Parshas Ki Sisa: Kodesh, Sake of God and Leadership Quality

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 03/02/18

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1) Why Called Lashon HaKodesh?

Welcome to parshas Ki Sisa (Shemos 30:13) as we focus on the Ramban and you might have heard about his first famous comment which is about why lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue, is called by that name.  

Rambam: Omitted Words

Here on the pasuk of ‘machatzis hashekel b’shekel hakodesh’, the commentators ask why it’s called the shekel hakodesh? Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim that the reason that Hebrew is called lashon hakodesh is because it’s a holy language in that it does not have any explicit names for male or female anatomy or words that relate to sexual ideas. There are words that hint to it, but it is never stated explicitly.

Ramban: Lashon Hakodesh For Nevuah

Ramban argues with this and says it’s simply not true, and quotes a number of words that are Lashon HaKodesh and disprove Rambam’s notion. Ramban thus asserts that it’s called lashon hakodesh because divrei Torah and the holy prophecies were said over in this language, deeming it holy as the conduit for bringing out Hashem’s words.

Shekel Hakodesh

Ramban is explaining that shekel hakodesh, why does it have that name?  He explains that Moshe Rabbeinu established a silver coin for the Jewish people because he was basically the king of the Jews and he called it the shekel because this shekel literally meant mishkal, a measurement, and it was a very perfect type of material which didn’t have any impurities. It was all burned out. Since this shekel was used for many holy things, biblical laws like: erachin, if you promise the value of someone; pidyon bechor, redeeming the firstborn, and other items, it was thus called kodesh, holy. This is just as Ramban explains that Kodesh means related to the Torah.

Torah Brings Holiness

Hashem sanctified the Jewish nation and the Torah makes us holy. Lashon Hakodesh, the Torah language, sanctifies us. Maharal explains the famous gemara (Nedarim 81a) about the sin of the Jews during Bayis Rishon: They were not beirach b’Torah techilah.  They didn’t make a proper birchas hatorah. What does this mean? Maharal says that they learned because it was intellectually stimulating and enjoyable to them, and Torah is certainly intellectually stimulating, and part of it is meant to be enjoyed, but if you learn it also with the intention that it uplifts you and makes you holy. (Like the Nefesh HaChaim talks about in Shaar Daled, that Torah helps us get forgiveness from our aveiros.  It helps us get deveikus to Hashem.  It is something that teaches us how to live life.) We are lomeid al menas la’asos, to put it into action, and that it is an expression of ultimate truth. Maharal says that the Jew’s sin was that they did not connect with Torah for the intention of achieving holiness and closeness to Hashem.

This is a great introduction for Parshas Ki Sisa where we have the cheit ha’egel, the Jewish nation lost that holiness and forgot about that holiness and that connection to Hashem and the gedolei Yisrael, listening to Aharon and listening to Moshe, and not following through on their greatness as a nation.

2) Washing Hands and Feet

V’rachatzu Aharon u’banav (Shemos 30:19). Aharon and his children have to wash their hands before they do the avodah. Ramban brings down from Sefer HaYetzirah a very fascinating thing. But first an introduction: The head of a person is something that in the secular world we say from head to toe, but in Jewish vernacular we say from hand to toe because your hands can be outstretched, and your hands are the extremity of your body, and the feet are the extremity of your body, and your hands can be stretched way above your head and your feet all the way at the bottom, and that’s what a man is supposed to look like. Sefer Yetzirah explains that when man stretches from head to toe, his hands and feet which contain ten fingers and toes total hint to the ten sefiros while your entire body is in between them.  

We’ll explain this a drop, according to whatever I can explain based on what I heard from Rav Yissachar Rothschild zt”l and Rav Aryeh Kaplan zt”l.

Connecting Head to Body

Now, if you think about it for a second what’s being said over here. The first three sefiros are chochmah, binah and da’as.  They represent knowledge, using our brain for Hashem. The bottom seven: chesed, gevurah, tiferes, netzech, hod, yesod and malchus represent the body, as Ramchal explains in many places.  Thus, the ten sefiros are the unification of your brain, the da’as that you have, the knowledge of G-d, and the application brought out by your body.  As Jews, we sanctify our actions, from hand to toe.  We want to make sure that all of our body, all of our actions are unified between those ten sefiros. We want to ensure that the knowledge in our head is directing our body in how to act.

Even Eisav knew the truth in his head.  That’s why his head was buried in Maaras HaMachpeilah, but the Yeitzer Harah kicks in and the tavas haguf, empemeral desires distract one. Eisav’s body didn’t cooperate. He had a head of the Avos, but a body of an animal and thus his body was not allowed into Machpeila.

The root of Amalek’s name is melikah. That’s the name of the process where the bird’s head is decapitated in the mikdash. Amalek, the Yeitzer Harah will be shechted l’asid lavoh because that’s what he tried to do to us.  He tries to disconnect our knowledge (head) from our body so that we don’t apply what we know intellectually, and we let our body take over.  That’s what’s being said here. We’re unifying out entire body, those ten sefiros, so they operate together.


We also find in the Chumash that when Moshe held up his hands above his head, the Jews were successful (there is additional significance as to why this is read Purim morning), and like the Mishna in Rosh Hashanah says, of course, Moshe’s hands don’t make war.  That’s not what it’s about, but what it means is that when the Jews were thinking about Hashem, then they succeeded. The remez in his erect hands is that he is pointing towards Hashem and sanctifying the ten sefiros that connect his brain and his knowledge about what is right to his body which actually applies it and carries out that truth, throughout the hardest challenges in life.

Rabbeinu HaKadosh L’Shem Shamayim

This is why we find that Rabbeinu HaKadosh, at the end of the gemara in Kesuvos, lifted up his ten fingers, his hands, before he died and said: I never took from this world.  And, Tosfos asks: Well, what about all the delicacies he had on his table recorded in the Gemara; it seems that he was enjoying as well? Tosfos answers: Maybe he didn’t eat them; they were only for his guests.  But, the Gra says: It’s not true. He ate them, but he ate them l’Shem Shamayim.  He unified his body. What he did was l’Sheim Shamayim, the service of Hashem like the Shulchan Aruch says in Orach Chaum 231: Kol ma’asecha y’hyu l’Sheim Shamayim. Even when you eat and sleep and take care of your bodily needs, it’s for the sake of being healthy and being able to serve Hashem.  That’s the ultimate madreigah.  What beautiful ideas here.  Take a look at the Ramban inside.

3) It’s Up to You!

Betzalel was called to be a leader of the Mishkan’s building (Shemos 31:2) and Ramban comments that it’s a pelah because when the Jews were in Egypt they didn’t do any of this type of work. They dealt with bricks and they dealt with storehouses in Pisom and Ramses.  Ramban explains that if you open up your heart, and you say: Hashem, I want to do this work, then Hashem filled up your heart and gives you the ability to be able to do these things, and be able to fulfill this mission, and that’s how Betzalel was able to do to do it because he was: Nadvah libo oso. His heart uplifted him, and he wanted to give.

4) Aharon Pushed Bnei Yisrael Off To Tomorrow

Aharon saw that the Jews were not behaving very well during the Egel, and so the Ramban (Shemos 32:5) asks why didn’t he just call them out?  Why did he tell them: Machar, tomorrow you’ll come back and we’ll do it. Says the Ramban a psychological point here. Aharon saw the crowd and he assessed them. Aharon said: I see their mindset,they will not hear my rebuke or refusal, so there is no use to try to even negotiate with them! Perhaps if I give them some time to think hopefully they’ll calm down and Moshe will come down in the meantime, and, so, therefore, Aharon wanted to delay and hopefully they would be introspective.  In the meantime, the mob only grew and grew and did even worse things.

Don’t Act Right Away

This is an important lesson in life. We can strive to take things slow. Especially when we need to make big decisions and we feel very, very agitated by something or we feel a big push to do something, always delay and always give yourself some time.  We could always come back and make different choices, but if we act hastily, then: haste makes waste, like the Chovos HaLevavos says: pri hakitzur hacharata.  The fruit of brevity is regret.  So, Aharon is teaching us: Try to delay it for tomorrow.  That’s why the gemara says in Sanhedrin teaches that: bas dina, bateil dina, if a case is delayed overnight, it often dissipates. We can use that for the good if we have something that we want to do, we should always act on it very quickly.  If it’s a positive thing: building Torah, learning more.  

Grabbing the Inspiration

I’ll never forget, my friends and I were very shaken by a dear friend of ours who’s father passed away very suddenly. We were in the room talking, about ten of us, and we said we had to do something.  We have to change something in yeshiva and make a big difference. At that exact moment someone pulled out a cup, a plastic cup, and said: All right, we’re going to start a free Torah shiur library where people will be able to get shiurim that are inspirational, and he took out a shekel and a ten agurot piece and put it inside the cup, and said: Who’s in? Other people in the room started putting in. By the time we left that room we had a hundred shekel and we had a commitment that we’re going to buy some tapes, some recordings, some CDs, some audios.  We also had a commitment that we were going to buy a number of siddurim that the yeshiva needed and all this happened literally in a ten minute conversation, but in that one moment someone jumped on the inspiration and it’s a tremendous zechus that that person has because thousand of hours of shmuzim that Rav Shimshon Pincus, Rav Avigdor Miller and Rav Reisman and many other great people were heard and inspired people for years to come. People still tell me about that audio library and the benefits they gained from it. What an impact those thousands of hours of audios made on them.

When you grab the moment it could be used positively, but in the negative, when you are thinking about doing something bad, or something hasty that you might regret, just give it some time and then you’ll come back to it tomorrow if you need to.  And, the nation here hurried when they wanted to sin, and that’s where everything went down.

5) Moshe Recognized Sounds

Shemos (32:16): Moshe came down and was greeted by his faithful student Yehoshua who was waiting for him, and Moshe said: I could tell that this sound, this kol that’s coming from this nation, is them in a very bad place, in a very sinful place.  The Ramban says that Moshe knew “nigunei hakolos”, the different intonations of voices and sounds and he was able to recognize exactly what was going on here, and he even had a complaint against Yehoshua, the future leader of the Jews, and he said: One who is going to be the future leader of the Jewish people, how could you not know the difference between one voice and the other voice?

Obviously there’s probably some kabbalistic aspect here. We know that the Zohar in Yisro says that Moshe was able to read people’s palms and foreheads, which is where the Zohar talks about this. The Ohr Yakar, which is the peirush of Rav Moshe Cordevero, a great kabbalist in the 1500s in Tzfat, is where he extrapolates on this and has diagrams.  I actually saw it in a library one time. I don’t really understand what it said, but it talked about how to read palms and foreheads.  So, obviously Moshe had that ability: V’atah techezeh, as the Zohar there discusses, he appointed judges by reading their foreheads. Moshe also had this amazing ability to be able to read voices and understand what was going on.

Leader Skills

From a psychological standpoint, it just means that a leader needs to be in touch with the nation.  Just like earlier we discussed Aharon HaKohen who recognized that that nation was not in a place for hearing mussar and rebuke. He did try to stop them, and that’s one of the reasons that he asked: You know go ask the women for their jewelry, and the women put up a fight and tried to stop the men, and they were not able to. Here, Moshe was saying that a leader must be able to differentiate and understand different voices. The people that we work with we need to be able to lean in and understand what’s going on in their lives as well.

6) Kapara for Chilul Hashem

Vaya’amod Moshe b’shaar hamachaneh (Shemos 32:26). What was going on? Ramban explains that Moshe executed those that served the Eigel, he had the Leviim help with this when they answered the call: Mi laHashem Eily!  He had them execute those that served the Egel as well because when you create such a big chilul Hashem, the only way to be mechapeir is through a kiddush Hashem.

Although this concept is famous to us, it is not so simple. The gemara says, Chazal tell us that one who makes a chillul Hahsem there is no kapara, but the sefarim bring down a number of remazim, hints, and this is one of the remazim from the Ramban that a kiddush Hashem could combat the chillul Hashem and that could create a kapara for those people. Rabbeinu Bechaye in Parshas Kiddoshim says the same thing in the pasuk that says: V’lo sichalilu es Sheim Kodshi.  You should not be mechalel Me, the next words are: v’nikdashti bsoch Bnei Yisrael, I should be sanctified. Rabbeinu Bechaye says this is a remez that the way to be mechpeir for a chillul Hashem is to make a kiddush Hashem.

We should always be sure to make a kiddush Hashem. How so? The gemara in Yoma teaches that a kiddush Hashem is when people see us and they say: This is someone who learns Torah and ashrei him and his parents and his rabbei’im that taught him Torah.

7) Why is Yehoshua called a naar?

The Torah (Shemos 33:11) describes Moshe’s attendant as: mesharso Yehoshua ben Nun, was a na’ar. Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra comments (agreed upon and quoted by Ramban): If you do the math we know that Yehoshua lived to 110 years of age. We know that Chazal tell us (the Ibn Ezra is meshabeid to Chazal), as we talked about, that for seven years they conquered the land and for seven years they divided it, so that means that at this time, in our parsha, Yehoshua was 56 years old.  He’s no na’ar, he’s not a child. So why was he called a na’ar?  Ramban says very simply: It just means anyone that is a servant to someone else and serves that other person is always referred to in the Torah as a naar.


Why is that?  Because when you serve someone else, and this is my explanation, not the Ramban. When you serve someone else, you subjugate yourself to that person, and so, to a certain degree you need to act like a naar, like a child because you’re listening to what they have to tell you. Certainly, Yehoshua’s greatness was that he made himself into a child compared to Moshe, that he followed his rebbe and he wanted to drink in all that he could learn from his rebbe, and that’s indeed the reason that he became the leader of the Jewish people.  

Yes, of course, Chazal tell us that it was because he was cleaning the Beis Medrash and he had tremendous respect for the Torah and that makes it.  But, certainly, he had to be meshameish his rebbe as well, and, in fact, at the end of his life, he was even punished for not being meshameish his rebbe at a moment when his rebbe asked him: if you have any shaylas, and he wasn’t meshameish him probably because he should have asked him shaylas because he didn’t he actually forgot some of his learning until Usniel ben Kenaz reestablished it, but we’ll save that for a different time.  But, the point is that a naar is someone who subjugates himself and says: I sit by your feet.  I want to listen and serve you.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com