“This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to the L-RD.” – Exodus 30:13
The census characterizes a concept, in regard to identity, inasmuch that a half shekel denotes a lack, in and of itself, since it is only half of the whole; thus, each Israelite in giving a half shekel in order to be included in the census taken for K’lal Yisrael, must needs to acknowledge his or her deficiencies. Only by making up for the difference between our real self, and our ideal self, can we become whole. In this specific case, regarding the census, as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf, the half shekel atones for the decreased spiritual level of the soul that occurred as a result of this sin.
R’Bachya speaks of the “dual-duty of the Jew to look after both his body and his soul,” thus implying the need to be aware of both spiritual as well as material needs; furthermore, within the context of the half shekel offered as an atonement for the individual souls of Israel, as recompense for the transgression of the eigel – golden calf – the half shekel represents the need to make up the difference in what each soul spiritually lacked at the time of that debacle. In fact, there was an overindulgence of material pleasures committed along with the idolatry.
Only three thousand were executed as those who were brazen enough not to stand down from their revely, when Moses returned; yet, all 600,000 souls, were guilty, inasmuch that they did not attempt to prevent the idolatry. This is akin to the bystander of evil, who permits bad things to happen, not exactly through participation of that evil; rather, through not speaking out against the evil. And, so all the people needed to make an atonement for the souls, that had become deficient on a spiritual level; having been complicit, their spiritual status was decreased, and could only be elevated again through the census – tisa es rosh (to lift up the head), or elevate the soul.
“Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.’” – Exodus 32:32, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Moses refers to the ‘Book of life’ in which every human being is inscribed on Rosh Hashanah if he was found deserving on the basis of his past record.” – Chizkuni on Exodus 32:32; sefaria.org
After the debacle of the golden calf, Moses pleaded with H’Shem on behalf of B’nei yisrael, saying, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold” (32:31, JPS). In asking of H’Shem to forgive the sin of the people, Moses offers to have his name written out of the Book of Life. This is an unmistakable gesture of mesiras hanefesh (self-sacrifice), that Moshe offers on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. Yet, G-d declines the offer, stating in what appears to be an impromptu decree for the ages: “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record” (Exodus 32:33, JPS).
Nevertheless, the immediate punishment, concerning H’Shem’s intent to destroy this generation, and start over again with Moses had already been averted through Moshe’s prayer. Now, forgiveness does not seem to be sanctioned; rather, a newly mentioned punishment is delayed, “when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.” (Exodus 33:34, JPS). After this statement, the Torah records that a plague is sent amongst the people. So, the question remains, when will H’Shem make an accounting, thereby bringing them to account for their sins? The question continues to ring, like a bell of proclamation.
“H’Shem said to Moses: Take for yourself – spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – spices and pure frankincense.” – Exodus 30:34
The incense was offered every day in the morning, and in the afternoon. The incense fragrance connotes the understanding that we are to serve G-d in a pleasing manner; inasmuch that we are His servants, it is our responsibility to serve Him. Yet, He would like us to develop the inward desire to serve Him. This is reflected in the two ways of obeying His commandments – out of fear, and out of love.
To observe His commandments out of fear, demands acknowledgment of H’Shem as “the L-rd thy G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). In and of itself, this is the first commandment, inasmuch that we are obligated to acknowledge H’Shem as sovereign; once we accept His authority, then the commandments follow as authorative statements; i.e., divine decrees (Baal Halachos Gedolos).
Yet, some of us are still plagued by our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt): our limitations that prevent us from excelling in our service (avodah) to H’Shem. Others are floundering along the way, in danger of being overcome by Amalek (symbolic of doubt), underappreciating the miracles that H’Shem has done for us, thereby permitting our desire for Him to “cool” down. On Purim, we recall the hidden miracle – how we were rescued from Haman, a descendent of Agag, an Amelekite; and, how we were victorious against the Amalekites who rose up against us within the 127 provinces of King Ahasueros.
Yet, do we recognize the miracles every day in our own lives? The potential for us to experience His shefa (everflowing grace) is always offered to us when we look towards Him in our struggles. We should be thankful to Him for these blessings. Additionally, we should praise Him every day, for He has given us the breath of life; each and every day is an opportunity to lift our voices to Him in appreciation, thanking Him for all that He has given us.
Lifting up our hearts to Him will help us to develop ahavah (love) for Him. In serving Him out of love, we are commanded to love him with an undivided heart (Sifrei), as is written, “thou shalt love H’Shem thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Moreover, Maimonides writes, “Once a person loves G-d appropriately, he will fulfill the commandments out of love” (Hilchut Teshuva 10:2).
Yet, both love and fear are necessary, like the wings of an eagle; for without fear (awe, reverence, respect), there is not the proper attitude conveyed towards Him. Without love, we may not be able to fly towards Him, higher and higher on our journey; yet, we continue climbing, as it is, for we will reach Him with dveykus: constant clinging to His Essence.
“H’Shem plagued the people, because they made the calf.”
– Exodus 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach
Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; during this time, H’Shem spoke with Moses – according to some commentators, Moses received the instruction for the Mishkan at this time. It is mentioned in the Talmud, that H’Shem creates the cure before the ailment. Here, the blueprints for the Mishkan served as the remedy to what had not yet occurred – the idolatry of the golden calf. H’Shem prepared the cure (Mishkan) before the sickness (eigel).
What is the malaise of idolatry? To place anything in our lives above our commitment to H’Shem. This raises up the created above the Creator, G-d forbid. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (Talmud). Therefore, our conscious effort to make G-d most important in our lives through yiras H’Shem (reverence towards G-d) is incumbent upon us; in effect, we are called upon to crown Him as King – sovereign over every aspect of our lives.
In these challenging days, we also look for the remedy to the various ailments of our lives; yet, even when there seems to be little hope on the horizon, we must maintain a sense of bechirah (trust) in H’Shem, that He has already designated, the time, place, and remedy for each of us to continue on the derech (path) towards righteousness, drawing closer to Him with every step along the way.
Yet, the path is narrow, there are many distractions along the way. It was only when Moshe sought out the forgiveness of H’Shem, on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, that he was able to receive the second set of tablets. We are also given second chances in our lives; however, if we do not even realize the need to improve upon our ways, we may be given a wake up call.
The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the wilderness) permitted B’nei Yisrael to focus on avodas (worship of H’Shem); we need to do the same, in a manner of speaking, and be ever mindful of H’Shem’s Presence in our lives; then, we can devote our mitzvoth (good deeds) to Him. “I have set the L-RD always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it.” – Exodus 30:7, JPS 1917 Tanach
In like manner that the menorah was lit every evening, the incense were burnt every morning in the Sanctuary. The light may be understood to represent the wisdom of G-d. “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalm 119:18, JPS). The smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayers. We should keep a light burning in our heart, in the evenings; all throughout the night, staying focused on G-d; and, in the morning, ideally to rise early, in order to offer up our prayers to Him.
In Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther), towards the end of the story, King Ahasuerus allows the Jews to avenge themselves of their enemies on the 13th day of Adar. In Shushan, the capital, the Jews kill 500 men and hang Haman’s ten sons on a gallows. Queen Esther then approaches the King with an additional request: “…allow the Jews who are in Shushan to do tomorrow as they did today, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows” (Esther 9:13). It’s curious that she would request the hanging of Haman’s already slain sons. Nevertheless, the King complies.
Now, the Hebrew word for “tomorrow” (“machar”) occasionally refers to the distant future. Further, the Sages tell us that whenever the word “king” appears in the Megillah it alludes to the King of kings as well. Thus, the verse could be understand as a request by Esther to G-d to again hang the ten sons of Haman at some point in the distant future. Now, when the Megillah lists the ten sons Haman during their hanging (9:7-9) there are a number of unusually-sized letters. (We have a tradition to write certain letters in the Torah larger or smaller than the standard size.) According to the most accepted tradition, there is a large ‘vuv’ (numerical value = 6) and a small ‘tuv’ (400), ‘shin’ (300) and ‘zayin’ (7). The following suggestion has been made: The large vuv refers to the sixth millennium (of the Hebrew calendar); the small letters refer to year 707 of that millennium. The meaning, then, is that G-d agreed to hang Haman’s ten sons again in the year 5707 = 1946-7.
On October 16, 1946 (21 Tishrei, 5707) ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg. (An eleventh, Hermann Goering, a transvestite, committed suicide in his cell. The Midrash tells us that Haman also had a daughter who committed suicide.) As if the parallel were not obvious enough without further corroboration, Nazi Julius Streicher’s last words were, “Purimfest 1946.” (In case you question the accuracy of Streicher’s last words, they are are well-documented; they appeared in Newsweek, October 28, 1946.)
In the Book of Esther, the narrative that is read on Purim, the name of G-d is not found even once; rather, His divine guidance is hidden within the framework of coincidental events within the narrative. G-d’s providence is already at work, in order to provide for a yeshua (salvation) for the Jewish people, even before the initial threat arises as recorded in the narrative. First of all, Queen Vashti is deposed after she disobeyed her husband, king Ahasueros, who is king of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopa. The sets the stage for a beauty pageant, won by Esther, whose beauty resides within as well as without. The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight” (Esther 2:17, JPS). Moreover, she remained obedient to her Uncle Mordechai; and, as he instructed her, she did not make “known her kindred nor her people” (2:20).
As recorded at the end of chapter two, Mordechai had overheard a plot against the kind by two of his servants; so, he informed Esther, who told the king in his name; thus, his good deed was recorded in the chronicles of the king (Esther 2:21-23). This preceded a threat that rose up from Haman, who in the next chapter is raised up to a position of power. Therefore, both the position of Esther as Queen, and Mordechai’s deed for which he will be honored later in the narrative, as the ensuing events unfold, are as seeds of redemption waiting to ripen in due time.
It is Haman, whose new position demanded that all bow down to him. Mordechai, a Jew who is a Benjamite will not bow down to him. It is interesting to note that our of the twelve sons of Jacob, Benjamin is the only one who did not bow down to Esau when he approached Jacob and his family. This is because Benjamin was still in the womb of his mother. Therefore, Mordechai exhibits this trait, if you will, by not bowing down to Haman, who is a descendant of King Agag, who was a descendant of Amalek. In turn, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau. So, Haman’s hatred of Mordechai, went beyond his refusal to bow to him: rather, this was an ancient hatred that manifested in Haman’s ire, and insistence as well as determination to destroy all of Mordechai’s people.
Yet, as mentioned in the Talmud, the remedy precedes the sickness, specifically, “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand” ( Megillah 13b, Soncino edition). Therefore, when Mordechai learns of Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people, he sends word to Esther, requesting that she appeal to the king on behalf of her people. “Who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). Her response is one of mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice). “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
Additionally, on a night that King Ahasueros is not able to sleep, he decides to peruse through the chronicles of the king: here he finds mention of Mordechai’s good deed, whereby a plot against the king was thwarted. In the morning, when Haman happens to be in the King’s court, Ahasueros asks him, what shall be done for the man whom the king would like to honor. Haman, in his self conceit, thinks that king wants to honor him, so he replies:
“Let royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set; and let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man therewith whom the king delighteth to honour, and cause him to ride on horseback through the street of the city.” The king responds, “‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew” (Esther 6:8-10). So, there is a reversal of fortune, whereby Mordechai is now honored, while Haman is humiliated.
At Esther’s second banquet for the King, of which Haman is also invited, when reveals the plot to the king: “We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish” (Esther 7:4). He asks, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (Esther 7:5). She responds, An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman” (Ester 7:6). Additionally, the kings servant points out that this Haman had made a gallows “for Mordecai, who spoke good for the king” (Esther 7:9). Thus, Haman’s fate is sealed, and the decree against the destruction of the Jewish people is countermanded by a second decree.
“And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me.”
– Exodus 29:1, JPS 1917 Tanach
During Moshe’s forty days on Mount Sinai, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was shown to him, complete with all the details necessary to construct a Mishkan on earth, where H’Shem’s Presence – the Shechinah – would dwell. Also, the commandments and details in regard to the Kohein Gadol (High Priest), and the kohein (priests) were given.
Aaron was chosen as the first Kohein Gadol; however, Moshe served unofficially in that position, during the seven-day inauguration, when he brought the offerings. His role was given to him by H’Shem, who said to Moses: “This is the thing [word] that thou shalt do to them [the kohein] to set them apart as kodesh [holy];” i.e., to sanctify them for service to H’Shem.
The verse continues with the offerings, necessary for the inauguration. Also, the commandment is given for the kohein to cleanse themselves in a mikveh. Also mentioned are the garments that Moses will place upon the Kohein Gadol, before anointing him with oil. These garments, referred to previously, are described as “holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and glory” (Exodus 28:2, JPS).
“Let Thy priests [kohanim] be clothed with righteousness” (Psalm 132:9, JPS 1917 Tanach ). Righteousness is likened to clothes, because righteous thought, speech, and acts clothe the soul; they have everlasting value, whereby our righteousness will be rewarded in Olam Haba.
“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, [outside] the veil which is before the testimony.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach
Behind the veil (parochet), rested the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies (Kadosh Kadoshim). Outside of the veil, within the less holy area, called the Kadosh, were the Menorah, Showbread Table, and, the Mizbeach (incense altar), where incense was burned. Although these three were mentioned in detail, earlier in the Torah, the Menorah is mentioned, specifically, in the beginning of this parashas, with specific regard towards its function.
Of noteworthy mention is the specific command for all of Israel to bring the specific kind of olive oil reserved for use in the Menorah. In other words, all of Israel contributed to the olive oil that burned “from evening until morning.” It lit up the darkness, conveying in effect the light of G-d, that symbolically illuminates for us in times of darkness and uncertainty.
According to the sages, when discussing the significance of the phrase, “emet v’emuna (true and faithful),” in the evening prayer, the word, emuna, represents G-d’s faithfulness to us during the exile, inasmuch that it is a reminder that we will be redeemed. So, the nighttime, when this prayer is said, represents exile. Therefore, the light of the menorah, throughout the night, may also be understood as symbolic of G-d’s faithfulness towards us, during the current exile.
Esther petitioned King Ahasuerus to spare her people. She, her maidens, and the Jewish people fasted for three days, before she approached the King. She was risking her life, in doing so, because, no one could approach the king without permission. Therefore, she was only emboldened to approach him, after fasting, with all of her people in support of her.
Additionally, Mordechai, her uncle, encouraged her, saying, “‘Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“There is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place” (Pirkei Avos 4:3). Queen Esther, was given her moment in time: “who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?” According to the Talmud, H’Shem arranges the remedy, before the sickness (anti-semitism). We have Him to thank for our safety then and now.
Furthermore, we should not take that shield of protection for granted. It would be good to renew our appeal and seek Him for refuge in all of our trials and tribulations, keeping in mind that He is the Source of our well-being, and continuance as a people. Let us remember Him for the good that is bestowed upon us during the entire year. And celebrate Purim with joy.