THE MAIN THEMES OF THE PARSHA
CENSUSES– The unification of the people through the common giving of the half-shekel, combines the merits of the people, raising them to a higher level, and offering protection (atonement) to the individual.
THE GOLDEN CALF– Its hard to understand the episode of the Golden Calf. Having just experienced the Sinai Revelation and the miracles of the Exodus, how could the Chosen people have deteriorated so Quickly as to trade G-d’s glory for an Idol?
THE THIRTEEN ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY– We are introduced to this prayer which contains thirteen names and descriptions of G-d, all of them referring to his compassion in various situations. It is recited in a time of crises and would gaurantee to invoke his mercy
• ‘When you take a census of the Israelites, each man shall give a ransom for himself to G-d so the census does not lead to plague’ (11:12)
What’s the connection between plague and census? Rashi and many commentaries say that the plague results from the evil eye – not from sin. The tally draws every individual from the general mass, establishing him as a separate unit so he’s judged independently. Therefore, plague strikes him more severely than if he were being watched as part of a community. As a result, G-d instructed Moshe to collect from each individual coins as opposed to counting the individual person. The custom remains today of not counting our brethren individually.
• The reason why a half a shekel is required is to show that G-d has forgiven the Israelites for the sin of the golden calf. They sinned after a half of day when Moshe didn’t return.
• Here is another example that the Torah is not in chronological order: The census took place after the sin of the golden calf which we will read later in the Parsha.
• G-d ordered that a large copper basin with spouts be constructed and put in the yard of the Mishkan. It was filled with water every morning, so the kohanim poured water over their hands and feet before commencing their task. This water was not meant to cleanse them for health hygiene purposes, but more for enhancing them spiritually and to cleanse themselves from impurities. The power of water can change and elevate one spiritually. Here is the source of washing hands whether for the morning ritual, meal ritual and bathroom rituals.
• The shemen hamishcha was prepared by taking numerous spices. Each spice was crushed separately; then they were blended and soaked in water so that their aroma would be absorbed in the water. Olive oil was added to the water, and the mixture was boiled until the water evaporated and only the spiced oil remained. That oil (oil of anointment) was preserved in a flask to be used for the purpose of anointing the kohen gadol and kings from the dynasty of David.
• The power of evil strikes again invoking an uneasy feeling that the Israelite leader, Moshe, is dead and therefore confusing the Jews in their calculation of when his return was to be. As a result, they came to their second-in-command, Moshe’s brother, Aharon, and demanded a new conduit, a new go-between to G-d. Apparently Aharon, feeling pressured, instructed them to build a golden calf. The steps Aharon comprised to get to this golden calf was difficult and he believed would take them some time. This delay, Aharon thought, would give Moshe the time needed to return before it was built. However, in their haste and enthusiasm, they finished it rather quickly.
• There is an expression ‘one sin leads to another sin’. Many sages comment that the celebration of the golden calf led to sexual misconduct.
• It’s not exactly clear what was Aharon’s role in this tragedy. The fact that he and his sons remained in the most coveted position in the nation indicates he was not at fault. Although, some commentaries say he did get punished for his role; they hint that there is a link between the sin of the golden calf and the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The fact, though that the incident occurred under his leadership; even though he personally was not involved, he has to take the responsibility. The captain is responsible for anything that occurs on the ship.
• Moshe breaks the tablets after returning from the mountain and seeing the Israelites in a state of sin. He then punishes the aigel worshipers with death and tests the Israelites with the waters of sotah. This was done by taking the golden calf and burning it; crushed the remains; mixed it with water; and had the Israelites drink it (the sotah was a married woman who was suspected by her husband of adultery. Her integrity was tested by having her drink specially prepared waters, causing her to perish if she was guilty).
Moshe goes up the mountain a second time to get a second set of tablets.
Moshe was only able to see the backside of G-d. Apparently seeing the front would be too much for a human to handle. Many commentaries ask what exactly did Moshe mean by saying ‘let me see your presence’.
G-d reveals the thirteen attributes of mercy. He informs Moshe a method of guaranteeing mercy in which we invoke as the crux of our Yom Kippur prayers. We frequently apply the virtue of our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. However, these thirteen attributes, if said with proper concentration and sensitivity, will be very effective. Sephardic custom is to say it daily as well.
• Observing Pesach is mentioned.
• Here is the source of pidyon haben; the redeeming of the first-born. If a person becomes a father of a first born, he has to buy his baby back from the kohen.
• The holiday of Pesach is mentioned.
The meeting with G-d on the mountain puts Moshe on the status of an angel. He didn’t sleep or eat for that period.
Credit to: Rabbi Avi Matmon