Parshas Ki Sisa

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By Rabbi Shloimie Lindenbaum

ויעשהו עגל מסכה ויאמרו אלה אלקיך ישראל (פרק לב פסוק ד)

Just a short while after בני ישראל witnessed the wondrous miracles of יציאת מצרים (leaving Egypt), קריעת ים סוף (the splitting of the sea), and מתן תורה (the giving of the Torah), they fell terribly in creating a עגל הזהב (golden calf) and serving it. Rashi tells us that this עבירה was initiated by the ערב רב- the group of Egyptian converts that joined בני ישראל as they left מצרים. Many ask, even if it was the fault of the ערב רב, we are taught that at קריעת ים סוף everyone reached tremendous levels of holiness and prophecy, if so, how could they have fallen so low in such a short amount of time? R’ Chaim Shmulevitz answers that although everyone, even the lowest elements, were on high levels by the ים סוף, it was not something they had worked for. When someone slowly works their way higher and higher in the spiritual spheres, they are constantly changing themselves and truly becoming greater and holier people. However, when someone is given a high level as a gift from Hashem, it does not change their essence. They remain the same person they were before, even through their momentary flash of greatness. Therefore, the ערב רב returned to their true level once the first נסיון, test, came along. Their greatness was not internalized as a real part of them because it was not something that they had worked and prepared for. Our job on this world is to strive and push to become greater and closer to Hashem. The obstacles in our way may seem inconvenient, but it is only by pushing through them and working through the hurdles that we truly make our greatness a part of our essence. The process is slow and arduous, but in this way, we can truly grow and become better people.

ויתן על פניו מסוה ובבא משה לפני ה’ לדבר אתו יסיר את המסוה (פרק לד פסוק לג-ד)

After משה returned from הר סיני the second time, his face shone with a spiritual light that was blinding for בני ישראל. They could not look at his face, and so when he spoke with them, he wore a mask. When he spoke with Hashem, however, he removed his mask. R’ Akiva Eiger explains this on a deeper level. He says that משה was an incredibly humble person- עניו מכל אדם, however he was also the king and leader of בני ישראל. As their leader he needed to act towards them with a certain assertiveness and authority, also demanding a high level of respect. This was his “mask”- concealing his true character of humility with a façade of grandeur for the sake of properly leading and directing Hashem’s nation. It follows then, that when he spoke with Hashem, he removed the “mask” and stood before his Master in his true form of the ultimate humble servant.

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