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From First to Second

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

Over the last couple of months, we have witnessed an incredible urge to learn Torah on a daily basis. Since the new cycle of Daf Yomi began, many people over the world have joined this wonderful program. There is an abundance of shiurim and online resources to help one learn every day. At Midreshet HaRova we were very proud to see a group of students finish Massechet Berachot and begin learning Massechet Shabbat.

With this in mind, we will begin our discussion from today's daf (I am writing on Monday, Adar 20). The Gemara (Shabbat 10b) discusses the fact that one who gives a gift to his friend is required to notify him of such. Rashi explains that this is both to ensure that the receiver of the gift will not be embarrassed to receive the gift (if he is maybe we should not give him the gift) and so that the gift will create a feeling of love and harmony between the giver and recipient. The Gemara proves this idea from last week's parsha where Hashem instructs Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael about the mitzvah of Shabbat. Shabbat is seen as a gift from Hashem to the nation and Hashem stresses that they need to be told that they will be receiving it.

The Gemara then asks a question based on the end of Parshat Ki Tissa. When Moshe descends the mountain the Torah writes "ומשה לא ידע כי קרן עור פניו בדברו אתו- Moshe was unaware that the skin of his face set forth beams" (Sh'mot 34:29). Seeing as the "beams" emerging from Moshe are seen as a gift from Hashem, why did He not inform Moshe of this?  The Gemara answers that the requirement to inform the recipient of the gift does not apply when the gift (and from whence it came) will become apparent in the future. 

Moving away from the Gemara and returning to the text of the Torah, an obvious question arises. What is the significance of the "beams" around Moshe and why were Bnei Yisrael so scared to approach him as stated in the next passuk " "וייראו מגשת אליו  In order to try to answer this question let us look at the context in which this event takes place.

After Chet HaEgel, there is a redefinition of the covenant between Hashem and Am Yisrael.  This is largely defined by the 13 attributes of mercy which are found earlier in Perek 34. Based on this, Hashem instructs Moshe "to write these words down, because based on these words I have made a covenant with you and Yisrael." (34:27) We are then told that Moshe was "there with God" for forty days and nights, he neither ate nor drank and he wrote down " דברי הברית עשרת הדברים ". Following this, Moshe descends from the mountain with the two tablets. 

Many of the ideas mentioned in these pesukim create within the reader an association with an earlier passage found at the end of Parshat Mishpatim.  Perek 24 also discusses writing down דברי ה'  and relates to ספר הברית. It also mentions Moshe gong up to the mountain and the fact that he stayed there for forty days and nights. 

While these two events took place at different times, most importantly pre and post Chet HaEgel, they both represent the relationship between Moshe's audience with Hashem on the one hand  and the challenge  in conveying something of that aura to the people on the other. In the middle of the earlier chapter, the Torah describes a very puzzling event:

"They went up, Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and seventy of the elders of Israel. They saw the God of Israel: under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone and the like of the very heaven for clearness. Upon the nobles of Bne Yisrael He laid not his hand: they "saw" God and they ate and drank." (Sh'mot 24:10-12, based on the Hertz translation)

This entire episode is very difficult to explain. The mefarshim tackle this event in various different ways. We will focus on a couple of the aspects which are a little easier to decipher. It is clear that some image or apparition of God was seen. It is unclear if those who witnessed this sight were correct in staring at it or not. The fact that we are told that Hashem did not lay His hand upon them suggests that originally they deserved to be punished. Exactly who saw this image is also ambiguous as the episode begins with the leaders and elders but concludes with "nobles – אצילי". 

What we do notice is that though a group of humans envisaged a Divine site, this does not seem to affect them as immediately after we are told that they ate and drink. Meaning even after witnessing the closest thing to "seeing" God they continued with their mundane existence as if nothing had happened. This is in stark contrast to Moshe, who, while on the mountain in close "proximity" (if one can use such a term) to Hashem, neither eats nor drinks for forty years.

Returning to Chapter 34, we see that once again Aharon and the nation envisage a site heralding from God.  Only this time it is not a Godly image but that of Moshe who, on his descent from Har Sinai, has a certain aura about him. On seeing this, they seem to understand that they, as opposed to Moshe who has been "with" Hashem for an extended period are not worthy of associating with such an aura. They are scared and do not wish to approach Moshe. However, Moshe calls them and they therefore understand that he is still a human and they can communicate with him. Yet still, they approach in stages – Aharon and the princes of the nation first, and only in the next verse do we find that the entire nation are ready to approach Moshe. (34:31-32)  

We suggest that this reluctance to interact with something so holy, with a sense of the Divine, is actually part of the repentance process which Am Yisrael undergo after the sin of the Golden Calf. Whereas previously they saw and then merely continued with their regular  activities, here they hesitated. After having realized that they cannot approach God in any way they see fit as they may have tried to do with the Egel, they now realize that there must remain a certain distance between them and Hashem. This explains their fear which can now be understood as a positive reaction on the part of Bne Yisrael. 

(The Torah continues by telling us that Moshe employed a screen to shield the beams of light emanating from him. The exact role of the screen is also discussed in the mefarshim. I would be happy to hear if anyone can shed any further "light" on this matter)

Till now, we have discussed last week's parsha. This week we will read Vayakhel and Pikudei. The most oft asked question about these two parshiot is why the Torah deems it necessary to repeat all the details of the Mishkan structure and all its vessels? Surely it would have sufficed to say that Moshe and Bnei Yisrael followed God's instructions and built the Mishkan as was specified in the earlier parshiot. 

There are many answers suggested to this question. One idea based on the order found in the Torah (as opposed to Rashi's opinion) is that the Mishkan now has an added dimension to it, a further significance in the wake of Chet HaEgel. We may have thought that Hashem would be reluctant for Am Yisrael to continue with the original plan to build a structure in order for Him to dwell amongst them after they, Am Yisrael, had abandoned their belief in Him during the Golden Calf episode. The Torah demonstrates that this is not the case. All that was commanded prior to the sin is in fact constructed after the sin. No detail is altered – it is repeated to stress this very notion. 

This must therefore mean that Hashem forgave Bnei Yisrael as is found in the narrative in Parshat Ki Tissa. We have proposed above that not only did Hashem forgive but Am Yisrael also repented. They corrected their ways. They will now be able to see the Mishkan as a reflection of their relationship with The Almighty. One of fear on the one hand and closeness on the other. 

Let us conclude with the phrase from our tefillot on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur :

ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזרה

שבת שלום ובשורות טובות, ר' יונתן

 

 

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