Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmini
To dedicate this lesson

Which Tablet Was Broken After Cheit Ha’egel?

Why does Aharon bring A Chatat on the 8th day? and what does this have to do with the half A Sekel contribution and the selling of Joseph?


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Adar II 19 5782
One of the korbanot that Aharon had to bring on the eighth day of the Mishkan’s inauguration was an egel l’chatat (a calf as a sin offering). Bnei Yisrael had to bring a se’ir izim (goat) as a sin offering. The Sifra (Shemini 1:3) attributes Aharon’s chatat as a further level of atonement for his part in forming the egel (Golden Calf). Bnei Yisrael’s offering was an atonement for the sin of the ancestors in the sale of Yosef (which they covered up by slaughtering a goat to dip Yosef’s coat in its blood).

In the past, we have presented a thesis that the sale of Yosef was the root cause of the Golden Calf and of the execution of the Ten Martyrs, which included Rabbi Akiva. As in contemporary times we seem to always be struggling with national tendencies of sinat chinam (baseless hatred). We will now try to look at the matter of the sale of Yosef from a different perspective.

The Yerushalmi (Shekalim 2:3) investigates the idea behind the donation of a half-shekel coin (the full shekel coin weighs 20 gera), which is presented as an "atonement for the soul" (Shemot 30:15). R. Yehuda says that its significance was as an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, which was done in the middle (half) of the day. R. Yehoshua says that since the people violated the Ten Commandments, they should each bring a coin that weighs ten gera. Rav Berechia continues on the theme of the significance of weights for atonement. Since Bnei Yisrael sold Rachel’s firstborn for 20 silver coins, all Jews have to give the weight of 20 silver coins for their firstborn son.

The first two agree that the half-shekel coin is somehow related to the sin of the Golden Calf. One focuses on the textual hint that relates to the time of day and one focuses on the Ten Commandments, which were violated in the process of the horrendous, sinful episode. Rav Berechia, in that same discussion, connects the coins to the sale of Yosef. There is a final opinion in the Yerushalmi that connects the sale of Yosef with the half-coin. The brothers, who received 20 silver coins, each received two and, says R. Pinchas, Bnei Yisrael would have to give a half-shekel, equal in weight to those silver coins.

Let us present a new idea about the connection between the Golden Calf, the sale of Yosef, and the Ten Commandments. Yosef’s brothers sinned in the realm of between man and his fellow man. The Golden Calf was a sin between man and his Maker. The former is presented on one Tablet given to Moshe, and the latter on the other. The half-shekel atonement hints that it is a mistake to try to separate between these elements, as we must remember there are two halves. We need to look for the common denominator and to complete ourselves. We also need, nationally, to realize that we must learn from those who put a stress on social justice, as well as those who stress service of Hashem, in order to have a full picture.

In the hope that we will all learn to treat each other with respect, let us build a more perfect society in the State of Israel, one which is fit for the Divine Presence to dwell amongst us.
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