Torah Tidbits

19 April 2014 / 19 Nisan 5774
Issue 1036
Shabbat Parshat Ki Tisa
February 28, 2013

Lead Tidbit

When Son and Mother Meet

Ki Tisa contains the story of the EIGEL HAZAV, the golden calf. The son of the cow. Parshat Para is the mitzva of the PARA ADUMA, the red heifer, the figurative mother of the calf.
Ki Tisa is Parshat Para in 12-month years that don’t begin on Thursday. That makes five of the 14 year-types of the (fixed) Jewish Calendar that Ki Tisa is also Para. The frequency of this occurrence is 41.7% of the time. The last time it happened was three years ago. The next scheduled time is four years from now.
Therefore, let us focus (again) on the match-up we have this Shabbat. What you are about to read can be written any time - for any Parshat Ki Tisa, for any Parshat Para, for Parshat Chukat, and any other time, for that matter, but it is especially appropriate for Ki Tisa - Para.
Let’s jump right in. The episode of the golden calf was a great sin committed by the people of Israel. From the fact that 3000 men were killed by the Leviyim who took up sword at Moshe’s “invitation”, we can conclude that the serious sin of idolatry (or whatever it actually was) was committed by less than a half of a percent of the adult male population. A much smaller fraction of a percent of the whole population. But the secondary (let’s call it that) of fence-sitting on the part of the great majority compounded the offense to G-d - so much so that He spoke of destroying the entire nation. Whatever exactly happened, CHEIT HA-EIGEL was exactly that - a CHEIT, a giant sin.
Now let’s jump from Ki Tisa to Parshat Chukat - except that Chukat - the first part thereof, helps us out by jumping back to become the reading in the second Torah, immediately following the sedra with CHEIT HA-EIGEL.
Without going into the details, the PARA ADUMA is spoken of as the KAPARA - the atonement - for the sin of the golden calf. “Let the mother come and clean up the mess her son made in the palace of the king.”
When we read in last week’s sedra (T’tzaveh) of the very first korban, the first offering in the Mishkan, in the week of its consecration, we see that it was a bull. This same PAR is the sin offering of the Kohein Gadol every Yom Kippur and for any time the Kohein Gadol inadvertently caused the people to sin. The choice of the PAR is considered an atonement for the EIGEL ASHER ASA AHARON, the golden calf. And that makes sense. It fits. Because korbanot are often atonements for sins.
But the PARA ADUMA is not a sacrifice. It is not a sin-offering. In fact, it is not prepared in the Beit HaMikdash, but rather on Har HaZeitim, opposite the Mikdash. Korbanot may not be offered outside the Mikdash. PARA ADUMA is NOT a korban. So why is it considered an atonement for a sin?
The special potion prepared from the ashes of the PARA ADUMA (and some other ingredients) is used to purify a Jew who has become TAMEI from contact with a dead body. TUM’A-TAHARA. Not sin-atonement. It is not a sin to become TAMEI. It is often a great mitzva. Tending to someone’s burial and escorting a body to burial is a great act of Chesed, loving-kindness. No sin there. So what’s the story?
Here are two possible ways of answering the question - two variations on a theme. Some suggest that it was G-d’s intention (so to speak) that there would be no death for the Jewish People after Matan Torah. (Similar to His “original plan” for all humankind, before Adam and Chava disobeyed Him by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.) The sin of the golden calf reintroduced death, so to speak, with the resulting existence of TUMAT MEIT. If there would not have been ritual impurity from contact with a dead body - because there would not have been death, then it was the Sin that caused the TUM’A and then we can say that the PARA ADUMA is an atonement for CHEIT HA-EIGEL.
Or… It is not necessarily so that a dead body should be “the Father of all Defilement”. What might have been is that when a soul leaves the body, the body is now an empty shell that is to be buried, having finished its task in this world of housing the Neshama. Had the body, so to speak, done its job properly (by doing mitzvot and by sinning), there might not be the negative of TUMAT MEIT associated with the corpse. Sinning - epitomized by the Golden Calf constitutes a betrayal of the soul with which the body was partnered during life. The result of the soul’s departure is a status of serious defilement of and from the body. Hence, the PARA ADUMA - the vehicle of purification, can be considered a KAPARA for the sin of the golden calf.
Our goal in life is to honor and cherish the Neshama that G-d places in us, by keeping His Torah in the best possible way. The beginning of Ki Tisa (the first 46 of its 139 p’sukim) is the end of the account of Revelation at Sinai. Unfortunately, things went “off” right after that. We need/must do our share (and more) to set things right again.

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