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Table Talk: Ki Tisa II Print E-mail

ShabbatCommunal Responsibility: Which level of responsibility should come first: Individual or communal? In the United States you must be 21 to drink, but only 18 to fight for your country. How strange the Torah’s census! When you take a census of people, you don’t count everyone, not even all those who have reached legal majority. We become fully responsible at 13, but the census only counts from the age of 20. How many people are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the society and its values?

A Response in Kind:
Galbanum, one of the eleven ingredients in the Ketoret, had a bad smell. Rashi explains that the Torah includes a bad smell in the Incense so that we not minimize the importance of including the sinners of Israel in our prayers on a fast day. Rabbeinu Bachya understands this because we are not in a good state on a fast day, we bring these sinners so that we look good! Perhaps we can offer another explanation: Every community has its participants and its freeloaders, which leads to resentment. If you exercise your rights to keepthe freeloaders away, then God will respond in kind. The sinner’s only merit is his connection, no matter how tenuous, to the community. We allow him to “use” us. God responds in kind, and allows us to do the same. The Talmud focuses on fast days, when, as explained by Rabbeinu Bachya, we are in a vulnerable situation. Are we only to allow such “freeloading” when we are vulnerable? Is this not a general principle that should guide the community?

True Strength:

“Moses’ anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 32:19)” A later verse, describing the same scene says, “I grasped the Two Tablets and threw them from my two hands, and I smashed them before your eyes (Deuteronomy 9:17) The Talmud (Nedarim 38) uses the latter verse to prove that Moshe was very strong: He must have been very strong to be able to exert enough force to throw the Tablets with sufficient force to shatter them. The Maharsha asks why the Talmud quotes from the latter verse rather than a verse in this portion. He answers that we may read the verse in this week’s portion to mean that Moshe may have thrown them and then broke them with a hammer. Rabbi Yochanan Zweig asks, “Why would the Torah allow such a misimpression in this week’s portion?” My Rebbi offers a different answer. He explains that the Talmud does not use the former verse because it describes Moshe as angry; his strength may have come from the adrenaline boost of anger. The Talmud quotes the latter verse to teach us that it was not Moses’ anger but his strength that enabled him to throw the Tablets with such force that they shattered. The verse does not mention his anger, because he was not truly angry: He displayed anger to teach the people, but he was not angry. Why would it matter to us whether Moshe’s strength was physical or came from a boost of angry adrenaline?
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