Saturday, February 27, 2010

Parshat Ki Tisa 5770

Parshat Ki Tisa 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

“And Out Came This Calf …”

Despite the popular adage, the sin of the Golden Calf was no orphan: like other tragedies and failures, there were many contributors to this debacle. Various components and antecedents, as well as a unique mixture of circumstances, are often the fertile soil in which the seeds of disaster are sown, and the sin of the Golden Calf is no exception; a host of people and events contributed to the nation's downfall.   

Moshe the Man
The people begin to fear that Moshe has been up on the mountain for too long, and they panic:

ספר שמות פרק לב, א
וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי בשֵׁשׁ משֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן הָהָר וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי זֶה משֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ:
And when the people saw that Moshe delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered around Aharon, and said to him, 'Arise, make us  gods to lead us; and as for this Moshe, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what became of him. (Shmot 32:1)

The word which is clearly stressed is “man”: Moshe the man. The people expressed their most primal fears of abandonment and betrayal: Moshe is a man – nothing more. Like all men, he is fickle, untrustworthy, mortal – and necessarily transient. Moshe surely could not have survived, alone on the top of the fiery mountain, exposed to the elements, without provisions. Moshe was surely dead, they thought. He had served as their oracle, the word of God flowed through him, but they felt that if Moshe was to be replaced, it behooved them to find something more reliable and sturdy, something concrete. This seems to be reflected in the description of what it is they want Aharon to provide: they did not seek to replace the transcendent God who liberated them and revealed Himself to them, indicated by the Tetragrammaton (YHVH). Rather, they ask Aharon for a deity (elohim) that can physically lead the way for the remainder of their journey. They seek a physical leader.

Their first error is their estimation of Moshe. Was he merely a “man”? While Moshe was certainly not a deity, and to suggest otherwise would be an affront to the most basic teachings of Judaism, rabbinic sources use singular, even daring language to describe Moshe and his unique status. One such instance is in the rabbinic explanation of the Torah's account of Moshe's ascension:

שמות פרק כד פסוק טז
וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד ה’ עַל הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן:
God's glory rested on Mount Sinai, and it was covered by the cloud for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moshe from the midst of the cloud. (Shmot 24:16)

In an eponymous teaching in Avot d'Rabbi Natan, Rabbi Natan explains what transpired during those six days:

מסכתות קטנות מסכת אבות דרבי נתן נוסחא א פרק א
 א"ר נתן מפני מה נתעכב משה כל ששת ימים ולא שרה עליו דבור בשביל שימרק מכל אכילה ושתיה שהיה במעיו עד שעה שנתקדש ויהא כמלאכי השרת.
Rabbi Natan said, Why was Moshe delayed all six days, and the word of God did not come to him? In order to purge his body of all food and drink from his bowels, so he could be sanctified and become as a ministering angel. (Avot d'Rabbi Natan, Chapter 1).

Moshe is transformed; he becomes something more than a regular mortal man, above the physical constraints of hunger and thirst. God Himself attests to Moshe's unique status, describing him as a “servant of God”[1], which is ultimately what an angel is. The six days Moshe spent waiting to receive the invitation to climb the mountain were a period of preparation, of elevation. Moshe was not denied food, nor did he abstain from food out of respect[2]; Moshe's body was purged, purified, and prepared for his ascent to heaven. This transformation left a permanent mark which separated Moshe from all other men: When Moshe finally does descend with the new Tablets, his holiness is physically manifest; he is so visually stunning that the people cannot gaze upon his face:

שמות פרק לד, כח-לה
וַיְהִי שָׁם עִם ה’ אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה לֶחֶם לֹא אָכַל וּמַיִם לֹא שָׁתָה וַיִּכְתֹּב עַל הַלֻּחֹת אֵת דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים: וַיְהִי בְּרֶדֶת מֹשֶׁה מֵהַר סִינַי וּשְׁנֵי לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה בְּרִדְתּוֹ מִן הָהָר וּמֹשֶׁה לֹא יָדַע כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו בְּדַבְּרוֹ אִתּוֹ: וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מֹשֶׁה וְהִנֵּה קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו וַיִּירְאוּ מִגֶּשֶׁת אֵלָיו: וַיִּקְרָא אֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶׁה וַיָּשֻׁבוּ אֵלָיו אַהֲרֹן וְכָל הַנְּשִׂאִים בָּעֵדָה וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֲלֵהֶם: וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן נִגְּשׁוּ כָּל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיְצַוֵּם אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה’ אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינָי:  וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה מִדַּבֵּר אִתָּם וַיִּתֵּן עַל פָּנָיו מַסְוֶה: וּבְבֹא מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי ה’ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ יָסִיר אֶת הַמַּסְוֶה עַד צֵאתוֹ וְיָצָא וְדִבֶּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת אֲשֶׁר יְצֻוֶּה: וְרָאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה וְהֵשִׁיב מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַמַּסְוֶה עַל פָּנָיו עַד בֹּאוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ:
And he was there with God forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the Tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. And it came to pass, when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the two Tablets of Testimony in Moshe’ hand, when he came down from the mount Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become luminous when [God] spoke to him. And when Aharon and all the people of Israel saw Moshe, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come close to him. And Moshe called to them; and Aharon and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him; and Moshe talked with them. And afterward all the people of Israel came near; and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moshe finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But when Moshe went in before God to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spoke to the people of Israel that which he was commanded. And the people of Israel saw the face of Moshe, that the skin of Moshe’ face shone; and Moshe put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him. (Shmot 34:28-35)

Aside from the tragedy of their sin, the Torah transmits a certain irony in describing this "replacement" for Moshe that the people had Aharon fashion for them: the Hebrew description of the idol they created is egel masecha:

שמות פרק לב, ד
וַיִּקַּח מִיָּדָם וַיָּצַר אֹתוֹ בַּחֶרֶט וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
And he took (it) them from their hand, and fashioned with a heret (an engravers tool) an egel masecha (molten calf); and they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' (Shmot 32:4)

The word masecha, translated generally as being rooted in נסך, something which is poured, is usually rendered “molten”: a figurine formed of cast metal. However, the word masecha can be understood as a derivative of מסך, a screen or mask[3]. Thus, while they made an egel masecha to replace the mortal Moshe, little did they realize that Moshe, the holiest mortal servant of God, who could subsist without physical sustenance, would need a masecha (mask) to cover his glowing face.

Delay Tactics
When Aharon was approached with this obscene request, it seems that his first line of defense was not confrontation; rather, he used a series of stalling tactics. The people were not specific in their request; they sought “gods to lead them,” but never said anything about actually making a figurine, nor did they specify what these gods should be made of. Aharon asked for their gold, the most precious metal they had. It is altogether likely that he assumed the entire project would stagnate if the people were asked to part with their gold. He hoped to abort the mission before it began.[4] Unfortunately, the people quickly acquiesced, and procured the earrings from their loved ones:

ספר שמות פרק לב, ב-ג
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אַהֲרֹן פָּרֲקוּ נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵי נְשֵׁיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם וְהָבִיאוּ אֵלָי: וַיִּתְפָּרֲקוּ כָּל הָעָם אֶת נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אַהֲרֹן:
And Aharon said to them, 'Take off the golden ear rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me.' And all the people took off the golden ear rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aharon. (Shmot 32:2,3)

Aharon collects the gold, and a calf is formed. Then, in another apparent act of procrastination, Aharon tells the people that only on the following day there would be a holiday - a celebration for God; notably Aharon uses the proper name of God – YHVH.

ספר שמות פרק לב, ד-ה
וַיִּקַּח מִיָּדָם וַיָּצַר אֹתוֹ בַּחֶרֶט וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמַר חַג לה’ מָחָר:
And he received [it] from their hand, and fashioned with a heret (engraver's tool) a molten calf; and they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' And when Aharon saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aharon made a proclamation, and said, 'Tomorrow is a feast to God. (Shmot 32:4,5)

But what of the actual formation of the calf? We cannot simply gloss over this stage: Aharon used a heret and formed the calf. The word heret would normally be translated as a graving tool; based on the context, this seems to be a perfectly reasonable interpretation. Yet this would be damning evidence of Aharon's complicity in the sin: He very purposefully carved or formed an idol, using tools of the trade, leading the people Moshe had left in his charge toward the abyss of idolatry, in clear violation of Second Commandment that they had all heard spoken by God Himself. Is this conclusion unavoidable? Rashi actually offers two interpretations of the word heret. The second interpretation is what we have called the more obvious one: the heret is a tool used by goldsmiths. In Rashi’s first interpretation, he suggests that a heret can mean scarf or kerchief[5]; Aharon collected all the gold in a cloth, and somehow a calf of gold emerged.

Even if we say that Aharon used a craftsman's tools and purposefully formed a graven image, we may be able to excuse his behavior if we look beyond his actions and consider his motivation: Perhaps Aharon thought that he might be able to shock the people back to their senses, to shake them from their panic-induced reverie. This Golden Calf was a clear and direct affront to the words of God in the Decalogue heard and seen by all. So perhaps this, too, was part of Aharon’s plan to delay the completion of the project, to push off actual idol worship long enough for Moshe to return.

Rashi's first interpretation of the word heret leads us in a different direction,   allowing us to imagine that Aharon pulled the calf out of a handkerchief. This was no act of craftsmanship; it was magical, and it surprised even Aharon. Rashi is not simply grasping at straws in an attempt to exonerate Aharon; Aharon’s own description of the course of events seems to support this interpretation. When Moshe questions him, shocked and dismayed by what transpired in his absence, Aharon mentions neither goldsmith's tools nor handkerchiefs:

ספר שמות פרק לב, כא-כד
וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן מֶה עָשָׂה לְךָ הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי הֵבֵאתָ עָלָיו חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה: וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן אַל יִחַר אַף אֲדֹנִי אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֶת הָעָם כִּי בְרָע הוּא: וַיֹּאמְרוּ לִי עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי זֶה משֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ: וָאֹמַר לָהֶם לְמִי זָהָב הִתְפָּרָקוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ לִי וָאַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בָאֵשׁ וַיֵּצֵא הָעֵגֶל הַזֶּה:
And Moshe said to Aharon, 'What did this nation do to you, that you have brought so great a sin upon them?' And Aharon said, 'Let not the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, "Make us gods, which shall go before us; and as for this Moshe, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what became of him." And I said to them, "Whoever has any gold, let them take it off." So they gave it me; then I cast it into the fire, and out came this calf. (Shmot 32:21-24)

Aharon implies that the calf spontaneously inexplicably, emerged. Aharon's account seems to contradict the initial narrative only on this very salient point: did he, or did he not, form or sculpt the calf?

There are commentaries who opine that out of embarrassment, or fear of Moshe, Aharon was selective in his retelling the sordid tale; in other words, he lied.[6] The Maharal takes umbrage[7] at this suggestion, and points out a psychological insight: A person is apt to lie if they are not likely to be caught. In this instance, all of Israel knew that Aharon had formed the calf. Any attempt to cover up his own involvement in the affair would have been futile. The Maharal therefore reads something else into Aharon's words. He did not deny that he had formed the calf, but he was expressing his surprise at what happened next: something strange and unexplainable occurred after the calf was formed, and the calf became animated. When Aharon said “out came this calf,” he meant to explain that something bizarre and unexpected caused the calf to vivify.[8] Aharon knew that the people had learned too much, seen too much, heard too much, to worship a statue. The unexpected happened: the calf emerged from the fire on its own, alive, as it were.

Clearly, the divergence between the two accounts of the creation of the Golden Calf presents a problem; rabbinic authorities were not unaware of the discrepancy between the two accounts, nor were they unaware of the ramifications of the discrepancy. These two sections are among those cited in the Mishna's list of biblical verses that are not publicly translated:

משנה מסכת מגילה פרק ד, י
מעשה ראובן, נקרא ולא מתרגם. מעשה תמר, נקרא ומתרגם. מעשה עגל הראשון, נקרא ומתרגם. והשני, נקרא ולא מתרגם. ברכת כהנים, מעשה דוד ואמנון, לא נקראין ולא מתרגמין. אין מפטירין במרכבה. ורבי יהודה מתיר. רבי אליעזר אומר, אין מפטירין בהודע את ירושלים:
The incident of Reuven is read in synagogue but not translated. The story of Tamar is read and translated. The first account of the incident of the golden calf is both read and translated, the second is read but not translated. Mishna Megila 4:10 (Talmud Bavil 25a)

This list includes several very difficult biblical passages, and the method the rabbis devised for "damage control": while these problematic passages are read in public, the Targum, the vernacular Aramaic, which was usually employed to explain the meaning of the verses, should be omitted. Among the passages that are suppressed, read but not translated, is Aharon's retelling of the making of the Golden Calf; the earlier passage, which describes the events in "real time," is read and translated, while Aharon's recap of the events read without translation. While various commentaries reason that this solution was established in order to protect Aharon's honor[9], the fact remains that there is an acute awareness of the discrepancy between the two versions of the events.[10]

Shared Responsibility
In his commentary to the Talmud, Rashi explains that the "censorship" is enacted so that less-educated listeners would not think that the calf emerged, on its own, as Aharon implied.[11] Unsophisticated listeners might be misled, by Aharon's statement, to believe that the calf had some powers of its own, that it was, in fact, some sort of god. Rashi[12] rejects both this possibility, as well as the charge that Aharon purposefully formed the calf; he prefers to translate heret as "handkerchief". How, then, does Rashi understand Aharons' description of the formation of the calf? Rashi explains that the calf was animated by the power of incantations uttered by the erev rav (the mixed multitude that left Egypt with the Jews), or through the use of the Divine Name by a person named Micha. In either case, these explanations have a common denominator; according to both, Aharon is not solely responsible for the golden calf. In each case, someone else bears partial responsibility - someone who was not even present when the episode took place: Moshe.

According to tradition,[13] it was Moshe who insisted that the erev rav  be permitted to join the Children of Israel as they were redeemed from Egypt. Thus, when they cause this massive sin, their sponsor, Moshe, should bear at least some of the responsibility.

If it was Micha who caused the golden calf to come to life, again - Moshe must share the blame: The Talmud[14] fills in some background details of Micha's biography: While the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, Moshe complained to God regarding the precious children who were brutally murdered used as "just another brick in the wall" of Egypt's grand building projects.[15] God assured Moshe that divine wisdom was even involved in such seemingly senseless deaths, but when Moshe actually witnessed such a case first-hand, he implored God to save the innocent child. According to some[16] traditions, Moshe used the Divine Name and saved the child. This child, Micha[17] was responsible for the Golden Calf.[18]

According to this interpretation, Aharon and Moshe bear joint responsibility.

In fact, there are certain Talmudic passages that spread the responsibility for the sin even further:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פט עמוד א
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: מאי דכתיב (שמות לב), 'וירא העם כי בשש משה', אל תקרי בושש אלא באו שש. בשעה שעלה משה למרום אמר להן לישראל: 'לסוף ארבעים יום, בתחלת שש, אני בא.' לסוף ארבעים יום בא שטן ועירבב את העולם, אמר להן: 'משה רבכם היכן הוא?' אמרו לו: 'עלה למרום.' אמר להן: 'באו שש - ולא השגיחו עליו. מת - ולא השגיחו עליו.' הראה להן דמות מטתו. והיינו דקאמרי ליה לאהרן (שמות לב), 'כי זה משה האיש וגו'.
R. Yehoshua b. Levi also said: Why is it written (Shmot 32), 'And when the people saw that Moshe delayed [boshesh] [to come down from the mount]? Read not boshesh [delayed] but ba'u shesh [the sixth hour had come]. When Moshe ascended on high, he said to Israel, 'I will return at the end of forty days, at the beginning of the sixth hour.' At the end of forty days Satan came and confounded the world. Said he to them: 'Where is your teacher Moshe?' 'He has ascended on high,’ they answered him. 'The sixth [hour] has come,' said he to them, but they disregarded him. 'He is dead,' but they disregarded him. [Thereupon] he showed them a vision of his bier, and this is why they said to Aharon, 'for this Moshe, the man, etc.' (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 89a)[19]

According to the Talmud, the people were shown Moshe’s dead body in a vision; they had every reason to fear the worst. It might seem that God Himself allowed the scales to tip, nudging the people toward the brink. Had He orchestrated the events that led to the sin? If Micha was to become such a notorious sinner, why was Moshe not warned?  If the mixed multitude would cause such calamity, why wasn’t Moshe told? If Satan was to misrepresent reality and trick the nation into believing Moshe was dead, why was he given free reign? Should some of the responsibility for the golden calf be shared by God? 

God's Will is that man have free choice; foreknowledge of the outcomes of events would negate man's Free Will. When Moshe insisted that the erev rav be liberated from Egypt, he believed that the shared experiences, the miracles they had witnessed and the uplifting experience at Sinai would help them abandon idolatry and join in the destiny of the Jewish People. Similarly, seeing innocents slaughtered certainly caused Moshe to protest, and to beg that these lives be spared. What evil could possibly be housed in the heart of an innocent child? Moshe saw through human eyes, but God's view is unbounded. He could see what Moshe could not: Micha and the erev rav, the very ones Moshe fought to save, would stand at the epicenter of the sin of the golden calf. While the Egyptians were guilty of the most heinous crimes – murdering Jewish children and crushing their bodies in the walls that they built, God is involved in each and every detail; nothing is left to chance. When Moshe prays for mercy, he cannot know the outcome.
Sparks of Holiness
In a stunning, counter-intuitive thesis, Rav Kook describes the “holy sparks of paganism”, arguing that even idolatry has something which is redeemable.

Perhaps this idea can be applied to the image of the face of a child in the eye of the storm of the sin of the golden calf echoes the innocent face of the keruvim which would later be housed in the Mishkan - a most ironic association indeed. Apparently, at the very core of this colossal sin lies something that can be transformed and used for divine service. Even pagan practice contains a kernel of spirituality. The most extreme pagan rites, such as the practice of molach (in which devotees sacrificed their own children to their deity) displayed a highly developed, though distorted, sense of worship. Practitioners were prepared to give up everything for the cruel pagan god, to offer up what they felt was their most powerful emotional attachment. Although this zeal is misplaced, the solution is not the abolition of religious fervor; when this fervor is channeled properly, redirected to the service of the One true God, it can be redeemed. This in Rav Kook’s mind was the universal, eternal message of the Akeida. The angel informs Avraham that the sacrifice of Yitzchak is unnecessary; it is Avraham's willingness to do so that is the religious experience, not the act of human sacrifice. The fervor, the desire to come closer to God, is a positive force; idolatry and child sacrifice are abhorrent.[20] Apparently, this is why Aharon's stalling tactics failed: he did not anticipate that asking the people to surrender their gold actually fanned the flames of their zeal. The people were caught up in a frenzy; they were prepared to give all to the deity. Tragically, their desire to experience total surrender was redirected, through their gold, to the calf.

So many were responsible for the sin of the golden calf[21]: the people, who underestimated Moshe; Aharon, whose stalling tactics were ineffective; the erev rav (mixed multitude), Micha, - and Moshe himself. Obviously, foremost on this list should be those who ignored the very commandments they heard from heaven, and submitted to their basest desires. Child-like innocence, represented by Micha, can be turned into idolatry, distorted by childlike fear and primitive superstition. Or, childlike innocence can be channeled into divine service, representing the most pure and untainted worship of God. The commandments, the Torah with which Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, give man the tools to distil from sin the positive energy which can be used to truly serve God.

[1] See Bamidbar 12:7: God Himself explains that Moshe is like no other man. Also see Dvarim 34:5 describing Moshe’s death. Moshe’s greatness notwithstanding, he was not divine; he dies, like all men.
[2] Following local custom is the explanation found in Midrash Tanchuma (Buber edition) KiTisa section 19, which explains why the angels who visited Avraham did partake of the food offered them. The Midrash asks how was Moshe sustained, and answers, “from the Shechina”.
מדרש תנחומא (בובר) פרשת כי תשא סימן יט
[יט] ויהי שם עם ה' ארבעים יום וארבעים לילה [לחם לא אכל ומים לא שתה] (שמות לד כח), אפשר לאדם שיהא ארבעים יום בלא אכילה ובלא שתיה, מלאכים ירדו מן השמים אצל אברהם ואכלו, משה עלה לעליונים ראה שאין שם לא אכילה ולא שתיה, לא אכל ולא שתה. (שנאמר) ויהי שם עם ה' וגו' (שמות לד כח). ומאין היה ניזון אותן מ' ימים, מזיו השכינה.
[3] See Yishayahu 25:7: "And he will destroy in this mountain the covering that is cast over all the people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." Also, Yishayahu 28:20: "For the bed is too short for a man to stretch himself on it; and the covering is too narrow for him to wrap himself in it."
ישעיהו פרק כה, ז
וּבִלַּע בָּהָר הַזֶּה פְּנֵי הַלּוֹט הַלּוֹט עַל כָּל הָעַמִּים וְהַמַּסֵּכָה הַנְּסוּכָה עַל כָּל הַגּוֹיִם:
ישעיהו פרק כח, כ
כִּי קָצַר הַמַּצָּע מֵהִשְׂתָּרֵעַ וְהַמַּסֵּכָה צָרָה כְּהִתְכַּנֵּס:
[4] Rashi, Shmot 32:2.
רש"י שמות פרק לב, ב
באזני נשיכם - אמר אהרן בלבו הנשים והילדים חסים על תכשיטיהן, שמא יתעכב הדבר, ובתוך כך יבא משה, והם לא המתינו ופרקו מעל עצמן:
[5] See Yishayahu 3:22: " The cloaks, and the mantles, and the gowns, and the handbags."
ספר ישעיה פרק ג, כב
הַמַּחֲלָצוֹת וְהַמַּעֲטָפוֹת וְהַמִּטְפָּחוֹת וְהָחֲרִיטִים:
Also see Menachem Zevi Kaddari, A Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 2006), page351.
[6] Mizrachi commentary Shmot 32:24.
מזרחי על שמות פרק לב פסוק כד
ואומר להם דבר אחד "למי זהב" לבד. והם מהרו והתפרקו ויתנו לי. דאם לא כן מה תשובה היא זו, הוא אמר, למי שיש לו זהב ילך ויביאהו, והם עשו מה שאמר להם, והלכו והתפרקו הזהב שבידם ויתנוהו לו, אם כן כל החטא היה שלו. ואשליכהו באש ולא ידעתי שיצא העגל הזה. ויצא. פירוש, מעצמו מבלתי שיצור אותו בחרט, דאם לא כן מאי "ויצא העגל הזה", הנה מאחר שהשליך הזהב באש והתיך אותו בחרט שצר בו צורת העגל, בהכרח הוא שיצא העגל הזה. אבל ממה שהעיד עליו הכתוב שבמקום שאמר למשה, "ואומר להם למי זהב" לבד, הוא אמר, "פרקו נזמי הזהב אשר באזני נשיכם בניכם ובנותיכם והביאו אלי", ובמקום שאמר למשה, "ואשליכהו באש ויצא העגל הזה", מעצמו, הוא לקח את הזהב "ויצר אותו בחרט ויעשהו עגל מסכה", נראה שמפני יראתו ממשה, הוציא שקר מפיו:

[7] As do many other commentaries for example see Kli Yakar Shmot 32:2, haKtav v'haKabalah Shmot 32:4.
כלי יקר על שמות פרק לב פסוק ב
והשליכו לאש להתיכו שהרי כך אמר אהרן למשה ואשליכהו באש ויצא העגל הזה. ובלי ספק שהגיד לו האמת ואמר להם אהרן שאחר ההתכה יעשה להם צורה והיה דעתו שלהוציא כלי למעשהו צריך הצורף להתעסק בו לפחות יום או יומים וחשב שבתוך כך יבא משה. והערב רב עשו על ידי מכשפות שיצא העגל הזה מעצמו ולא עשאו אהרן ומ"ש ויעשהו עגל מסכה לפי שנתעסק בהתכת הזהב מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו עשאו, והראיה שנאמר ויקח את העגל אשר עשו ולא נאמר אשר עשה:
הכתב והקבלה על שמות פרק לב פסוק ד
וגם לפי' ויצר אותו דצר יתי' בזיפא אין מוכרח להסב ויעשהו על אהרן כמ"ש במשכיל לדוד. והרא"ם אמר על מאמר אהרן ויצא העגל הזה שמפני יראתו ממשה הוציא שקר מפיו, הוסיף בזה חנם על אהרן חטא על פשע, הלא דובר שקרים לא יכון. וכבר תמהו על דבריו המחברים:
[8] Maharal Gur Aryeh Shmot 32:24.
ספר גור אריה על שמות פרק לב פסוק כד
[כב] לא ידעתי שיצא העגל הזה. אין פירושו שהיה יוצא העגל מעצמו, דהא כתיב (פסוק ד) "ויצר אותו בחרט ויעשהו עגל מסיכה", והרא"ם פירש כי מפני היראה הוציא שקר מפיו. ודבר זה אינו, שמפני היראה מוציא האדם שקר מה שאין יודע בו האדם, אבל הדבר שכל ישראל ידעו שאהרן עשה אותו, איך שייך בזה שיוציא שקר מפיו במלתא דעבידי לגלוי. אבל כך פירושו, "ויצא העגל הזה" שהיה בו חיים, כי אהרן אף על גב שעשה העגל סבור שלא היה דבר בו, ולא ישתחוו למת (רש"י פסוק ה), ומכשפי ערב רב עשו בכשפים בשעה שהשליך את הזהב לכור שיהיה בו חיים אחר שיהיה נעשה צורתו (רש"י פסוק ד), ולפיכך אמר "ואשליכהו ויצא העגל הזה" שיש בו חיים, ולא היה בו מתחלה חיים, רק אחר שעשה את צורתו. ומכל מקום שייך "ויצא העגל הזה" דמשמע שמן האש יצא, דודאי מן האש יצא, רק שהיה מחוסר צורה, וכאשר נעשה צורתו היה חי:

[9] For example see Rav Ovadia MiBartenura Mishna Megila 4:10.
רע"ב על מסכת מגילה פרק ד משנה י
מעשה עגל הראשון נקרא ומיתרגם - ולא חיישינן ליקרא דישראל:
מעשה עגל השני - מן ויאמר משה אל אהרן, עד וירא משה את העם וגו' ופסוק ויגוף ה' את העם, כל אלו נקראים ולא מיתרגמין, משום יקרא דאהרן:
[10] The Meshech Chochma Shmot 32:26 explains that repeating the story of sin causes forgiveness, Aharon who was forgiven of the sin did not require more atonement, but the Jewish people do require more atonement for this sin.
משך חכמה על שמות פרק לב פסוק כו
 מגילה דף כ"ה: מעשה עגל הראשון נקרא ומתרגם כו' קמ"ל כ"ש דניחא להו דהו"ל כפרה. בזה א"ש מה דלא מפרש הגמ' טעמא דעגל שני נקרא ולא מתרגם, דמשום יקרא דאהרן קפדי. ויעוין בירושלמי (ד-יא) ולפי הגמ' א"ש, דבני ישראל דלא הוה להו כפרה שלמה דכתיב וביום פקדי ופקדתי ואמרו רז"ל אין לך כל דור שאינו נוטל אונקיל אחת מחטא העגל (פרק חלק דף ק"ב) לכן מתרגם כי היכי דלהוי להו כפרה, אבל באהרן שנתכפר לגמרי לכן אינו מתרגם משום יקרא דאהרן. ודו"ק.
[11] Rashi Talmud Bavli Megila 25a sv uma’aseh egel harishon.
רש"י מגילה דף כה/א
ומעשה עגל הראשון - כל פרשת העגל עד ואשליכהו באש (שמות לב), ומה שחזר אהרן וספר המעשה הוא קרוי מעשה עגל השני, הוא שכתוב בו ויצא העגל הזה, ולא יתרגם, פן יטעו עמי הארץ ויאמרו ממש היה בו שיצא מאליו, אבל המקרא אין מבינין:
[12] Rashi Shmot 32:4.
רש"י על שמות פרק לב פסוק ד
 עגל מסכה - כיון שהשליכו לאור בכור באו מכשפי ערב רב שעלו עמהם ממצרים ועשאוהו בכשפים וי"א מיכה היה שם שיצא מתוך דמוסי בנין שנתמעך בו במצרים והיה בידו שם וטס שכתב בו משה עלה שור עלה שור להעלות ארונו של יוסף מתוך נילוס והשליכו לתוך הכיור ויצא העגל (סנהדרין קא):
אלה אלהיך - ולא נאמר אלה אלהינו מכאן שערב רב שעלו ממצרים הם שנקהלו על אהרן והם שעשאוהו ואחר כך הטעו את ישראל אחריו:

[13] See Rashi Shmot 32:7.
רש"י שמות פרק לב פסוק ז
שחת עמך - שחת העם לא נאמר אלא עמך, ערב רב שקבלת מעצמך וגיירתם ולא נמלכת בי, ואמרת טוב שידבקו גרים בשכינה, הם שחתו והשחיתו:
[14] Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 101b: "Micha, because he was crushed in the building":
 תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קא עמוד ב
מיכה - שנתמכמך בבנין
[15] See Rashi Sanhedrin 101b.
רש"י מסכת סנהדרין דף קא עמוד ב
נתמכמך בבנין - של מצרים, שנתנוהו בבנין במקום לבנה, כדמפרש באגדה, שאמר לו משה להקדוש ברוך הוא: אתה הרעות לעם הזה - שעכשיו אם אין להם לבנים משימין בניהם של ישראל בבנין, אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא: קוצים הם מכלין, שגלוי לפני אילו הם חיים היו רשעים [גמורים], ואם תרצה, תנסה והוציא אחד מהן, הלך והוציא את מיכה, לישנא אחרינא: נתמכמך - עסק בבנין עד שנעשה מך, כדאמרינן (סוטה יא, א) כל העוסק בבנין מתמסכן.
[16] Commentary of Ba'alei Hatosafot, Shmot 32:25.
פירוש בעלי התוספות על שמות פרק לב פסוק כה
כי פרוע הוא. ואם לא עשו להם זאת היו מעמידים להם מלך ומרה תהיה באחרונה:
ויצא העגל הזה. נראה שהתיך זהב ויצק בדפוס ויצא משם בבת אחת. וי"מ מיכה היה שם שיצא מתוך הבנין שנתמעך במצרים. וצריך פי' לפי' זה שהיו משקעים תינוקות ישראלים בבנין והיה משה מצטער. א"ל הקב"ה אל תצטער כי כל המשוקעים סופם היה לקלקל מעשיהם. וזרוק שמי המפורש להעלות אחד מהם משם ותראה מה אחריתו. לקח משם והשליכו והעלה מיכה ואותו השם בידו הלשיכו תוך הכור ויצאה עגל ולכך נקרא מיכה שנתמכמך בבנין:

[17] Rabbeni Bachya Shmot 32:4 states that the name Micha is similar to the word “crushed”.
רבינו בחיי על שמות פרק לב פסוק ד
ובמדרש ויעשהו עגל מסכה כיון שהשליך הזהב לכור באו מכשפי ערב רב שעלו עמהם ממצרים ועשאוהו בכשפים, ויש אומרים מיכה היה שם שיצא מתוך דמוס בנין שנתמעך בו במצרים והיה בידו שם שכתב בו משה עלה שור עלה שור לעלות ארונו של יוסף מתוך נילוס והשליכו לתוך הכור ויצא העגל גועה כשהוא מקטרג, התחילו אומרים אלה אלהיך ישראל על כן נקרא מיכה על שם שנתמעך בבנין:

[18] This Micha has also been identified with Michayhu from the book of Shoftim chapter 17.
ספר שופטים פרק יז, א-ה
וַיְהִי אִישׁ מֵהַר אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ מִיכָיְהוּ: וַיֹּאמֶר לְאִמּוֹ אֶלֶף וּמֵאָה הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח לָךְ וְאַתְּי \{וְאַתְּ\} אָלִית וְגַם אָמַרְתְּ בְּאָזְנַי הִנֵּה הַכֶּסֶף אִתִּי אֲנִי לְקַחְתִּיו וַתֹּאמֶר אִמּוֹ בָּרוּךְ בְּנִי לַד: וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת אֶלֶף וּמֵאָה הַכֶּסֶף לְאִמּוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר אִמּוֹ הַקְדֵּשׁ הִקְדַּשְׁתִּי אֶת הַכֶּסֶף לַידֹוָד מִיָּדִי לִבְנִי לַעֲשׂוֹת פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה וְעַתָּה אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ לָךְ: וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת הַכֶּסֶף לְאִמּוֹ וַתִּקַּח אִמּוֹ מָאתַיִם כֶּסֶף וַתִּתְּנֵהוּ לַצּוֹרֵף וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה וַיְהִי בְּבֵית מִיכָיְהוּ:וְהָאִישׁ מִיכָה לוֹ בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וַיַּעַשׂ אֵפוֹד וּתְרָפִים וַיְמַלֵּא אֶת יַד אַחַד מִבָּנָיו וַיְהִי לוֹ לְכֹהֵן: בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם אֵין מֶלֶךְ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו יַעֲשֶׂה:
And there was a man of Mount Ephraim, whose name was Michayhu. And he said to his mother, 'The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, about which you cursed, and spoke of it also in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.' And his mother said, 'Blessed be you by God, my son.' And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I consecrate the silver to God from my hand for my son, to make an engraved image and a molten image; now therefore I will restore it to you.' And when he had given back the money to his mother, his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the silversmith, who made an engraved image of it and a molten image; and they were in the house of Michayhu. And the man Micha had a house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Shoftim 17:1-5)
[19] Cited by Rashi Shmot 32:1.
רש"י שמות פרק לב
(א) כי בשש משה - כתרגומו, לשון איחור, וכן בשש רכבו, (שופטים ה כח), ויחילו עד בוש (שם ג כה) כי כשעלה משה להר אמר להם לסוף ארבעים יום אני בא בתוך שש שעות. כסבורים הם, שאותו יום שעלה מן המנין הוא, והוא אמר להם שלימים, ארבעים יום ולילו עמו, ויום עלייתו אין לילו עמו, שהרי בשבעה בסיון עלה, נמצא יום ארבעים בשבעה עשר בתמוז. בששה עשר בא השטן וערבב את העולם והראה דמות חשך ואפילה וערבוביא לומר ודאי מת משה, לכך בא ערבוביא לעולם. אמר להם מת משה, שכבר באו שש שעות ולא בא וכו', כדאיתא במסכת שבת (דף פט). ואי אפשר לומר שלא טעו אלא ביום המעונן בין קודם חצות בין לאחר חצות, שהרי לא ירד משה עד יום המחרת, שנאמר וישכימו ממחרת ויעלו עולות:
[20] Igrot ha-Re'ayah, vol. 2 (Jerusalem, 1961), p. 43 (letter 379).
[21] The language of Shmot 32:35 implies shared responsibility: "And God plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made."
ספר שמות פרק לב, לה
וַיִּגֹּף ה’ אֶת הָעָם עַל אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ אֶת הָעֵגֶל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אַהֲרֹן:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Parshat Tezaveh - Purim 5770

Parshat Tezaveh 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

Royal Clothing

While last week’s parsha addressed the materials needed to construct the Mishkan and its utensils, this week's parsha addresses those who would serve in the Mishkan; the kohanim – Aharon and sons.

שמות פרק כח, א-ב
וְאַתָּה הַקְרֵב אֵלֶיךָ אֶת אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְאֶת בָּנָיו אִתּוֹ מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן: וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת:
And take to you Aharon your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, that he may serve me as a kohen; Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, Aharon’s sons. And you shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon for splendor and for glory. (Shmot 28: 1,2)

The Torah then describes the clothing of the kohanim:

שמות פרק כח, ד-ה
וְאֵלֶּה הַבְּגָדִים אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשׂוּ חֹשֶׁן וְאֵפוֹד וּמְעִיל וּכְתֹנֶת תַּשְׁבֵּץ מִצְנֶפֶת וְאַבְנֵט וְעָשׂוּ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וּלְבָנָיו לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי: וְהֵם יִקְחוּ אֶת הַזָּהָב וְאֶת הַתְּכֵלֶת וְאֶת הָאַרְגָּמָן וְאֶת תּוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי וְאֶת הַשֵּׁשׁ:
And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and an embroidered tunic, a turban, and a sash; and they shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon and his sons, to serve me as kohanim. And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet wool, and fine linen. (Shmot 28: 4,5)

These instructions contain a combination of materials that is prohibited in all other garments:

ויקרא פרק יט, יט
אֶת חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ בְּהֶמְתְּךָ לֹא תַרְבִּיעַ כִּלְאַיִם שָׂדְךָ לֹא תִזְרַע כִּלְאָיִם וּבֶגֶד כִּלְאַיִם שַׁעַטְנֵז לֹא יַעֲלֶה עָלֶיךָ:
You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with mixed seed; nor shall a garment mixed of linen and wool come upon you. (Vayikra 19:19)

דברים פרק כב, יא
לֹא תִלְבַּשׁ שַׁעַטְנֵז צֶמֶר וּפִשְׁתִּים יַחְדָּו:
You shall not wear shaatnez (a garment made of different sorts), wool and linen together. (Devarim 22: 11)

Why would something which is forbidden in one context be deemed not only permissible, but a crucial part of divine service, in another context? This is not an insurmountable problem in theory: just as God declares this combination inappropriate in non-divine usage, He declares this as an approved element of ritual service in the Mishkan. And yet, unassailable as this logic may be, the reader is left with the task of understanding the underlying truths contained in both the prohibition and its exception. Perhaps if we understand why the Torah prohibits making garments from a mixture of wool and linen, we will be better able to understand why that prohibition is set aside for the bigdei kehuna, the priestly clothes.

However this poses a problem for Shaatnez is categorized as a hok, a law whose rationale eludes us. But while the reasons or reasoning behind laws of this type are not expressly stated in the Torah, our sages were not against offering suggestions of their own to explain hukim. In general, a distinction is made between mishpatim and hukim: Mishpatim are laws which might logically or naturally spring from the necessity to regulate and organize human interaction. Devoid of any divine imperative, people could have or would have created laws similar to those categorized as mishpatim. Their rationale is logical, clear, and would likely have been dictated by human nature and the necessity for a "social contract". Laws prohibiting murder, theft and adultery would easily fit into this category.

Hukim are laws which operate on different strata; often, they are symbolic representations of larger ideas. These laws are not intuitive, nor would human intelligence alone enable us to anticipate their necessity. Nonetheless, rabbinic tradition does not consider the rationale of a hok impenetrable or beyond our understanding.[1]Shaatnez is a prime example: Wool comes from the animal kingdom, while linen grows from the ground, and the writers of the midrash explain that these two divergent sources represent two individuals, who at the dawn of history delved into these two respective realms.

בראשית פרק ד, ב
וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת אֶת אָחִיו אֶת הָבֶל וַיְהִי הֶבֶל רֹעֵה צֹאן וְקַיִן הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה:
And she again bore his brother Hevel. And Hevel was a keeper of sheep, but Kayin was a tiller of the ground.

Kayin was a farmer, and his brother Hevel was a shepherd. Each of them, apparently independently, attempts to serve God by bringing an offering. This, then, is the first time in history that men initiate sacrifice as a means of coming closer to God.  It is this aspect of their offering that is reminiscent of the service of the kohanim, the agents through which all of Israel can bring their individual and collective sacrifices before God.

בראשית פרק ד, ג-ה
וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ יָמִים וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה מִנְחָה לַה’: וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן וַיִּשַׁע ה’ אֶל הֶבֶל וְאֶל מִנְחָתוֹ: וְאֶל קַיִן וְאֶל מִנְחָתוֹ לֹא שָׁעָה וַיִּחַר לְקַיִן מְאֹד וַיִּפְּלוּ פָּנָיו:
An era ended (in the course of time), and Kayin brought some of his crops as an offering to God. Hevel also offered some of the firstborn of his flocks and from the fattest ones, and God paid heed to Hevel and his offering. And to Kayin and his offering God paid no heed, and Kayin became furious and crestfallen. (Bereishit 4: 3-5)

Although each of the brothers hoped to serve God in his own way, jealousy plagued their relationship, and soon Hevel became the victim of his brother’s rage. The Midrash explains that as a result of this senseless murder a new law was introduced – a law that preserves and separates the two different realms of Kayin and Hevel, represented by wool and linen.[2] The rationale of this hok may be best expressed as a method of separating divergent strands, re-establishing clarity that was obscured by sin.

Kayin's behavior deserves a closer look in this context: while it contained no shaatnez, there was clearly something terribly wrong with his offering. A common denominator exists between Kayin and the prohibition against shaatnez: The Zohar teaches that Kayin himself was combination of two species. Kayin was conceived in the aftermath of the sin, indelibly stamped with the confusion of good and evil that resulted from his parents' eating from the forbidden tree. Thus, the prohibitions of kilayim and shaatnez are an outgrowth of that first sin, that first confusion. The poison which the Serpent convinced Hava to ingest was, in a word, confusion of good and evil. It is this venom that runs through Kayin's veins, and eventually mutates into the evil that gives birth to murder.

The Talmud traces this particular strand of evil down through the ages[3], from the Serpent through Eve to Kayin[4]. The spiritual heirs of this satanic streak are to be found in certain key positions throughout our history, and are embodied in the tribe of Amalek. One of the most insidious descendents of Amalek was a man named Haman, and rabbinic tradition stresses Haman's spiritual origins:
Haman was an extension of the confusion of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת חולין דף קלט/ב
המן מן התורה מנין? המן העץ [אשר צויתיך לבלתי אכל ממנו אכלת] (בראשית ג: יא)
Where is Haman indicated in the Torah? In the verse: 'Did you eat from the tree (hamin ha'etz) [from which I commanded you not to eat]? (Talmud Bavli Hullin 139b)

Like the Serpent, like Kayin, Haman was blinded by jealousy and hatred, and, as before, his fury turned murderous. The Serpent sought Adam's death, Kayin sought Hevel's death, and Haman was willing to destroy the entire Jewish people because he was slighted by one Jew.

Who was this one Jew, the bane of Haman's existence and the object of his murderous wrath? The Talmud's very brief comments give us a wealth of information:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת חולין דף קלט/ב
מרדכי מן התורה מנין? דכתיב (שות לא) 'מר דרור' ומתרגמינן מירא דכיא:
Where is Mordecai indicated in the Torah? In the verse (Shmot 31): 'Flowing myrrh', which the Targum renders as mira dachia. Talmud Bavli Hullin 139b

Mordechai is associated with the incense brought in the Mishkan. One of the primary tasks of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur is to bring the incense into the inner chamber, and the association of Mordechai with this central ritual of atonement is echoed and reinforced throughout the Book of Esther.

The theme of the clothes of the Kohen Gadol, detailed in this week's parsha, serves as an ironic subtext to the story of Purim. As the Megilah begins, we are told of the ostentatious celebrations King Ahashverosh orchestrates, to which he wears the finest splendor.

אסתר פרק א,ד
בְּהַרְאֹתוֹ אֶת עֹשֶׁר כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ וְאֶת יְקָר תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ יָמִים רַבִּים שְׁמוֹנִים וּמְאַת יוֹם:
When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honor of his excellent majesty many days, one hundred and eighty days. (Esther 1:4)

The Talmud notes a linguistic relationship between the clothing of the king and the clothing of the Kohen Gadol:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף יב עמוד א
'בהראתו את עשר כבוד מלכותו': אמר רבי יוסי בר חנינא: מלמד שלבש בגדי כהונה: כתיב הכא (אסתר א') 'יקר תפארת גדולתו' וכתיב התם (שמות כ"ח) 'לכבוד ולתפארת'.
"When he showed the riches of his glorious [tif'eret] kingdom": R. Yose b. Hanina said: 'This shows that he arrayed himself in the priestly robes. It is written here [Esther 1:4], ‘the riches of his glorious [tif'eret] kingdom, and it is written elsewhere [in connection with the priestly garments, Shmot 28], 'for splendor and for glory, [tif'eret]. (Talmud Bavli Megila 12a)

This linguistic similarity is more than coincidental. The Talmud unlocks for us a rich and significant sub-text by highlighting the use of these very specific descriptions. The great celebrations in Shushan were far from benign:

אסתר רבה (וילנא) פרשה א
'בשנת שלוש למלכו עשה משתה': ר' יהודה ור' נחמיה, ר' יהודה אמר בשנת שלש למלאכת הכסא, כיון שגמר מלאכת הכסא, עשה משתה לכל שריו ועבדיו, ור' נחמיה אמר בשנת שלש לביטול מלאכת בית המקדש, כיון שגמר לביטול מלאכת בית המקדש שלש שנים, עשה משתה לכל שריו ועבדיו,
"In the third year of his reign, he made a feast." (Esther 1: 3) R. Yehudah and R. Nehemiah gave different explanations. R. Yehudah said: 'It means, in the third year of the making of the throne. When he finished making the throne, "he made a feast for all his princes and his servants."' R. Nehemiah said: 'In the third year after he stopped the building of the Temple. When three years had passed after he stopped the building of the Temple, he made a feast…) Midrash Rabbah - Esther 1:15)

Ahashverosh donned the clothing of the Kohen Gadol and celebrated the fact that his Jewish subjects would remain dispersed and disunited. The construction of the new Temple had come to a halt; Jerusalem would remain barren, and the Jews would remain in exile.

The atmosphere among the Jews of Shushan was one of total confusion; instead of partaking in the Chanukat Habayit, the dedication of the Temple by the Kohen Gadol, they participate in festivities that mark the failure to rebuild the Temple. A drunken, lecherous despot wears the clothes of the High Priest. Confusion reigns; death and destruction seem close at hand.

Mordechai alone seems unconfused. He remembers who he is and where he is. He knows what the Jews need, what they must do. But he also fears that without the Temple, without repentance, they have little hope. There is no Kohen, no incense, no sacrificial rite with which to bring about a national awakening. Even the holy garments of the Kohen Gadol have been captured. And so, Mordechai dons sackcloth, shedding all the confusion that the trappings of the court engender, rejecting every expression of reconciliation with the festive atmosphere around him. In this context, other seemingly minor elements of the Book of Esther are cast in a new light: When Ahashverosh looks for a fitting reward for a loyal supporter, Haman's response resonates with new overtones: the honoree should be dressed in clothing worn by the king – not “the kings clothing”, but the clothing that the king has worn. We now understand that this is no arbitrary suit of clothes: it is the clothing of the Kohen Gadol that Haman wants. But at that point Haman is humiliated and forced to give these royal clothes to Mordechai.

Mordechai does not attend the party; he refuses to drink the wine, declines the king's offer of forbidden fruit[5]. He alone will not bow to temptation; he will not bow to Haman[6]. With prayer and a great deal of Divine intervention, his cousin Esther is catapulted to the palace and soon a plan takes form. The plan itself seems to play on the jealousy and anger of two evil men; through their weakness, salvation emerges. Haman's own hunger for power and glory lead to Mordechai being paraded through Shushan in the clothes of the Kohen Gadol. Haman's murderous fury leads to his own hanging from the gallows he prepared for Mordechai. Achashverosh's delight in the collapse of the aspirations of the Jewish People leads to the birth of new hope and the eventual completion of the Temple.

Parshat Tezaveh describes the clothing worn in the Temple, and these clothes are necessarily different from our normal attire. Ours is a world steeped in petty jealousy and hatred, a world driven mad by the confusion between good and evil. The prohibition against shaatnez is a symbolic reminder of the confusion that leads to death. As we are diligent in our dress, and we take care to maintain the distinction between the realms represented by wool and linen, we make a symbolic commitment. Through observance of the laws of shaatnez in our daily comportment, we remind ourselves that the hatred and jealousy between Kayin and Hevel resulted in fratricide, and we commit ourselves never to repeat this sin.[7]

Life within the confines of the Temple is quite different. The Temple is our meeting place with God. Here, as we approach God, confusion is dispelled. Within the Beit HaMikdash, wool and linen can be combined, must be combined. Here, sanity reigns; clarity triumphs. The Temple is a place of unity, straddling the territories of Yehuda, son of Leah, and Binyamin, son of Rachel.[8] Here, brothers are united; here, even Kayin and Hevel can exist side by side. This unity is the defining trait of Mordechai:

ספר אסתר פרק ב
(ה) אִישׁ יְהוּדִי הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה וּשְׁמוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן שִׁמְעִי בֶּן קִישׁ אִישׁ יְמִינִי.
There was a man of Yehuda in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim’i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite; (Esther 2:5)

Like the Beit HaMikdash itself[9], Mordechai is both of Yehuda and of Binyamin.
Mordechai represents unity and harmony, reconciliation and clarity. He was uniquely capable of seeing through the confusion. He was a symbol of the Temple, and of the Kohen Gadol. Like the incense that brought about forgiveness for the people, Mordechai was an agent of healing. He was the rightful owner of the 'garments of splendor and glory,' the rightful heir of the Kohen Gadol who used incense to dispel the confusion that causes sin. In truth, the holy clothing in which he was eventually adorned were an expression of his own inner 'splendor and glory.'[10]

[1] See Rabbi Abraham Besdin's adaptation of the lectures of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Man of Faith in the Modern World: Reflections of the Rav, volume 2  (Hoboken New Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, 1989), 91-116.
[2]According to the Midrash, the produce that Kayin offered was linen. See MidrashTanchuma Bereishit (Warsaw edition) section 9; Zohar part 3: 87a; Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer  chapter 21; Hizkuni and Baalei Tosafot to Devarim 22:10; Vilna Gaon commentary to the "Sifra Dezt'niuta" chapter 4. Also see Explorations (Jerusalem: Targum Press, 2000), Parshat Bereishit and Parshat Kedoshim.
מדרש תנחומא (ורשא) פרשת בראשית סימן ט
ויהי מקץ ימים ויבא קין וגו', יש מקץ שנה ויש שנתים ויש ימים ויש ארבעים שנה אמרו חז"ל בני ארבעים שנה היו קין והבל, ויבא קין מפרי האדמה מהו מן מותר מאכלו, ורבנן אמרו זרע פשתן היה, והבל הביא גם הוא מבכורות צאנו ומחלביהן לפיכך נאסר צמר ופשתים שנא' (דברים כב) לא תלבש שעטנז וגו' ואמר הקב"ה אינו דין שיתערב מנחת החוטא עם מנחת זכאי לפיכך נאסר,
זוהר חלק ג דף פז/א
קרבנא דקין הוה פשתים, וקרבנא דהבל הוה צמר, לאו דא כדא ולאו דא כדא, רזא דמלה, קין כלאים הוה, ערבוביא דלא אצטריך, סטרא אחרא דלא זינא דחוה ואדם, וקורבניה מההוא סטרא קא אתיא, הבל מזינא חדא דאדם וחוה, ובמעהא דחוה אתחברו אלין תרין סטרין, ובגין דאתחברו כחדא, לא אתיא מנייהו תועלתא לעלמא, ואתאבידו:
פרקי דרבי אליעזר - פרק כא
ויהי קין איש אוהב לזרוע ויהי הבל איש אוהב לרעות צאן זה נותן ממלאכתו מאכל לזה והגיע לילו יום טוב בפסח וקרא אדם לבניו ואמר להן עתידין ישראל להקריב קרבנות פסחים הקריבו גם אתם לפני בוראכם והביא קין מותר מאכלו קליות זרע פשתן והביא הבל מבכורות צאנו ומחלביהן כבשים שלא נגזזו לצמר ונתעבה מנחת קין ונתרצה מנחת הבל שנ' וישע ה' אל הבל ואל מנחתו ר' יהושע בן קרחא אומר אמר הב"ה חס ושלום שלא נתערבו מנחת הבל וקין לעולם אפי' בארג בגד שנ' לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדו
[3] Shaatnez שעטנז  has the same letters as SaTaN AZ שטן עז, which means 'powerful satanic force'. See Recanati on the Torah, Parshat Titzaveh; Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz, Shnei Luchot Habrit Parshat Ki Tezeh.
פירוש הרקאנאטי על התורה - פרשת תצוה
 ופירוש מילת שעטנז מצאתי לחכמי הקבלה שפירשו שיש שטן אחד ממונה על מי שלובש שעטנז ויכול להזיק והוא שטן ע"ז בצירוף אותיות שעטנז. והגוים שאינן יודעים לכוין במלה קורין לו שטאנס. ועל כן רשום בספר התורה שעטנז ג"ץ סימן התגין כדי להורות שהמתעסק בתורה נצול מהמקטרג ההוא שהוא מלאך המזיק שהוא שטן ע"ז ג"ץ צורר גדול לאדם יורד ומתעה עולה ומסטין נוטל רשות ונוטל נשמה.
של"ה פרשת כי תצא תורה אור
ולבוש שעטנז הוא ממש לבוש השטן בר מינן, וכן 'שעטנז' אותיות 'שטן עז'. וכן שוע טוה נוז ראשי תיבות 'שטן'. וזה לשון הרב רבי מנחם הבבלי (ספר טעמי מצות, לא תעשין ש"כ): שלא ללבוש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדיו, הטעם שלא לערב הכחות [ושלא] להזכיר עון קין (קין הביא זרע פשתן, והבל צאן שבו הצמר) שהרג להבל. 'שעטנ"ז' - שט"ן ע"ז עומד על ימין הלובשו לשטנו, כיון שלבשו נעשה יחדיו לחלקו ומנתו שבהתחברם יחד יתחזק כחו ואונו, וכל הלובש כלאים נחשב לידון ככומר לעבודה זרה רחמנא ליצלן. עכ"ל.
[5] According to many commentaries, the fruit of the forbidden tree in  Eden was grapes, wine.
[6][6] The Serpent tried to convince Hava that eating from the forbidden tree would transform them into gods; Haman, who required obeisance from all the king's subjects, attempted to set himself up as a deity as well.
[7] See my book  Explorations Parshat Kedoshim, where I note that the prohibition on shatnez immediately follows the verse instructing us to "love your neighbor as yourself".
[8] For a more detailed discussion of this idea, see my notes on Parshat Ki Tisa-Purim 5769:
[9] See Talmud Bavli Yoma 12a.
[10] But even these garments, the unique and otherwise-prohibited combination of wool and linen, do not complete the picture. The Zohar notes that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the Kohen Gadol enters the inner sanctum to seek forgiveness for the sins of the nation, he wears garments of pure linen, not mixed with wool. Significantly, it is linen clothing, the clothing reminiscent of Kayin, the man with blood on his hands, that is worn on Yom Kippur when approaching God. This is paralleled by Aharon who bore guilt for the idolatrous calf entering into the Mishkan on Yom Kippur (the holiday which commemorates the forgiveness granted the Jews after the Golden Calf). This garment represents Kayin’s attempt to serve God prior to his offering being rejected. See Rav Yehonatan Eybeshitz, Yaarot Dvash part one drush 5.
ספר יערות דבש - חלק ראשון - דרוש ה (המשך)
אבל הענין כי יום הכפור הוא בלי ספק יום מחילה וסליחה, כי השטן אין לו רשות לקטרג, אבל כשלובשין שעטנז שהוא שט"ן - ע"ז, אז אפילו ביום הכפור גבר כחו של שטן לקטרג, כי הוא מעורר ג"כ חטא הבל וקין בקרבנו צמר ופשתן, ולכך ביום הכפור אפילו בגדי כהונה שהותר בהן כלאים לא היה כהן גדול לובש, לבלתי תת לסטרא אחרא אחיזה ובגדי בד ילבש: