Parsha Potpourri Parshat Ki Tisa: Shabbat in the Desert
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Ki Tisa(Exodus 30:11-34:35)

Shabbat in the Desert

Exodus 31:16-17 discuss the mitzvah of observing and guarding Shabbos, which is a sign between God and the Jewish people. In commanding the Jewish people to observe Shabbos as an eternal covenant, why does the Torah write the word olam - forever - with the letter vav and then switch one verse later to write it without the letter vav?

The Talmud (Shabbos 69b) records an interesting dispute regarding the law governing a person who finds himself lost in the desert, and because he doesn't know what day it is, he is unsure when to observe Shabbos. Chiya the son of Rav maintains that the person should observe the following day as Shabbos and then count six days before again observing Shabbos. Rav Huna argues that he should first count six days and only then observe the first Shabbos.

The Talmud explains that Chiya the son of Rav derives his opinion from the first person, Adam, who was created on Friday. For Adam, Shabbos was the next day, followed by six days of the week and then another Shabbos. Rav Huna, on the other hand, focuses on the Creation of the universe. From this perspective, first there were six days of the week and only then came Shabbos. The law is decided in accordance with the opinion of Rav Huna.

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly suggests that the anomaly in our verses teaches this law. Because the second occurrence of the word "forever" is written without a vav, it can also be read as meaning hidden (ne'elam). The Torah prescribes that a person to whom Shabbos is "hidden," as he is lost in the desert and doesn't know which day of the week it is, should follow the order of the Creation of the world as per the opinion of Rav Huna, in that first there were six weekdays and only then came Shabbos.

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MORDECHAI IN THE SPICES

The Talmud (Chullin 139b) asks where Mordechai is hinted to in the Torah, and it answers that he is alluded to in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sisa (Exodus 30:23), where the Torah lists the spices that were used in creating the anointing oil. The first of the spices is called Mar Dror - pure myrrh - which the Targum translates into Aramaic as Mara Dachia which sounds like Mordechai.

Maimonides (Klei HaMikdash 1:3) writes that the pure myrrh in the anointing oil was made from the blood of a non-kosher animal from India. The Raavad disagrees vehemently, arguing that no part of a non-kosher animal could ever be part of something that is used in the Holy Temple.

The Kesef Mishneh defends Maimonides by explaining that since the substance in question is dried out and ground into a fine powder, it's considered a totally different object and is therefore permitted even though it originally came from a non-kosher animal. Even so, why is Mordechai alluded to specifically in an object which has such questionable origins?

The Midrash comments on the verse in Iyov (14:4) "Who will give pure from impure" - explaining that this verse refers to the concept of something pure coming out of something impure, such as the red heifer making one person pure but another person impure. One of the examples given is the pure and holy Mordechai who was descended from the impure Shimi ben Geira. One rabbinic commentator (Haggadah Shel Pesach Reiach Duda'im) suggests that this is alluded to by the fact that Mordechai's name is hinted to in a non-kosher animal which according to Maimonides finds its way into the Holy Temple.

As far as why Mordechai's name is alluded to in the Targum translation instead of in an actual verse in the Torah, one rabbinic commentator (Divrei Purim) explains that because a critical part of the miracle of the Megillah was due to Mordechai's knowledge of other languages - so that he could understand the plot of Bigsan and Seresh who spoke in a foreign language assuming that nobody listening could understand them - Mordechai's name is therefore hinted to in the Targum's translation into a foreign language.

As an interesting aside, although the Talmud provides a source for Haman from a verse in Genesis, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld suggests that he is also alluded to in the section of spices together with Mordechai. Of the 11 spices, all are sweet-smelling except for chelbonah - galbanum (30:34) - which has a very foul odor. Not surprisingly, the word chelbonah has the same numerical value as Haman (95).

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FORGETTING TORAH

The Talmud (Nedorim 38a) relates that during the initial 40 days that Moshe was on Mount Sinai, he learned the entire Torah from God each day, only to forget it, until finally God gave him the knowledge as a gift (Exodus 31:18). What was God's purpose in teaching him the Torah for 40 consecutive days when He knew that Moshe would forget?

The Alshich HaKadosh gives two explanations. First, Moshe needed to completely purify his soul to the highest degree possible in order to merit receiving the entire Torah and teaching it to the Jewish people, and each additional day that he learned the Torah served to further purify him. Second, Torah knowledge is only given as a gift to somebody who first expends all of his effort and energy to attain it.

Rav Pam (Atara L'Melech) derives from here that when a person studies Torah and forgets it, he shouldn't become despondent and feel that his efforts were wasted, as the Torah that he learned still serves to purify and uplift his soul so that he will better be able to understand the Torah, and it also helps him to merit a gift of Torah knowledge even beyond what he would naturally be able to attain and comprehend.

Published: March 4, 2012

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