Torah Fax  
Friday - March 13, 2009 - 17 Adar, 5769

Torah Reading: Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 - 34:35) 
Candle Lighting Time 6:42 PM
Shabbat ends 7:43 PM

Parshat Parah



The single most serious setback for the Jewish people was arguably the sin of the Golden Calf. Just forty days after Moses ascended onto Mount Sinai to bring back the “published” edition of the Ten Commandments which highlighted the commandment to not have any other gods they created and worshipped a golden calf.

 Even when Moses was on the mountain he was told by G‑d that his people had degenerated into idol worship. G‑d thus instructs Moses, “Go down, for your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt have become corrupt.”

What did G‑d mean when he said “go down?” If G‑d wanted Moses to leave, it would have sufficed to have said “go!” Obviously, if Moses was to leave Mount Sinai he would have to go down. Why was it necessary to add the word “down?”

The Talmud, cited by Rashi, seemed to have been addressing this question when they state that G‑d was essentially telling Moses that he too was being demoted. In Rashi’s words: “Is there any other reason I assigned greatness to you, if not for their sake.” Now that the Jews have been degraded, Moses’ stature too was diminished. G‑d therefore tells Moses “Go down,” you have become diminished.

On the level of remez-hints—where the choice of letters in the Torah itself conveys subliminal messages—the Chassidic work Igra D’kalah focuses on the two Hebrew letters of the word reid which means “go down.” The two letters of the word reid, the reish and the daled are almost identical letters, but they convey opposite meanings. In the Shema, the Torah exhorts us to affirm the unity of G‑d when we declare “G‑d is echad-one. In another verse the Torah admonmishes us not worship other gods. The word for other is acher. Now, these two words—echad and acher—are spelled the same except for the last letter: The word echad-one ends with a daled, whereas the word acher-other ends with the letter reish.

When we look at these two letters, of the word echad and the word acher, the way they are written in a Torah scroll, we discover that they are written with king size writing, so as to not confuse the two. Imagine the horrible effect it would have if we read the words of the Shema with a reish. It would have commanded us to believe in other gods, G‑d forbid. Likewise, if the verse that commands us to not have other gods would be written with a daled, it would suggest that we do not worship the one G‑d. To forestall such erroneous distortions of the text, the Torah capitalized these two letters.

Thus when G‑d tells Moses to descend from the mountain He uses the word reid, which implies that these two letters were compromised.

On a simple level, the meaning of this “compromise” is that the letter reish which intimates the prohibition against worshipping “other” gods had been violated, and conversely, the letter daled with its connotation of G‑d’s oneness had also been undermined by creating and worshipping the golden calf.

How do we reconcile this interpretation of the words “go down-reid” with the simple meaning that Moses was also diminished by their commission of this terrible sin?

One can perhaps answer the question by prefacing the primary role of Moses. Moses was not only a liberator and a law-giver. Moses’ role was to internalize the people’s faith in G‑d. Moses is thus referred to as the raya mehemna-the faithful shepherd. In Chassidic literature this appellation has been retranslated as the “shepherd of faith.” Just as a shepherd nurtures his flock, so did Moses nurture the Jewish people with spiritual food—faith. When this faith eroded, it reflected a diminution of Moses’ position as leader of the people. Or, alternatively, it meant that Moses’ was challenged to put more effort in the shepherding of the people—helping them internalize their faith.

The difference between faith prior to its being nurtured and internalized and after it is nurtured and internalized is that faith, in and of itself, will not affect behavior. One can be a thief—the Talmud states—and still have faith in G‑d. Moreover, according to the Talmud, a thief may actually utter a silent prayer to G‑d as he is about to commit a robbery and break into someone’s home. It is not a sign of hypocrisy or insincerity; if he didn’t mean it why would the thief pray when no one was around to impress. Rather, it is a sign that faith—that is not nurtured—is a superficial force that does not necessarily change the way we behave.

Moses’ role therefore was to help his flock internalize their faith so that it is not fickle and superficial. When they worshipped the golden calf it was a reflection on Moses’ need to redouble his efforts at nurturing their faith.

Hence the two interpretations are complementary. Because Moses’ role was to nurture their faith—their commitment to the ideals inherent in the letters reish and daled—and that did not materialize for the worshippers of the golden calf, his stature was therefore diminished.

There is an even deeper connection understanding of the perversion of the letters reish and daled based on the subtle differences between these two letters.

Both letters when translated have similar meanings.

Reish and daled both have the connotation of poverty. Yet there is a difference between them. A reish suggests a person who is bereft of all qualities and virtue, a daled is a person who knows his own insignificance.

A story is told of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok who was known for his humility. In fact, he would sign his correspondence with the words “hashafel be’emet” which means the “truly lowly” one.  When a detractor of Rabbi Mendel saw the reverence people had for him he surmised it was because of the self-effacing way he signed his letters. Envious of his rival he also began to sign his letters with those words. People who saw his newly discovered humility quipped. “While Rabbi Mendel’s sense of lowliness is true and sincere, his rival was truly a lowly person.”

The difference between Rabbi Mendel of Horodok and his detractor was the difference between a daled and a reish.

A daled has a little piece—like the Hebrew alphabet’s smallest letter yud—protruding from the back of the letter, which is absent in a reish. This little protrusion is said to symbolize the state of self-abnegation in the face of one’s awareness of G‑d’s greatness. When the Torah speaks of G‑d’s unity in the words “Hashem echad-G‑d is one,” the daled of the word echad reminds us of how G‑d’s unity implies that everything in our lives is an expression of G‑d’s power. We possess nothing of our own. It’s not that we’re nothing; it’s that G‑d is everything.

When one’s mindset is one of a daled, they are so open and receptive, that all of the positive spiritual energies flow into this individual because his or her ego has been removed leaving room for G‑d to dwell in their midst.

The reish, by contrast, has no yud  protruding from it. Its impoverishment is not one of humility and self-abnegation because of a realization of a greater presence in their life, but rather one of emptiness. The reish personality is one who is devoid of any of the things that enrich our lives such as knowledge, good personality, piety and other virtues.

The daled  is the one who is truly humble, while the reish personality is the one who is truly a lowly person.

The story of the golden calf is not one of the past. It is one of the present. When we fail to appreciate the value of the daled by allowing our egos to clip off the little yud  behind the daled and thereby rendering it a resih, we have essentially created a modern day golden calf.

This week’s Torah reading that deals with the golden calf always occurs in the month of Adar.

The very word Adar contains the daled and the reish  and is preceded by the letter Aleph. When one puts the Aleph—the awareness of G‑d before the daled and the reish, we are guaranteed that these two letters will not be corrupted and exchanged. Indeed, they combine to form the word dar, which means dwelling and alludes to the idea that the Aleph-denoting the one and only Master of the world—will dwell in the world. Hence the very month of Adar—the month in which we celebrate Purim—is geared to reverse the tragic story of the golden calf and to usher in the Messianic Age, at which time the Torah teaches us G‑d’s presence will be fully revealed in the world—the embodiment of the word Adar.  

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