Ki Sisa – Where there is a Will There is a Way

In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we find the tragic sin of the golden calf, which includes Moshe breaking the tablets and calling to the Jewish people: “Who is for Hashem come to me!” Correspondingly, in the Haftorah, we read of the offensive dictatorship of King Achav over the Northern Kingdom of Israel, with his non-Jewish evil Queen Jezebel who sought to kill all the true prophets of Hashem and spread idolatry throughout the empire. Eliyahu HaNavi fought to stop this hostile takeover of the ten tribes with a similar challenge of ‘who would be answered by their G-d.’ Achav’s 850 false prophets of baal and asheira idols and Eliyahu each took turns bringing sacrifices on Mount Carmel in front of the whole nation. The false prophets did a service and offered sacrifices to their gods and were not answered. Eliyahu made an alter out of twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and made a trench around the alter. Then he poured enough water over the wood on the alter to soak it and  fill the trenches. “And it was when the evening sacrifice was offered that Eliyahu HaNavi came near and said, ‘Hashem, the G-D of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yisrael, today let it be known that You are G-D in Israel and that I am Your servant, and at Your word have I done all these things. Answer me O Hashem, answer me, and this people shall know that You are Hashem G-d, and You have turned their hearts backwards’” (Melachim Alef 18:36, 37). A fire came down from Heaven, consumed the burnt offering, and licked up all the fire around it. The nation saw this and the haftorah concludes with the famous proclamation we announce at the end of our Yom Kippur davening every year: “Hashem hu HaElokim, Hashem hu HaElokim” (verse 39) – The Lord is G-D!
It would seem, looking from the outside, that Eliyahu was taking a tremendous risk, relying on an open miracle to turn the nation away from their idolatrous path. Rashi even points out that Eliyahu asked Hashem to make it evident to everyone that “at Your word have I done all these things,” because in fact he was bringing an offering to Hashem on an alter upon a mountain when it was prohibited by Jewish law to sacrifice anything outside the Beis HaMikdash. Rashi, quoting a rabbinic text, says that Eliyahu asked Hashem to answer him with fire and answer him in a fashion that they would not be able to  say that these actions were accomplished by magic, in order that they believe him when he speaks of an upcoming redemption. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

King David in his Tehillim proclaims: “A time to do for Hashem; they have made void Your Torah” (119:126). Rashi on this posuk says: “Our Rabbis, however, derive from this verse that we may transgress the words of the Torah in order to make a fence and a wall (or safeguard) for Israel… for example Eliyahu on Mount Carmel, who sacrificed on an alter outside of the Beis HaMikdash” (Brachos 63a). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

How does it make sense for any person to send a message about following the ways of Hashem, and for Hashem to go along with it, if he is transgressing the very word of Hashem, the Torah, the blueprints of creation and guidebook for mankind?

Analyzing this pasuk in tehillim carefully, the gemara in Brachos 63a observes: “Rava said, this pasuk, from beginning to end could be expounded and from the end to the beginning could be expounded.” Rashi says this means that if one wants to expound on this pasuk it can properly be expounded the way it was written, as well as the opposite way. The Maharsha adds that there are in fact two lessons that can be expounded.

The Gemara continue:, “From the beginning to the end they can expound, ‘A time to do for Hashem’ For what reason? Because, ‘They have made void your Torah.’” Rashi explains that there is a time to do for Hashem because they have made void your Torah. There are also times for Hashem to exact his judgement and punishment to those who transgress His will because they are making the Torah void.

On the other hand, the Gemara concludes: “From the end to the beginning the pasuk can be expounded, ‘They have made Your Torah void.’ For what reason? Because, ‘A time to do for Hashem.’” Rashi explains that those who do Hashem’s will by breaking His Torah, for example Eliyahu on Mount Carmel who brought an offering on an alter outside the Beis HaMikdash when it is normally prohibited, because it was a time to act and make a fence and safeguard amongst the Jews for the sake of Hashem.

To explain this phenomenon the Anaf Yosef elucidates that there are those who fulfill mitzvos for they feel forced to, without giving of their soul, and  think the mitzvah was fulfilled properly. Imagine if a person did a favor for someone in need even if he did it begrudgingly, not wholeheartedly; it is still a favor for that other person. But this is only true for man to his fellow man, since the one receiving the favor needs it; even if the giver feels forced, the receiver gets what he needs. However, Hashem does not need anything; he only wants us to do His will, as it says: ‘and he will be brought closer to doing His will.’ If it is not His will it is not good. To this, we are commanded at the proper time to break the mitzvos of the Torah temporarily because there is no need for the mitzvah itself, rather what is important is the will and giving of our souls.  herefore the mitzvah is temporarily pushed off.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Eliyahu HaNavi in his time, and also Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi, for example, in his time when he published the Mishna putting the Oral Torah to writing, were allowed to temporarily transgress the Torah because they understood what was the will of Hashem at that moment, and gave their lives for the sake of Hashem and His Torah. This decision is obviously not a simple task to decide, and if messed up then the opposite side of the coin, the posuk from beginning to end, would apply; strict judgement and punishment.

It is very easy to be extra strict and even too lenient, but a real leader has no bias whatsoever, and knows how to make clear-cut decisions purely for the sake of doing Hashem’s will, giving his whole self for the sake of the Torah, even if it looks like it defies the Torah. For he or she understands that  that is a time to act to save the Torah. Indeed, this is what Hashem in facts wants to be done, for ultimately all Hashem wants is for us to give of ourselves for His sake.

For this reason we must always follow His mitzvos… and sometimes we are forced to transgress them.