Nachal novea; makor chochma -
A flowing river; the source of wisdom (Mish. 18:4)

Parshas Ki Sissa 5756

(Exodus 30:11-34:35)

"The people (the Mixed Multitude) saw that Moses had delayed in descending the mountain [Mount Sinai when he had gone up to receive the Torah], and the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us..." (Exodus 32:1)


No matter how unpleasant things may seem, it is precisely through encountering and working to elevate the energies of adversity that we come close to Hashem.

The sin of the Golden calf was precipitated by a tragic miscalculation. Moshe (Moses) went up to Mount Sinai on the seventh of the Hebrew month of Sivan and said he would be there for forty full days. This excluded the day of his ascent, for he ascended Mount Sinai in the middle of the day. The people misunderstood and included the day of his ascent, thinking he would return on the sixteenth of Tamuz instead of the intended seventeenth. When noon of the sixteenth arrived and Moshe had not returned, the people panicked. Sahtan [the angel associated with evil] seized the opportunity and showed them an image of a dead Moshe being carried in heaven. (Rashi) In their panic, the mixed multitude of converts influenced the Jews to build and worship the Golden Calf. The word bo'shaysh, in our verse, is translated by Targum Onkelos as 'delayed'. Rashi points out that this word could also be read bi'shaysh, meaning in the sixth hour, referring to noon. This means that at noon they began to stray. Why did the Torah find it necessary to tell us the exact time they started to commit their sin? What significance does this have? In the following paragraphs, based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman and his student Rav Noson, we will examine this seemingly insignificant point.


Everyone has many things that they are unhappy about in this world. So they complain, gripe, are annoyed. This occurs because Hashem's light, which has the power to bring perfection to the world, lies dormant, hidden within physicality. Hashem is the source of all perfection and joy, there can be no perfection or joy without Him. Rabbi Nachman taught that one of the reasons why Hashem created this world is that, through it, His creatures would be able to learn about Him. It is human nature that a person does not appreciate good health until he looses it. The same is true regarding our relationship with Hashem. His apparent absence makes us appreciate Him all the more. Because Hashem is hidden, there is so much missing, so many imperfections in this world. However, the positive side to this is that our lack makes us acutely aware of how much we need Hashem and how much we benefit from following in His ways. When people do not accept and follow His ways, there is little incentive to do good, and so evil, injustice, and corruption proliferate. The physical world is a reflection of the spiritual worlds. Therefore, through encountering all the complex facets of this world such as nature, science, human relationships, economics, politics etc. we can learn much about Hashem as well. This is one of the reasons why Hashem created the world as He did.

Rabbi Nachman taught that since Hashem's light is infinite, it had to be constricted in order to make room for the creation of the world and ensure its continued existence. This constriction is referred to as tzimtzum, and introduces the spiritual energies of harshness, din, into the world. When Hashem's light is hidden, all of the negatives described above can occur. No matter how unpleasant this may seem, it is precisely through encountering and working to elevate the energies of adversity, din, that we come close to Hashem. Rabbi Nachman explains that Hashem is hiding within the adversity itself, and therefore the difficulty actually leads us to Him, as the verse says, "[As Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah,] the people stood from afar [at the foot of the mountain, because they were afraid to encounter adversity and lacked the expertise to deal with it. However,](Moshe approached the thick cloud for there [in the doom and gloom of adversity] was Hashem [to be found.

The man of faith, Moshe, possessed the necessary skills to confront adversity head on, and as a result, specifically within the thick cloud of adversity, he was able to find Hashem.]" (Exodus 20:18)

The creation of the world did not cease after the first seven days described in the book of Genesis. Rather, the world is constantly being renewed and recreated. It is always in a state of change and growth. Manifestations of the earth's perpetual transformation include the varying weather, climate, tides, seasons; the rise and fall of political powers, births and deaths, etc. To each succeeding generation, Hashem reveals more of His infinite wisdom through advances in Torah knowledge, science, technology, etc. Thus, we are given ever-greater opportunities to learn more about Him. In this way, Hashem ensures that there is a incessant unfolding of creation, as we say in our daily prayers, "With compassion, and in His goodness [Hashem] renews daily and perpetually the work of creation."


In the ongoing process of creation, many of the changes must take place on the spiritual level before they can be manifested physically. The holy Ari says that there are three distinct spiritual processes that actively bring change to the world every single day. Each one acts independently, during its own particular segment of the three segments of the day--morning, noon, and night. In order to sanctify and facilitate these three spiritual processes, the patriarchs, and later the sages, instituted the three daily prayers of Ar'vit, Shacharit, and Mincha.

During the night, totally new, unique spiritual vibrations descend to the world, emanating from Hashem's infinite light. They are energies which have never before come to the world and will never return again. They nourish and influence the world in a singular way, promoting many types of physical changes in the world, different from any previous alterations. Initially, Hashem's light is too intense for the world to absorb. It must first be filtered. The filter is the darkness of night. This is the time when we pray Ar'vit, the evening prayer. Praying Ar'vit helps constrict Hashem's infinite light as it descends, so it can be tolerated by this finite world.

In the morning, after Hashem's light has been adequately constricted by the darkness of the night and by reciting the evening prayer, it is now ready to be absorbed by this world. The time this occurs is sunrise, when the light of day begins to fill the world. This is the manifestation of Hashem's constricted light going through the process of being absorbed by the world. To facilitate this process, we pray the morning prayer, Shacharit. Hashem determines which actions He wants in the world on a particular day and implements His desire by placing certain wavelengths within the emanations of light. After the light has been absorbed and distributed throughout the creation, each aspect of creation uses the light for spiritual nourishment, becoming energized to fulfill its designated mission for that day. From noon until sunset, that day's light gradually recedes in order to make room for the next day's brand new light. As mentioned above, Hashem's light must descend through the filter of darkness so it can be safely absorbed by the creation. So, this process actually begins at noon, when the sun begins to set and daylight starts to wane. The afternoon prayer, mincha, harmonizes this process.


The absence of Hashem's light allows the forces of evil to dominate. As Hashem's light recedes from noontime onwards, the forces of evil grow stronger. As they strengthen, they attack people's minds, creating negative and confusing thoughts. Therefore, the sages gave the following exhortation, "Rav Chelbo(said in the name of Huna, 'A man should always take special care about the afternoon-prayer [and be sure not to miss reciting it]. For even Elijah [the prophet] was favorably heard only while offering the afternoon-prayer." (Talmud: Berachot 6b) Thus, the recitation of mincha helps save a person from the confusing and bad thoughts that come from the strengthened forces of evil during the afternoon.

[The holy Baal Shem Tov says, "Where a person places his thoughts, that is where all of him is." (Sefer Baal Shem Tov: Beraishis) In addition, the Magid of Mezrich (the leader of the Chassidic movement after the Baal Shem Tov) taught that when a person thinks about evil things, he constricts his spiritual essence into those things. He thus removes himself from the realm of Hashem's love and is subject to judgment. Whenever a person thinks about a certain place he draws his spiritual essence there. (Magid D'vawrav L'Ya'akov 48) In other words, one's thoughts transport his soul to that place, whether it be to the realm of holiness or impurity.] Therefore, Rav Noson explains that in order for us to purify our soul, we must focus our thoughts on Hashem. However, the forces of evil try to prevent this by assaulting us with all kinds of impure and negative thoughts.


Repentance, which means to reunite one's essence with Hashem, is achieved when we are able to extricate ourselves from these impure and spiritually harmful thoughts by focusing on pure and good thoughts. As mentioned above, during the afternoon, when the forces of evil are strengthened, they attempt to sever the soul's connection to Hashem by inducing corrupt thoughts. Furthermore, the afternoon is the time when we are most immersed in the material world, for this is the time when most people are involved in their occupations. This makes it extremely difficult to focus one's thoughts on holiness. Mincha helps us focus and connect our thoughts to Hashem at this most critical time, amidst the hustle and bustle of earning a livelihood and the assaults from the forces of evil. So the mincha-prayer is an oasis of spirituality that saves us from total disconnection from Hashem.

Based on the above, it would seem that the afternoon is the worst time of the day, and if we could somehow avoid it , we should. Rav Noson says, however, that the trials and tribulations of the afternoon affords us the best opportunity to fully repent and reconnect with Hashem. Therefore, if one is able to focus on Hashem during this most chaotic time, using mincha as a starting point, he will be able to atone for all of his past misdeeds, as King David wrote, They [the forces of evil, who were created from my sins] surround me, they surround me; in Hashem's Name, I cut them down [I destroy them by connecting myself to Hashem through repentance]." (Psalms 118:11) In addition, if one is able to focus on Hashem despite the distractions of the afternoon, he will be able to completely destroy the forces of evil, because there is an axiom that evil can only be eradicated at its source. [This is akin to ridding a garden of weeds. It can only be done by getting to the root of the weeds. Just pulling off the leaves does not help.]


There are three levels of repentance. Depending on the type of sin committed, we must strive for atonement on the levels of action, speech, and thought. Every sin originates in thought. Therefore, any sin entailing action or speech not only damages the spiritual essence of the particular limb involved and/or the spiritual root of one's speech, but also spiritually damages the mind. So, atonement and the repair of spiritual damage must always occur on the level of thought. This is precisely why noontime affords the best opportunity for full repentance. A sin creates negative spiritual energies that persist until there is atonement. Rabbi Nachman taught that the essence of true repentance lies in never repeating the sin...One must be in the place where the sin was committed, under the same circumstances, and let the temptation stand before his eyes. When a person is sure that he can do this, without succumbing to the temptation, then he has broken his Evil Inclination and has truly repented. (Sichot HaRan 71) Rabbi Nachman echoes the Tanya's teaching that a person cannot always stop bad thoughts from entering his mind. But he does have the power to reject them once he becomes conscious of them. This is vital to the atonement process. Sinning starts when temptation enters our minds and we succumb to it. When we decide to repent but are tempted again, we must realize that this is an opportunity to fully atone by rejecting and not acting upon the enticement. [As mentioned above, the holy Baal Shem Tov says, "Where a person places his thoughts, that is where all of him is." Therefore, one can attain complete atonement by rejecting his bad thoughts, just as if he returned to the actual location of a sin and there, resisted the renewed temptation.] (1 Lekutai MoHaran 27:8) When we are assaulted with all sorts of improper and confusing thoughts, (which more often than not, occurs during the afternoon) and we resist the urge to sin, this breaks the spiritual energies created by our past transgressions, and rectifies the sin at its root--the level of thought. Thus, the afternoon-prayer is a powerful tool in helping us completely atone.


In truth, it is understandable how our daily encounters with the forces of evil and the necessary focus on physicality in order to earn a livelihood might lead us to despair. A person may wonder, "How can I ever expect to achieve pure and lofty thoughts and strengthen my bond with Hashem, when I have to contend daily with situations which threaten to swallow up my soul. Is there any hope for me!? It seems like I am wasting my life away, overly involved in materialism, neglecting that which is truly important, the development and enrichment of my soul!" Rabbi Nachman says that one should not despair even when he is overwhelmed by evil thoughts. "One may feel overwhelmed by evil thoughts and desires. When he strengthens himself, and is victorious in overcoming them, Hashem has great delight from this. The struggle itself is very precious to Hashem and never goes unnoticed. Great kings used to pit animals against each other on their festivals. They would watch the battle, and have great enjoyment from the victory of their favorites. The Tikuney Zohar refers to thoughts as beasts. Holy thoughts are kosher beasts, while unclean thoughts are non-kosher beasts. They are deliberately pitted against each other from on high. Hashem has great joy when the kosher animals completely vanquish the unclean animals. Vanquishing our improper thoughts can only be accomplished by ignoring them, for when we fight them directly, they become worse. (1 Likutai MoHaran 232) Therefore, the struggle and attempt to come close to Hashem has great value in and of itself, and eventually leads to purity.


Hashem, Himself is concealed within the constriction of the afternoon. The spiritual darkness of the afternoon acts like a protective filter that enables one to better perceive and focus upon Hashem. Without this protective device, one would not be able to perceive and find Hashem, because he would be blinded by His infinite light. Only when Hashem's light is constricted can we perceive Him, as Rabbi Nachman analogizes, squinting our eyes, which partially blocks out the light, enables us to better see a distant object. Therefore, the spiritual adversity of the afternoon is a manifestation of Hashem's great kindness, for when Hashem's light is in a constricted state, like the squinting of the eyes, it facilitates our ability to find and connect to Him. This concept, is alluded to by the incident of Elijah the Prophet. Through his prayers, Elijah caused a heavenly fire to descend, which consumed his sacrifice. This miracle was performed for a large crowd of Jews who had fallen into idolatry. Elijah specifically chose the afternoon to demonstrate Hashem's power through this miracle, as the verse says, "And it was when the evening sacrifice was offered...And a fire of Hashem fell and consumed the burnt offerings..." [The evening sacrifice refers to mincha which was actually performed in the afternoon, just before sunset.] (1 Kings 18:36, 38) His reason for choosing to perform this great miracle in the afternoon is consistent with our teaching, that one can best perceive Hashem in the afternoon, when His light grows dimmer, through the waning spiritual light that occurs then, as the verse says, "All the people saw and fell on their faces, and they said, 'Hashem, He is Elokim [the name of Hashem associated with the constriction of His light, hidden within the physical creation]('" (1 Kings 18:39) Rav Noson says that when someone falls on his face, as described in the verse, the face becomes hidden from view. The face is responsible for absorbing much of the spiritual lights and energies that descend from the upper worlds. When the face is hidden or covered over, its ability to absorb spiritual light is constricted, and inhibited, as the verse says, "[When Hashem's great light was revealed to Moshe through the burning bush,] (Moshe hid his face, for he was afraid to gaze toward Hashem [lest he absorb dangerously high levels of Hashem's light.]" (Exodus 3:6) Elijah's miracle reveled so much of Hashem's light that it needed a triple filter to prevent the onlookers from being overwhelmed. (The miracle was performed 1) in the afternoon, 2) the people hid their faces, and 3) Hashem's light was revealed in a constricted way, through His Name of constriction, Elokim) These filters enabled the people to perceive Hashem strongly enough to prevail over their idolatrous thoughts and to once again realize that "Hashem, hu haElokim. Hashem, He is G-d."

The sin of the Golden calf teaches us that without the proper guidance from the Torah and our holy sages, one could make the mistake of serving Hashem through too much light.


During the period of Egyptian bondage, the Jews had almost become completely assimilated into the immoral Egyptian society. Hashem had to unleash a very great light in order to burn away all the evil spiritual energies so they could be freed. This light was far greater than the Jews would have been able to tolerate. In order to filter the light, the Jews were commanded to eat matzah, which is flat in appearance. The shape of physical objects reflect the spiritual energies they contain. The low and flat shape of matzah indicates that it contains the spiritual energies that reduce and diminish, whereas the inflated appearance of leaven shows that it contains the spiritual energies that cause things to increase. Therefore, in order to properly filter Hashem's great light so it could be safely absorbed, the Jews were commanded to remove all leaven from their possession from the afternoon before the exodus, and to quickly eat the pascal sacrifice with matzah the night before they left Egypt.


The mixed multitude of converts who left Egypt did not have the opportunity to create spiritual filters, as did the native-born Jews. They embraced Judaism the night after the matzah eating, and therefore lacked the spiritual filters that the Jews-from-birth had acquired. When the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, Hashem revealed a tremendous amount of His awesome light. Hashem had adequately prepared the Jews, however the mixed multitude was not sufficiently protected for this experience. Moshe accepted these converts without consulting Hashem. Hashem did not want to accept them at that point, because they did not possess the wherewithal to be exposed to such intense light. Nevertheless, when Hashem showed His brilliance, they gazed intently at the light, attempting to absorb as much as they could, something which they should not have done. Excessive light nourishes the forces of evil, which throws the mind into confusion, overwhelming a person with thoughts of physicality. This is exactly what happened to the mixed multitude, and it lead them to worship the Golden Calf. Not only did they sin, but the confusion was so great, they were even able to influence the Jews to join them in their sin. This is why the sin of the Golden Calf started exactly at noon, the time when the forces of evil are strongest. It is the time when one must filter and dilute Hashem's great light. However the mixed multitude made the mistake of trying to increase Hashem's light at this time. They erroneously thought that just as Moshe had addressed Hashem to provide them with salvation, miracles, and all of their needs, so too they needed some tangible presence to take his place. This was not a denial of Hashem, but an erroneous belief that they needed a Moshe, to represent them before Hashem. Therefore, they built the Golden Calf as a replacement for Moshe to serve as conduit to receive Hashem's light. Thus, they implemented their desire to come close to Hashem at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Now we can understand why the Torah makes a special point of recording the actual time of the sin of the Golden calf. It teaches us that without the proper guidance from the Torah and our holy sages, one could make the mistake of serving Hashem through too much light. We must be careful to follow the Torah as prescribed by our sages, for they knew how to create the proper spiritual filters and they knew how to balance Hashem's great light in the proper way and amount. This is why Rabbi Nachman exhorted his followers to be very careful to adhere to and be guided by the teachings of the Sulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and to perform its laws as prescribed with simplicity, avoiding any unnecessary strictness or extremes, which could elicit too much light. (Lekutai Halachot: Orach Chaim: Hilchot tefilat Mincha 7:1-2, 27-28)


The mixed multitude caused great damage by gazing at lofty spiritual realms, far beyond their level. The following true story demonstrates that only those who are worthy are permitted to gaze upon lofty spiritual realms and even then, they are restricted to what their level will permit(Rav Bana'ah would mark [the boundaries of burial] crypts [so that people would not inadvertently walk over them and become ritually impure. Rav Bana'ah would enter burial crypts to determine their dimensions and then outline the corresponding surfaces of the ground above with lime. People would see the markings and detour around the crypts.] When he reached the crypt of Avraham [and sought to enter in order to measure its dimensions,] he found Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, standing in front of it. [Eliezer is one of the seven righteous people who never died. (Talmud: Derech Eretz Zuta)]. [Rav Bana'ah] said to [Eliezer], "What is Abraham doing?" [[The crypts of the righteous are hallowed places and people are generally barred from entering them. Rav Bana'ah however, was permitted to do so, due to his extreme piety. (Rashbam) Rav Bana'ah assumed that Eliezer would not let him enter the crypt to prevent Avraham from being disturbed. He therefore questioned if Avraham was engaged in an activity [such as prayer] which could not be interrupted. (Maharsha)]. [Eliezer] replied to [Rav Bana'ah], "He is lying in the arms of Sarah, and she is peering at his head." [This symbolizes the true union of Avraham and Sarah, which transcended the physical limitations of their earthly marriage (Maharsha)]. [Rav Bana'ah] said to [Eliezer], "Go and tell [Avraham] that Bana'ah is standing at the entrance." [Eliezer announced Rav Bana'ah and Avraham] said to him, "Let him enter. It is well known that there is no physical desire in this world. [Thus there is no concern that what he will see inside will be misunderstood as something immodest, therefore there is no need for me to conceal myself from him. (Rashbam)]" [Rav Bana'ah] entered [the crypt], surveyed [its dimensions] and departed. When he reached the [nearby] crypt of Adam, [and attempted to enter to measure its dimensions], a Heavenly voice came forth and proclaimed, "You have gazed at the likeness of My (Hashem's) image [i.e. at the form of Jacob. Jacob possessed a beauty second only to Adam himself. (Rashbam) Jacob was buried in the same crypt as the other patriarchs and matriarchs, thus Rav Bana'ah had seen Jacob, who possessed Adam's likeness. Adam was buried in an adjoining chamber]. Do not gaze at My (Hashem's) image itself." [i.e. Adam. Hashem has no form or image, however when He reveals Himself to the prophets He shows them a Divine representation, this image was similar to the special image in which Hashem had created Adam, who was the only human to possess such an image. All subsequent people, however, possessed only a likeness of that original image. (Rashi and Mizrachi) Although the people of Adam's own generation gazed upon this image, after Adam's death it became forbidden to do so. (Maharsha)] [Rav Bana'ah replied] But I want to mark [the dimensions of] the crypt [and I must enter in order to ascertain this information.] [The Heavenly voice responded,] "As the dimensions of the outer crypt [the size of which you have already determined, where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried], so are the dimensions of the inner [crypt, in which Adam is buried. Thus there is no need for you to enter and measure it.] Rav Bana'ah said, "I glimpsed [at Adam's] two heels [from outside the crypt], and they were like two orbs of the sun [so radiant was his skin. Although Hashem told Adam that he would return to dust, that refers to a moment before the resurrection of the dead. (Rashbam)]

[The Talmud goes on to list people of exceptional spiritual radiance. (Maharsha)] The radiance of any [other person's countenance] in comparison to that of Sarah, is like that of a monkey in comparison to that of a human being. The radiance of [the countenance of] Sarah in comparison to that of Eve, is like that of a monkey in comparison to that of a human being. The radiance of [the countenance of] Eve in comparison to that of Adam, is like that of a monkey in comparison to that of a human being. The radiance of [the countenance of] Adam in comparison to that of the Divine Presence (the Shechinah - i.e. the radiant light created by Hashem to signify His presence), is like that of a monkey in comparison to that of a human being.

[The Talmud then lists people of exceptional beauty. (Maharsha)] The beauty of Rav Kahana was a semblance of the beauty of Rav. The beauty of Rav was a semblance of the beauty of Rav Abahu. The beauty of Rav Abahu was a semblance of the beauty of our forefather Jacob. The beauty of our forefather Jacob was a semblance of the beauty of Adam. (Talmud: Bava Basra 58a)

HITHBODEDUTH (secluding oneself)

Rabbi Nachman taught that as well as reciting the mandatory daily prayers contained in the prayer book, we should also speak to Hashem, just as we would confide in our best friend: in seclusion, in the language and style with which we feel most comfortable. This is based on the advice of our sages, just to mention two sources: "Rebbe Yitzchak said: 'Why were our forefathers barren? Because Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous."' (Talmud: Yevamoth 64a) "Hashem seeks nothing other than to hear the prayers of Israel." (Medrash Tehillim 116:1) The following is an example of such a session: Help us to be worthy of accepting upon ourselves the holiday of Passover with reverence, sanctity, and great joy. Help us be worthy of fulfilling the obligation to drink the four cups of wine on Passover with complete [devotion], as is befitting [this holy commandment], with great sanctity and purity. On Passover open [the spiritual channels] and enlighten us with the light of holy knowledge and nourish us with the light from the upper intellect. Help us conduct the Passover Seder (ritual meal) with great sanctity as is befitting such a holy event. Help us recite the Hagadah (Passover ritual book) in a loud voice, with deep and reverent concentration, and with great joy so that we come to rectify our minds (Tikkun HaBris) so that we can be worthy of discovering new insights in Your holy Torah. (1 Lekutai Tefilos 20)


Based on the advice of our sages (Talmud: Megilah 28b), Rabbi Nachman stressed that everyone should study at least one law from the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) [or its equivalent, other books which are based on the Shulchan Aruch] everyday without fail. (Sichoth HaRan 29) [On Passover it is strictly forbidden to have in one's possession any leaven whatsoever. Therefore, in order to facilitatecompliance with this important law, the sages instituted that on the night of the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Nissan, Passover eve, one is required to search his property in order to rid himself of all of leaven. Any leaven that one cannot dispose of before Passover must be sold to a Gentile (the transaction can be arranged by one's Rabbi). The following details which areas need not be searched.] One may simply sell [to a Gentile] all inaccessible leaven. The following are examples of this. One need not search for microscopic or moldy pieces of leaven. Rather, one should look for visible crumbs. One need not go through the carpet strand by strand, but one should simply pass a vacuum over it. One need not crawl under linoleum [in order to remove any possible crumbs]. One need not search behind the refrigerator or in the deep recesses of a stove. Inaccessible corners of closets may be sealed off by tape. Clean dishes used for leaven [which one must store away and cannot use on Passover] need not be washed. (A Guide to Practical Halacha Vol. 5: pp. 40)

Volume 4, Issue 21