Rabbi Pinches Friedman
Shabbos Shkolim 5770
Translation by Dr. Baruch Fox
Bnei Yisroel Sinned with the “egel”
So that they Would Remain Lowly and Not Become Arrogant
On the upcoming Shabbos kodesh, we will read in the Torah the parsha of the week, Ki Siso, and parshas Porohh—one of the four special portions we read in the month of Adar. As is befitting the occasion, let’s explore the connection between these two Torah readings.
In parshas Ki Siso, we learn about the sin of the “egel”, a sin so severe that it taints every generation of Jews until this very day. The possuk states (Shemos 32,34): “וביום פקדי ופקדתי עליהם את חטאתם”.
“תמיד כשאפקוד עליהם עוונותיהם, ופקדתי עליהם מעט מן העון הזה עם שאר העוונות, ואין פורענות באה על ישראל שאין בה קצת מפרעון עון העגל”.
He teaches us that whenever Yisroel is being punished for its sins, the punishment is also a punishment, in part, for the sin of the “egel”.
This idea ties in beautifully with the reading concerning the “Porohh Adumah”. As explained by Rashi, in the name of Rabbi Moshe hodarshan, that ritual of the “porohh” provides an atonement for the sin of the “egel”:
“ויקחו אליך, משלהם, כשם שהם פרק נזמי הזהב לעגל משלהם כך יביאו זו לכפרה משלהם. פרה אדומה, משל לבן שפחה שטינף פלטין של מלך, אמרו תבוא אמו ותקנח בצואה, כך תבא פרה ותכפר על העגל”.
At first glance, the analogy doesn’t seem to fit. What is the connection between a maidservant cleaning up after her son and the “porohh” atoning for the “egel”? The “poroh” is not Yisroel’s mother coming to clean up and atone for her child’s transgression.
The Chasam Sofer’s Wonderful Insight
We can suggest an explanation by first clearing up the mystery of Aharon hokohen’s participation in the episode of the “egel”. After all, he was a tremendous tzaddik and the possuk clearly states (Mishlei 12,21): “לא יאונה לצדיק כל און”—a righteous person will not inadvertently stumble into sin. We find a similar teaching in the Gemorah (Yevamos 99:): “בהמתן של צדיקים אין הקב”ה מביא תקלה על ידן צדיקים עצמן לא כל שכן”. — if the Almighty does not use a tzaddik’s animal as an instrument for sin, He certainly does not allow the tzaddik, himself, to serve as an instrument for sin.
We find an amazing commentary in the teachings of the Chasam Sofer (Behar) based on the following quote from the Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaTeshuvah chapt. 8):
“כי לפעמים מועיל לצדיק עבירה אחת שעשה, יותר מכל מצוותיו שעשה כל ימיו, שעל ידי אותו החטא קונה כניעה ושפלות בנפשו”.
Sometimes a single transgression, serves the tzaddik more than all the mitzvos he has performed throughout his life; for, by means of that transgression, he acquires submissiveness and a lowly spirit. In this vein, the Chasam Sofer explains Aharon’s involvement in the sin of the “egel”: “כי קנה כניעה בנפשו על ידי מעשה העגל”.
Based on this idea, the Chasam Sofer elucidates the words of the prophet extolling the praise of Aharon hokohen (Malachi 2,6): “תורת אמת היתה בפיהו”—the Torah of emes was in his mouth. What is he teaching us? Would we have even considered, chas v’shalom, that he didn’t have Toras emes in his mouth? An explanation can be found based on a teaching in the Gemorah (Chullin 89.):
“לא מרובכם מכל העמים חשק ה’ בכם, אמר להם הקב”ה לישראל, חושקני בכם שאפילו בשעה שאני משפיע לכם גדולה אתם ממעטין עצמכם לפני, נתתי גדולה לאברהם, אמר לפני, ואנכי עפר ואפר, למשה ואהרן, אמר, ונחנו מה, לדוד, אמר, ואנכי תולעת ולא איש, אבל עובדי כוכבים אינו כן, נתתי גדולה לנמרוד, אמר, הבה נבנה לנו עיר”.
Hashem loves us and desires us because of our humility. We find here three different levels of humility: (a) Avraham said: “ואנכי עפר ואפר”—he compared himself to dust and ashes, (b) Moshe said: “ונחנו מה” – what are we? and (c) Dovid homelech said: “ואנכי תולעת ולא איש”—I am a worm and not a man. If we take the first letter of each of these three descriptions of humility – א’פר מ’ה ת’ולעת—we have the word אמ”ת, emes, truth.
This is the message of the prophet in his praise of Aharon, who seemingly failed in the incident with the “egel”: “תורת אמת היתה בפיהו”—by means of his involvement in the sin of the “egel”, he acquired these three levels of humility symbolized by the word אמ”ת. This is the gist of the Chasam Sofer’s explanation.
This insight of the Chasam Sofer’s provides us with an explanation of a puzzling Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis, 16) expounding the possuk (Bereishis 1,31):
“וירא אלקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד – והנה טוב זה יצר טוב, מאד זה יצר רע”.
Meaning: The good inclination, the yetzer hotov, is described as טוב, while the evil inclination, the yetzer horah, is described as טוב מאד. The commentaries question the surprising description of the yetzer horah as טוב מאד, very good.
Based on what we established above, we can suggest that the Midrash is teaching the lofty lesson of the Chasam Sofer: “כי לפעמים מועיל לצדיק עבירה אחת שעשה, יותר מכל מצוותיו שעשה כל ימיו, שעל ידי אותו החטא קונה כניעה ושפלות בנפשו”. In other words, sometimes the yetzer horah causing one to sin provides a greater service than the yetzer hotov—if not for the sin, the person could easily become arrogant, which is worse than all of his sins.
Let us add an additional tidbit. The word מא”ד is an abbreviation for מ’שה ד’וד א’ברהם, the three tzaddikim mentioned in the Gemorah representing the three levels of humility אפר, תולעת, מה. So, when the Midrash says טוב מאד refers to the yetzer horah, it means that by means of the yetzer horah, one can achieve the levels of humility of the three tzaddikim alluded to by the term מא”ד– מ’שה ד’וד א’ברהם.
“It Is Torah and I Must Learn”
I should be so lucky as to be dust and ashes beneath the soles of the holy feet of the great teacher of Yisroel, the Chasam Sofer, zy”a. Nevertheless, we have learned an important principle in the Gemorah (Berachos 62.): “תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך”—“It is Torah and I must learn.” Therefore, let us examine several surprising issues in the teaching of the Chasam Sofer:
(a) How can we even imagine that Aharon had to falter in the sin of the “egel” in order to acquire humility? We find that the Almighty, Himself, attests to Aharon’s great humility (Shemos 4,14; see Rashi’s commentary).
(b) Rashi’s comments (Shemos 6,26) are well known: “הוא אהרן ומשה, יש מקומות שמקדים אהרן למשה, ויש מקומות שמקדים משה לאהרן, לומר לך ששקולין כאחד”—there are places where the Torah mentions Aharon before Moshe, and there are places where the Torah mentions Moshe before Aharon, to teach that they are equal to one another. Seeing as the Torah describes Moshe as (Bamidbar 12,3): “והאיש משה עניו מאד מכל האדם אשר על פני האדמה”—the humblest man on earth, and Moshe and Aharon are equal, how is it possible to suggest that Aharon was lacking in the area of humility, and, therefore, needed the sin of the “egel” to acquire that midah?
(c) According to the Chasam Sofer, when the prophet Malachi said: “תורת אמת היתה בפיהו”, he was teaching us that, as a result of his participation in the sin of the “egel”, Aharon acquired the the three levels of humility symbolized by אמ”ת – מ’ה ת’ולעת א’פר. How, then, are we to interpret the rest of the possuk: “כי מלאך ה’ צבאות הוא”—he was a malach of Hashem’s? Must malachim sin in order to acquire humility?
To Provide a Pretext for Baalei Teshuvah
To clarify the comments of the Chasam Sofer, let us suggest, with reverence and love, a novel interpretation of the Gemorah (Avodah Zarah 4:):
“אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי, לא עשו ישראל את העגל אלא ליתן פתחון פה לבעלי תשובה… והיינו דאמר רבי יוחנן משום רשב”י… לא היו ישראל ראוין לאותו מעשה אלא להורות תשובה לרבים”
“לא עשו ישראל את העגל, כלומר גיבורים ושליטים ביצרם היו, ולא היה ראוי להתגבר יצרם עליהן, אלא גזירת מלך היתה לשלוט בם, כדי ליתן פתחון פה לבעלי תשובה”.
Yisroel, in that generation, were courageous and virtuous and ruled over their inclinations. They would not have succumbed to their inclinations and made the “egel”, if not for a Heavenly decree designed to provide a pretext for baalei teshuvah.
At first glance, we can only wonder, why the Almighty would cause them to fail with such a severe transgression, merely to provide a pretext for baalei teshuvah. In light of the Chasam Sofer’s commentary, we can say that it was precisely because they were on such a high madreigah, “גיבורים ושליטים ביצרם”, that the suspicion arose above—that they could be subject to arrogance, which is more dangerous than all sins, and might prevent them from performing teshuvah for their transgressions.
For this reason, they were tripped up by the sin of the “egel”, so they would remain submissive and remorseful and provide a pretext for baalei teshuvah. This also explains Aharon’s involvement in this sinful episode.
One Who Is Obligated in a Matter
May Help Others Fulfill Their Obligation
Let us introduce the Tiferes Shlomo (Shemini), who explains Aharon’s participation in the sin of the “egel” based on the Baal Shem Tov’s, zy”a, explanation of the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah29.): “זה הכלל כל שאינו מחוייב בדבר אינו מוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן”. A tzaddik’s role in this world is to help Yisroel perform teshuvah and remain close to the Almighty. The tzaddik cannot fulfill this mission, however, without falling to some degree himself regarding the same matter Yisroel needs to amend. By elevating himself and correcting his own shortcoming, he is able to elevate Yisroel along with himself.
This is how to understand the Mishnah: “זה הכלל כל שאינו מחוייב בדבר”—a tzaddik who is free of guilt and does not share Yisroel’s flaw, to some degree – “אינו מוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן”—is unable to free the public from their transgressions. This is how the Tiferet Shlomo explains Aharon’s actions in the sin of the “egel”. He had to share their flaw, in order to be able to help them mend their ways and correct what they had done.
Finally, we can shed light on the Chasam Sofer’s comment that Aharon stumbled in the episode with the “egel”, so that he could acquire submissiveness. Surely, Aharon, himself, was on a very high level of kedushah and did not need to sin in such a severe manner in order to acquire humility; however, since, as kohen gadol, he bore the holy task of atoning for Bnei Yisroel, the principle applies:“כל שאינו מחוייב בדבר אינו מוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן”.—without sharing in their obligation, he could not help them fulfill their obligation.
Furthermore, sometimes a sin creates a greater seporohtion and distance, chas v’chalilah, between a person and the Almighty, as we have learned (Avos 4,2): “עבירה גוררת עבירה”. In these instances, one requires assistance from above, “סייעתא דשמיא”, to acquire proper degrees of remorse and submission. By arranging for Aharon to fail in this matter as well, and acquire a degree of remorse and submission, the Almighty insured that Aharon would be able to influence Bnei Yisroel—thus, they would acquire these necessary attributes and not be driven farther away from Hashem. Aharon became a “מחוייב בדבר”, and was, thus, qualified ““להוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן.
This is all alluded to in the words of the prophet praising Aharon “תורת אמת היתה בפיהו”. As we have learned from the Chasam Sofer, this is an allusion to the fact that he sinned by the “egel” so that he would acquire the three levels of humility symbolized by the term אמ”ת. The prophet asks, however: “ועולה לא נמצא בשפתיו, בשלום ובמישור הלך אתי”—Aharon was already on such a high madreigah, how is it possible to say that he needed to fail in this matter in order to acquire the proper level of humility?
In response, the prophet continues: “ורבים השיב מעון”—he sinned so that he could show the people the path of teshuvah. “כי שפתי כהן ישמרו דעת ותורה יבקשו מפיהו”—as the Kohen Gadol, it was his responsibility to influence all of Yisroel with his wisdom and Torah, showing them the proper way to serve Hashem; consequently, he had to share some involvement in the sin of the “egel”. Nonetheless, Aharon, himself, did not need to fail, because: “כי מלאך ה’ צבאות הוא”—he was a heavenly emissary, a malach.
The Poroh Adumah Is an Atonement for Arrogance
With this background, let us rise to the occasion and explain why the Porohh Adumah is an atonement for the sin of the “egel”. The sefer Baal Shem Tov (Chukas 1) writes in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, that the term “פרה” derives from “פרה ורבה”, suggesting that a person has an exaggerated self-image and sense of self-importance. Since arrogance is the root of all sin, she is “אדומה”, an allusion to sin as found in the possuk (Yeshaya 1,18): “אם יהיו חטאיכם כשנים”—sins are described as crimson, red. Therefore, the Almighty commanded us to burn the porohh, to reduce the negative force of arrogance to ashes in the sense of (Bereishis 18,27): “ואנכי עפר ואפר”.
Concerning the Porohh Adumah ritual, the Torah states (Bamidbar 19,6): “ולקח הכהן עץ ארז ואזוב ושני תולעת והשליך אל תוך שריפת הפרה”—“And the Kohen shall take cedar wood, hyssop and a tongue of crimson wool, and he shall throw them into the burning of the porohh.” Rashi comments in the name of Rabbi Moshe hodarshan (ibid. 22):
“ארז הוא הגבוה מכל האילנות ואזוב נמוך מכולם, סימן שהגבוה שנתגאה וחטא, ישפיל עצמו כאזוב ותולעת, ויתכפר לו”
“Cedar is the tallest of all trees, and hyssop is the lowest, burning them together with the crimson wool is a sign that the arrogant one who acted haughtily and sinned, should lower himself like a hyssop and a worm and it will atone for him.”
Now, we’ve already cited Rashi’s words that there is no punishment visited upon Yisroel that does not contain, in part, retribution for the sin of the “egel”. We understand this in light of the fact that arrogance is the root of all sin—as it is written in Rabeinu Yonah’s Shaarei Teshuvah (1,27):
“ובעל הגאוה נמסר ביד יצרו, כי אין עזר השם עמו אחרי אשר הוא תועבת השם”.
It comes out that if Yisroel sin due to a lack of humility, it is evident that the sin of the “egel” failed to impart upon them the appropriate sense of contrition and lowliness. As a result, they are punished once again, chas v’chalilah, for the sin of the “egel”, which failed to serve its desired purpose.
In summary, we have shown how the Porohh Adumah acts as an atonement for the sin of the “egel”. The purpose of the sin of the “egel” was to instill in Yisroel a sense of contrition and lowliness. Yet, due to the fault of arrogance, chas v’shalom, the sin of the “egel” is revisited. Purification by means of the porohh atones for arrogance and causes the person to feel lowly like the hyssop and the worm. Therefore, it also serves to atone for the sin of the “egel”.
Observe an amazing fact. We were taught by the Chasam Sofer that the three levels of humility are symbolized by the term אמ”ת which stands for א’פר מ’ה ת’ולעת. This is why the prophet praises Aharon with the words: “תורת אמת היתה בפיהו”. In the portion pertaining to the Porohh Adumah, which acts as an atonement for arrogance, these same three elements are mentioned. The first two are more obvious. The possuk states: “ולקח הכהן עץ ארז ואזוב ושני תולעת והשליך אל תוך שריפת הפרה”—we find that the “תולעת” was thrown into the “אפר”, the ashes of the burnt poroh.
The third aspect of humility, “מה”, is found as follows: the Almight commands Moshe: “ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה”; Rashi explains in the name of the Midrash : “לעולם היא נקראת על שמך, פרה שעשה משה במדבר”—it shall eternally be ascribed to you, “the porohh that Moshe prepared in the midbar.” We know that Moshe embodied the level of “ונחנו מה”; so, it was only fitting that he be the one to prepare the porohh which atoned for arrogance. We have shown that the Porohh Adumah contained all three levels of humility that are symbolized by אמ”ת – א’פר מ’ה ת’ולעת.