Parshas Ki Sisa


MARCH 9, 2012

ADAR 15, 5772


Candle-lighting Time: 5:42 PM


This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Marisa and Julia Senkfor’s Bat Mitzvah this Shabbos. Mazel Tov Mazel Tov!



By Rabbi Raphael Leban

I’ve often felt envious of Israelis. It must be nice to pray in your mother tongue. I imagine it’s a wholly different experience than praying in a second language.

To be sure, there are certainly many people who pray in Hebrew, understanding little of what they’re saying at all. Although I generally understand what I’m saying, during irregular and grammatically challenging parts of our liturgy, like Selichos or Kinos, I, too, am often left merely pronouncing the words without fully knowing what I’m saying.

Why do we pray in Hebrew, anyway?

In Parshas Ki Sisa the Torah teaches us about the Machatzis Hashekel, the ‘half shekel’. These half shekel coins were given annually to provide funds for the national offerings in the Temple.

The fact that the yearly gift was a half of a coin is often discussed. In our public offerings, we have to realize our incompleteness, without our connection to our People. Before it’s given it’s just a half. Only together do we make a ‘whole.’

The word shekel, however, is less discussed. One could ask, why is it called a shekel? And for that matter, why is it then called a ‘holy shekel’?

The Ramban asks the question, and explains that the word ‘shekel’ is from the word ‘mishkal’ meaning weigh or measure. Every shekel was the exact weight, nothing skimmed off, nothing melted in. And because the monetary mitzvos are measured in shekels, like the redemption of the firstborn, it’s called the holy shekel. It’s the currency of kedusha (holiness).

Furthermore, continues the Ramban, this is why Hebrew is called ‘Lashon Hakodesh’, the Holy Language. With it, Hashem created the world, spoke the Ten Commandments, wrote the Torah and continues to be praised by the spiritual host above and below. It’s the language of kedusha (holiness).

And I guess that answers my question, why we doven in Hebrew, even though it’s often tough to do so. To be sure, a person can pour out his or her heart to Our Father in Heaven with whatever words come out. But when we want to do really successful ‘holy business,’ we have to use the holy currency, Hebrew.



By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

This past Thursday we celebrated Purim, one of the most festive occasions of the Jewish calendar. Friday, today, is known as Shushan Purim. When we defeated our Persian adversaries, Esther asked the king for one additional day to fight their enemies in the capitol city of Shushan. Permission was granted and they were victorious, eliminating many more of those who had plotted to annihilate the Jewish nation. Therefore, residents of walled cities like Shushan have always celebrated Purim on the 15th day of Adar instead of the 14th day like the rest of us. The year the Sages established this special practice for walled cities, Jerusalem was desolate and deserted, lying in ruins before the rebuilding of the Second Temple. Therefore, out of deference to Jerusalem, they instituted that all walled cities from the time of Yehoshua, Moshe’s prize disciple, would celebrate Purim on the 15th day of Adar. Thus Jerusalem is included.

Why was it so important to recognize Jerusalem in this issue? After all, the miracle occurred outside of Israel and bore no direct connection to Israel or Jerusalem. Although it may be unusual, miracles do take place in other parts of the world besides Jerusalem.

King David wrote in Tehillim, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” The commentators explain this to mean that if we forget Jerusalem, the right hand that plays the harp should be unable to produce its music. True joy and happiness do not exist when we are in exile. Indeed, the Talmud suggests that one is not even allowed to smile fully while we are banished from our land and specifically Jerusalem. Even on such a happy day as Purim, we do not recite Hallel, which would indicate that we are celebrating a joyous occasion. The Talmud comments upon this and says that even though we were saved from Haman’s evil decree, we were still nonetheless in exile and we cannot fully appreciate nor express feelings of happiness and exhilaration. Why are we so stunted if we live outside of Jerusalem that we cannot fully experience happiness?

When the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Plato found the prophet Jeremiah crying outside the ruins. He approached him and questioned his behavior. After all, only a building had been destroyed, not the entire framework of Judaism. Jeremiah asked Plato if he had any deep philosophical queries that needed to be addressed. He nodded and proceeded to ask Jeremiah an entire list of questions about life. Jeremiah listened patiently and then resolved all of his difficulties in a few short sentences. Plato was astonished at witnessing such brilliance and profound wisdom and said so. Jeremiah replied that all of his insight and wisdom came from those ruins. Plato was unable to grasp the meaning of Jeremiah’s statement.

Man’s intelligence is frail at best. We are truly deficient creations of Hashem. However, as we draw nigh to Hashem, we merit His divine assistance and support. There are no shortcuts to access His favor or to anticipate His help. It is only through acquiescence to His will that we can perhaps hope that He will be kind and bestow His blessings upon us.

Indeed, this is the basic theme of Purim. Everyone thought that if they would attend the king’s party, all would be well and the king would treat them mercifully. Instead, the opposite transpired and we found ourselves subject to Haman’s evil decree of annihilation. We did not heed the call of Mordechai who cautioned the people not to attend. As we prepare to rejoice and commemorate this awesome miracle that we merited so many generations ago, let us not forget the true meaning of the day and absorb its immense significance.



Did you hear about the dyslexic atheist? He didn’t believe in dog.



By Rabbi Mordechai Becher

The Torah portion this week begins with G-d commanding Moses to count the Jews by their donations of half-shekels. The Talmud (Yoma 22b) and other sources (Nachmanides, Exodus 30:12) understand that there is a prohibition against counting the Jewish people. When students of the Vila Gaon made aliyah(moved to Israel) and established a community in Tzefat, one of the leaders, Rabbi Israel of Shklov, was asked by a charity organization to supply a head-count of the Jews in Tzefat receiving charity. He asked Rabbi Moshe Soferif, in light of the prohibition mentioned in the Talmud, this was permitted. Rabbi Sofer (Responsa Chatam Sofer, Kovetz Teshuvos  8) permitted the census, based primarily on the fact Rabbi Shklov was counting the stipends, not the people themselves. The question arose again, when the first national census took place in the State of Israel in 1960. The question was addressed by Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli (Responsa Amud Hayemini 13) who permitted the census, because (among other reasons) it was performed for the sake of a mitzvah (the provision of social, medical and municipal services to the population of Israel) and the count was indirect, as it was based on filling out forms rather than “counting heads.”

Reprinted with permission from Parsha Partner, a weekly publication of Partners in Torah. Please add us to your Parsha reading list.



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