In the midst of the joy of receiving the Torah and preparing to build the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael stumble into what remains the biggest sin in Jewish History. It is the sin of the עגל הזהב, the Golden Calf, and it is discussed in this week’s parshah, Parshas Ki Sisa. Even though most of the nation did not participate in the actual sin, everyone was held responsible since they did not do enough to stop it. In fact, Chazal tell us that there is no punishment which is given, even nowadays, which does not contain at least a little part of punishment for the Golden Calf.
After Bnei Yisrael realize their wrongdoing, the pasuk says, “וַיִּשְׁמַע הָעָם אֶת הַדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה וַיִּתְאַבָּלוּ וְלֹא שָׁתוּ אִישׁ עֶדְיוֹ עָלָיו” “The people heard this bad tiding and they grieved; and they, each man, did not put on his crown” (Shemos 33:4). The very next pasuk then says, “וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל … "וְעַתָּה הוֹרֵד עֶדְיְךָ מֵעָלֶיךָ “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Say to the Children of Yisrael…And now remove your crown from upon you” (33:5). The question is obvious; the People had already taken their crowns off on their own in Pasuk 4, why does Hashem have to tell them to take them off in Pasuk 5 when they’ve already done that?
The Maskil L’David, a commentary on Rashi, explains that when Bnei Yisrael said “נעשה ונשמע” “We will do and we will hear”, at Har Sinai, they were each given two crowns, one for each statement. When Bnei Yisrael took off their crowns on their own, they took off the crown for “We will do”, the statement which meant that they would keep the mitzvos. As they had now sinned, they didn’t feel qualified to continue wearing them. However, the crown for “We will hear”, they left on since that represented their commitment to learning the Torah which they would certainly continue to do. However, Hashem told Moshe to tell them to take off the second one as well since you cannot learn the Torah without keeping the Mitzvos and vice versa.
The Kli Yakar gives a second explanation for these pesukim. He explains that the first crowns Bnei Yisrael took off, refer to the crowns they wore as part of their clothing. Because of their extreme wealth, each person wore a crown decorated with diamond and jewels. However, they did not remove the crowns they were given at Har Sinai since they thought that doing so would look as if they were completely throwing off the Yoke of Torah. It would appear as if they were saying, ‘we know longer have any portion in the Torah or its’ crown.’ So Hashem had to tell them that taking off their crowns would not make such a statement, however, they could still no longer continue to wear them.
He learns this out from the fact that in Pasuk 4, the people are referred to as “אִישׁ”, as individuals, corresponding to their personal jewelry which was different depending on each person’s level of wealth. In Pasuk 5 however, Hashem tells Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael to take off their crowns, the crowns they received together as a nation. This is followed up by Pasuk 6 which says, “וַיִּתְנַצְּלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת עֶדְיָם מֵהַר חוֹרֵב” “So the Children of Israel were divested of their crown from Mount Choreb” (33:6). Mount Choreb is another name for Har Sinai, meaning that these crowns were received by the giving of the Torah, the way the Kli Yakar explains.
The Maftir for this week is Parshas Parah which discusses the halachos of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer which was used to purify people who were impure as a result of being in contact with a dead body. Chazal explain that the connection between the Parah Adumah and the Golden Calf is that the mother (the Heifer) should come and clean up the mess made by the baby (the Calf). May this be the year where the punishment for the Golden Calf is lifted and the Parah Adumah is returned to us with Mashiach and the building of the Beis Hamikdash.
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