Parshas Ki Sisa - Extending Ourselves

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Posted on 03/01/24

After the Sin of the Golden Calf, G-d expresses His intention to eradicate the entire Jewish nation, preserving only Moshe through whom a new nation would arise.

Moshe protests, requesting that G-d forgive them, otherwise he affirms, מחני נא — erase me now, מספרך — from Your book that You have written.

In the simplest understanding Moshe is forfeiting his existence if it is not intertwined with the Jewish nation as he knew it.

We are taught that the word Moshe uses to express his desire to be 'erased' from history, מחני, possess the same letters that spell out מי נח — the waters of Noach. This contrasts Noach's failure to sacrifice his life for his 'people' — the Generation of the Flood, accepting their doomed fate and his escaping death, with Moshe putting himself on the line to prevent the decimation of the Jewish people.

Is it merely Moshe's willingness to die, rather than to continue living without his beloved people, that granted the entire nation a reprieve despite their having succumbed to this grievous sin? Can that alone justify their being saved? 

What book to be erased from is Moshe referring to?

The Holy Sar Shalom of Belz explains that it is referring to the Book of Life that the virtuous are inscribed in. Moshe having heard of the entire people now being inscribed in the Book of Death that is reserved for the wicked, asks to be removed from the Book of Life, preferring to be numbered with his people in the Book of Death.ehe

G-d's responds to this by telling him, "Whoever has sinned against Me, him I will erase from My book.'

This reply would seem to be a total rejection of Moshe’s suggestion, with G-d asserting that only the sinners should be erased from the Book of Life, but not the virtuous Moshe.

The Sar Shalom brilliantly interprets G-d's response as not only consenting to Moshe but doing him one better.

Moshe only sought to remove his fate from among those recorded in the Book of Life rather than forsake his beloved flock. His intent was to be bonded and fated with them in the Book of Death and die with them if that’s what it takes.

G-d however had a better idea.

Agreeing with Moshe in principle that they shall be entwined forever, but rather than Moshe being inscribed among the wicked, G-d will have them all etched among the destiny of the virtuous with Moshe. When G-d states ‘whoever has sinned, him I will erase from My book’, He meant from the Book of Death, and now to be placed instead with Moshe among the righteous in the Book of Life.

Where is the justice in this? How can sinners be given a pardon based simply on Moshe’s throwing down the gauntlet?

There is a concept known as אתפשטותא דמשה בכל דור ודור — the extension of Moshe in each generation. The moment Moshe devoted his entire being to the welfare of the Jewish nation in his declaration, 'erase me', a transformation took place. From this moment on every core soul of the Jewish people possesses an essence of Moshe, for eternity. Although this a powerful kabbalistic idea beyond the scope of this essay, on the simplest level it means that each one of us has an inherent ability to represent an aspect of Moshe's greatness.

In Moshe's defense of his people, he conveyed that he utterly believed and knew that each one of us can achieve perfection, no one is incapable, there is always hope. Moshe refused to accept fatalism.

It was not merely the merit of his self-sacrifice that rewarded him the saving of the nation. He effected a reprieve by fusing an inseparable bond between himself and the people, which would now empower each one of us to realize that greatness and never despair. In a sense Moshe revealed to each of the 600,000 souls the core virtuousness we each have and can never lose, despite our failures.

G-d affirmed this new consciousness by indeed inscribing us in the Book of Life, together with Moshe, a book reserved solely for the righteous.

Perhaps this profound truth is what the Rambam alludes do in his Laws of Teshuva, when discussing our status as fully free-willed individuals who are all capable of becoming a צדיק כמשה רבינו — righteous as Moshe our teacher.

The Rambam adds that just like we can choose to be great like Moshe, so too we could elect poorly and become a villain akin to Yeravam ben Nevat.

He was the first king of the Kingdom of Israel after the Ten Tribes seceded from the Kingdom of Yehudah after King Solomon's death. Yeravam closed the roads to the Temple and set up golden calves to prevent his subjects from serving G-d.

Even when G-d offered him a chance to return, promising him that he would walk together with King David in Gan Eden, all he wanted to know was who would walk in front. When G-d responded, "the son of Yishai", he rejected the offer.

Why of all the infamous cast of evildoers, was Yeravam selected as the contrasting villain against the righteous Moshe?

One who causes the community to be meritorious, no sin will come by his hand. One who causes the community to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent. Moshe was meritorious and caused the community to be meritorious, so the community's merit is attributed to him… Yeravam the son of Nevat sinned and caused the community to sin, so the community's sin is attributed to him(אבות ה יח)

This Mishna in Avos provides the key to appreciating this dichotomy.

We must emulate Moshe if we are to attain secret access to who we truly are and avoid the pitfalls of sin.

The famed Mashgiach, Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes that the key to successful personal development is firstly, to know we are each unique and not 'stam' a person, and secondly, that we are only as special as we devote ourselves to the 'klall' — the community.

Moshe invests in us each, remarkable worth, but we must in turn utilize our greatness in tending and promoting others in their journeys, validating, and appreciating their challenges and accomplishments.

Yeravam who sought personal success not grounded on greatness of character, was incapable of truly valuing others and manipulated them away from their destined greatness for his own quest for power. He chose to quell the inspiration of his 'Moshe' soul and was left to the consequence of his choices.

May we be inspired by those who appreciate their own strengths and devote those talents to emulating Moshe in merging ourselves selflessly to serving and valuing others unconditionally.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן