be found in the dialogue recorded between God and the two leaders, Moshe and Eliyahu. On hearing of Am Yisrael's misdemeanors, Moshe immediately pleads with God. Claiming that the untimely demise of the Israelite nation will both cause a desecration of Hashem's name and be a violation of the promise made to our forefathers, Moshe implores God not to wipe out Am Yisrael.  Hashem agrees, relents from his original plan and thus Am Yisrael live to fight another day. This raises the question as to why God would "change his mind" based on human intervention. For a detailed discussion, please see our previous shiur on this subject: One of our conclusions there relates to the unique relationship that Moshe had with God. In this week's haftara, however, we find that Eliyahu appears to converse with Hashem in a similar fashion. Eliyahu pleads with Hashem to bring fire down upon the altar and the sacrifice that he had prepared:"O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel! Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord are God, for you have turned their hearts backward." (Melachim Aleph, 18:36-37) The final phrase in this prayer is "ve'ata hasibota et libam achoranit". While we used the JPS translation, the commentaries differ as to how it should be understood. Rashi explains that Eliyahu tells Hashem that it was He who gave the nation room to sin. Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva, Chap. 6, Halacha 3) adds to this by stating that there are certain instances when God, due to the severity of the sin, does not allow the sinner the opportunity to repent. This is one example of such and to this Eliyahu refers, claiming that it is God Himself who is preventing Am Yisrael's teshuva. In a similar vein, Radak suggests that Eliyahu is asking for a miracle and states that the lack of miracles until this point is what drove the nation to turn away from God. The common factor amongst the above explanations is that they all claim that Eliyahu is "blaming" God for the nation's wrongdoings. By stating this, Eliyahu is hoping to convince God that he should put this right by providing them with a sign which will enable the people to embrace Hashem once again. Rasag, quoted by Radak, simply states that Eliyahu is imploring Hashem to turn Am Yisrael's hearts back to Him. This certainly reminds us of Moshe's pleas with God. The fact that Hashem responds positively to Eliyahu's request suggests that he too had a very special relationship with God. In truth, this is only one of many parallels between Moshe and Eliyahu all of which demonstrate that Eliyahu Hanavi was unique amongst the prophets of the post Moshe period. Rashi, on the above quoted passuk, also cites a Midrash which relates to this phrase differently. Eliyahu calls out to Hashem and states that if You do not answer my call on behalf of the people then I too will become a heretic. This reminds us of Moshe's statement in this week's parsha:"Now if You will forgive their sin, but if not erase me from the book which You have written." (Shemot 32:32) Both Eliyahu and Moshe want no relationship with a God who will not forgive His people for their sins. In summation, we have seen several connections between parsha and haftara. Possibly, the most reassuring notion for us is that we have been blessed with leaders who have demonstrated such belief in Am Yisrael that they were even prepared to argue with Hashem on our behalf. Whilst we cannot expect such conversations to take place in this day and age, we can hope and pray for the type of selfless leadership found in Moshe Rabbeinu and Eliyahu Hanavi. Shabbat shalom,Rav Yonatan Comments and questions are welcome:


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