Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar 5762 - February 27, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Eclipse of Radiance

by L. Jungerman

At the end of the parsha about the eigel and its results, the Torah describes the awesome splendor of Moshe Rabbenu's face, radiating beams of glory. "And Aharon and all the Children of Israel saw Moshe and lo, the skin of his face beamed, and they were afraid to approach him" (Shemos 34:30). Rashi quotes the words of Chazal: "Come and see how potent is the power of sin! Until they did not extend their hands in sin, what does it say? `And the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire at the top of the mountain before the eyes of Bnei Yisroel' (Shemos 24:17) -- and they were not overwhelmed. But after they made the eigel, the very beams of glory that radiated from Moshe agitated them and made them tremble."

The entire nation is uplifted to the level of prophecy. The people saw the glory of Hashem with their naked eye and were transformed into a spiritual essence to such an extent that they were not afraid nor overwhelmed with awe at the truly awesome sight of Hashem's fiery, consuming glory. Chazal teach us that the river Dinor is created from the perspiration of the holy celestial creatures in the presence of the King of Majesty. And here, denizens of the earth, mortals made of earth- clay, gaze unabashedly at that consuming fire.

From that highest apex to the lowest nadir, to the state where they cannot even bear the beams reflected from Moshe's face. Just see how terrible is the power of sin! It transforms a simple reality from one end of the spectrum to the very opposite, unrecognizable far- end.

Let us now examine the sin that accomplished this metamorphosis, the horrendous act that effected such a drastic change. Let us at this point recall that the ones who were actively involved in the sin and were forewarned by witnesses, were all slain by the tribe of Levi, as is testified in this parsha. As for those who worshiped the Golden Calf but received no formal warning, it is written, "And Hashem smote the people." Those who took no part whatsoever in the idolatry were exposed by Moshe to the waters into which the ashes of the burnt Calf were strewn and which they were given to drink. The testimony proved irrevocably who had sinned and who not, for the sinners were stricken with swollen bellies from which they died.

Who, then, was left alive of whom it could be said that they feared to approach Moshe because of his awesome glory? Those who had taken no part whatsoever in the idolatry, but who had not protested it either.

It was this faction of the people for whom Moshe interceded by Hashem and asked for mercy and atonement. And Hashem acquiesced willingly, saying, "And Hashem said: I have forgiven, as you said."

We are talking here about a marginal, questionable sin for which there was a subsequent process of repentance, and that was subsequently specifically pardoned. It was, as Chazal put it, a mere peshitas yad, a trespassing of sin. Negligible and not deliberate.

And the results?

Horrendous! Unbearable. Total demolition of the previous condition. An abrupt, headlong descent from the peak of proximity to Hashem that had surpassed that of the celestial creatures where Israel had beheld [the glory] and had been unaffected. A sublime spirituality. And to the opposite extreme -- all the way to a state of total weakness, prostration, and spiritual helplessness expressed in the inability to even gaze upon a reflection of light from Moshe Rabbenu's face.

And this destructive force eats its way in, diffuses itself and does not stop its erosion. How long will it continue to devour and consume and debilitate? For how long will they be unable to approach and feast their eyes upon the radiation of Moshe's glory? "And Moshe replaced the veil over his face." And "And thus did he do henceforth, and thus was the custom with Israel until the day that the glory of Hashem gathered him up" (Ibn Ezra).

Irreversible damage!

These words lend a different dimension to the need for caution against anything approaching sin. Who does not know how much toil and effort is invested until one attains any level of spirituality? And who will not have pity upon all that effort lest it perish through a transition from Torah to sin and vice versa, from words of Torah to idle talk? For "Is he not the fool, the one who consciously loses what he is given?"

And the thought steals its way into my heart that our spiritual level is so far removed from the ideal, in spite of prodigious effort on our part. But there is no cause to wonder. Here we verily see that a setback through sin, a backsliding and stumbling, can catapult us all the way down and cause a drastic change as polar as heaven-from-earth.

All this is encompassed in what Abaye said to R' Pappa (in Shabbos 119), "There is no comparison of the breath of one who has sinned to the breath of young [cheder] children who are innocent of sin! The very world is supported by the latter!"

Abaye, a holy amora, does not value the Torah he studies as worthy of upholding the world in the same measure as the mere breath issuing from the mouths of student-babes whose study at that point is a mere repetitious mouthing of their teachers. Why is this? Because that breath is untainted, unbiased, not even distantly associated with sin or the hint thereof. That breath is purely spiritual in a measure that is capable of upholding the very world!

(Based on the introduction of R' Chaim Aharon Turchin zt'l to Maase Chiya)

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