Forty days before Yom Kippur, Moshe went up to Sinai, and after forty days he returned with the second set of Tablets and with Hashem’s announcement: “I have forgiven!” During Moshe’s “negotiations” with Hashem, Moshe was commanded twice (Shemot 33:21; ibid. 34:1-2): “v’nitzavta …” (you shall stand).
We have mentioned in the past that according to some opinions, Bnei Yisrael actually had three aronot (arks). If so, these are the three: 1. The aron with the luchot (Tablets), which was wood encased in gold, with a kaporet and the keruvim above. 2. A wooden aron, which held the broken first set of luchot. 3. The aron mentioned in Parashat B’ha’alotcha, which traveled with the people into war. One can explain that it was the Divine Presence that accompanied the Israelite camp that ensured victory and the return of the multitudes that the pasuk (Bamidbar 10:36) refers to.
Parshas Ki Sisa discusses the laws of Shabbos and of the yomim tovim. We are all aware that there are 39 melachos of Shabbos, and most of us are fairly familiar both with the concepts and with many of the details of such varied melachos as kosheir, tying knots, boreir, selecting, and hotza’ah, carrying. However, there are several melachos, for example, menapeitz, toveh, meisach, oseh batei nirin and potzei’a that are unfamiliar, and perhaps we could say virtually unknown, to most people. Since all of these melachos are involved in the manufacture of textiles, they all apply min haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov according to all opinions, which makes a wonderful incentive to study them. I will present these melachos in the order in which they appear in the list of the 39 melachos in the Mishnah in Shabbos (73a).
Purim, with its central mitzva of reading Megillat Esther, finds us in the midst of our preparations to read Parashat Ki Tisa. This prompts me to look for overlapping themes. I have always been fascinated by the Jewish people’s change in fortune with Mordechai and Esther’s ascendance to prominence and the fall of Haman. Despite Achashveirosh’s sudden good will toward the Jews, he presented Mordechai and Esther with a frightening refusal. He claimed that he was incapable of rescinding his/Haman’s orders to have the Jews killed. He just allowed them to write new letters – that do not contradict the first ones (see Malbim, Esther 8:8). The letter that Mordechai sent simply allowed the Jews to actively defend themselves. It did not even command local officials to side with them (Esther 8:11), as indeed they had been told previously to take part in the murder. Why should we think that the Jews would have the upper hand in the fighting that transpired?
There are many basic questions to consider when analyzing the sin of the Golden Calf. How is it that Bnei Yisrael changed their approach so quickly when Moshe came down from the mountain? After all, when Chur rebuked the people, they killed him (Sanhedrin 7a), and here Moshe destroyed their idol and enlisted the Tribe of Levi to fight the sinners without opposition!