Thursday, February 21, 2019

Parshas Ki Sisa 5779

Why Did They Worship the Golden Calf?

The Torah writes (Exodus 32:7-8):
The LORD spoke to Moses, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely. They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I enjoined upon them. They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low to it and sacrificed to it, saying: ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’”
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 4b) cites an opinion:
And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: The Jewish people fashioned the Golden Calf only to give a claim to penitents, as it is stated after the revelation at Sinai: “Who would give that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be good for them, and with their children forever”. If the nation was truly at such a lofty spiritual state, how could they worship the Golden Calf? Rather, their sin occurred so that it would be made clear that one can repent for any sin, as even a sin as severe as the Golden Calf was forgiven.
Rashi (ibid):
They were strong and controlled their desires and it shouldn't happened that their desires overpowered them, but it was a decree of the King for [their desires] to overpower them in order to give an opening for those who want to repent, so if a sinner says "I won't repent for I won't be accepted" they will answer him "Go and learn from the story of the Golden Calf that they repented and were accepted"
(Rabbi Hershel Schechter interprets this as having their freedom of choice taken away. He also discusses sources that think there is a commandment to lain the Parsha of the Golden Calf every year)

Maharsha (ibid) explains:
To me it seems that the Israelites were fit that G-d would save them from a great sin like this one, even though "everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven" ... but why did they do it and were not saved from this sin? [so it would be made clear that one can repent...

Identity of "Aromatic Cane"

The Torah writes (Exodus 30:23):
Next take choice spices: five hundred weight of solidified myrrh, half as much—two hundred and fifty—of fragrant cinnamon, two hundred and fifty of aromatic cane,
Rashi (ibid):
cane of sweet spices. Because there are canes which do not bear sweet spices Scripture had to state (add the word) בֹשֶׂם
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (ibid) provides additional sources:
  • Ancient sources identify this with the sweet calmus (Septuagint; Rambam on Kerithoth 1:1; Saadia; Ibn Janach)
  • This is the sweetflag or flag-root, Acoras calamus which grows in Europe. It appears that a similar species grew in the Holy Land, in the Hula region in ancient times (Theophrastus, History of Plants 9:7).
  • Other sources apparently indicate that it was the Indian plant, Cympopogan martini, which has the form of red straw (Yad, Kley HaMikdash 1:3).
  • On the basis of cognate pronunciation and Septuagint readings, some identify Keneh bosem with the English and Greek cannabis, the hemp plant.
  • There are, however, some authorities who identify the 'sweet cane' with cinnamon bark (Radak, Sherashim).
  • Some say that kinman is the wood, and keneh bosem is the bark (Abarbanel).


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