Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ki Tisa 2

I was browsing through my new copy of Sichos Mussar by R' Chaim Shmulevitz earlier this week, and saw that he has a piece on the Cheit Ha-Eigel. He asks what is probably one of the most popular questions on a parsha in Chumash - namely, what's up with the calf? How can people who just 6 weeks ago heard HaShem speak to them suddenly turn and build an idol? There are many answers given to this question, such as that it was only meant as an replacement for Moshe and that it was only 3000 bad eggs who were looking for an excuse to worship avodah zarah. R' Shmulevitz has an interesting take on the matter.

He quotes the gemara in Chagiga in which Rebbi, when reading from Megillas Kinos, accidentally drops it, and exclaims, "From a great height to a deep pit!" R' Shmulevitz explains the significance of this statement by contrasting a book with a person. A book, when it falls, can be damaged by the impact. However, it does not inherently suffer from its displacement from a high place to a low place. A human being, on the other hand, not only can be injured from the impact, but also simply from the change in location. It was this dual injury that led Bnei Yisroel to sin with the eigel. When the Satan misled them into thinking that Moshe died in heaven, it had a cataclysmic effect on them, that led them into a downwards tailspin that they were unable to break out of until they hit rock bottom, worshipping avodah zara.

R' Chaim contrasts this to the downfall of Shlomo. He quotes a midrash whose location (Koheles Rabbah?), context, and exact wording escape me, but it goes something like "Shlomo started out ruling over the entire world, then part of the world, then over Eretz Yisroel, and finally he only ruled over his staff." R' Shmulevitz notes the significance of this last clause. Even when Shlomo had frightening downfall, he refused to let himself hit rock bottom, but rather maintained his mida of malchus at the very least over his own staff. This alone could be seen as a very minor distinction from ruling over nothing at all, but to the contrary, it was this small elevation from rock bottom, this small measure of maintaining self-control, that enabled him to ultimately return to his full powers. Had the Jews been able to stop their downfall at any point, they never would have fallen to such a depth. However, as they kept falling further and further down, there was nothing to stop them from reaching this low level.

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