Friday, March 01, 2024

R' Levi Yitzchak miBerdichiv on וּפָקַדְתִּ֥י עֲלֵהֶ֖ם חַטָּאתָֽם

In response to Moshe's plea to forgive Bn"Y for cheit ha'eigel, Hashem told him to go back for now and comfort the people, וּבְי֣וֹם פׇּקְדִ֔י וּפָקַדְתִּ֥י עֲלֵהֶ֖ם חַטָּאתָֽם׃ (32:34), and going forward, whenever the time comes for other punishments, Hashem will dole out a bit of punishment for cheit ha'eigel as well (see Rashi).

R' Levi Yitzchak mi'Berdichiv ask two questions (see the Koznitzer Maggid in Avodas Yisrael end of P' Balak):

1) We say every Yom Kippur that Hashem is מעביר אשׁמותינו בּכל דור.  The slate is wiped clean, the past forgotten.  How then is cheit ha'eigel counted against us for eternity?  How can we forever after get a bit of punishment for this sin that is past history?

2) The gemara (Brachos 32b) tells us that Hashem in fact does not keep in mind any recollection of cheit ha'eigel:

אמרה לפניו רבש"ע הואיל ואין שכחה לפני כסא כבודך שמא לא תשכח לי מעשה העגל אמר לה גם אלה תשכחנה אמרה לפניו רבש"ע הואיל ויש שכחה לפני כסא כבודך שמא תשכח לי מעשה סיני אמר לה ואנכי לא אשכחך 

If Hashem forgets about our wrongdoing, then again, how do we understand בְי֣וֹם פׇּקְדִ֔י וּפָקַדְתִּ֥י עֲלֵהֶ֖ם חַטָּאתָֽם׃?

R' Levi Yitzchak explains that there are two types of wrongdoers.  There is the wrongdoer who comes from a broken home, who had horrible friends in his youth, who went to the worst schools, and m'meila, became a gangster.  What do you expect?  And then there is the wrongdoer who came from the best family, who went to the best schools, grew up in the "right" neighborhood, had wonderful friends, but nebech, took a wrong turn and became a criminal.  He surely should have known better and deserves harsher punishment.

On the flipside, if one of these two becomes an outstanding member of society, a real do-gooder, if we are speaking about the person who came from the right family, neighborhood, and school, we would say m'meila, what else would you have anticipated?  But if we are speaking about someone who grew up without all those benefits, then all the more credit to them, because they rose above expectations.

Bnei Yisrael said naaseh v'nishma and accepted the Torah, something no other nation was willing to do.  One could say what else would you expect?  These are the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, people with such a distinguished and noble background.  But on the other hand, the fact that 40 days later Bnei Yisrael made an eigel proves that there was something not quite right inside, that there was a rottenness in the core of the people that was waiting to get out and express itself, and that had to be dealt with.  When we said naaseh v'nishma, we rose above that flaw, and achieved more than could have been expected.  

This is the shakla v'terya of the gemara in Brachos.  Hashem says to Bnei Yisrael that he will forget the cheit ha'eigel.  מעביר אשׁמותינו בּכל דור  If so, Bnei Yisrael answer, what about our credit for saying naaseh v'nishma?  If you now view us as noble people, the finest stock, then we did no more than live up to expectations and don't deserve such a big pat on the back!  To which Hashem answers, speaking still about cheit ha'eigel, that He will not forget Sinai.  In the context of Sinai, the context of naaseh v'nishma, he will not forget the eigel.  He will view naaseh v'nishma as the response of a people burdened by something not quite right inside, something evil that would come out later in the eigel, but something that they rose above to achieve greatness.  

The root פּקד comes up when the Torah speaks about positive things. ה׳  פּקד את שׂרה.  when it was time for geulah, Moshe said פּקד פּקדתי אתכם.  Hashem tells Bn"Y וּבְי֣וֹם פׇּקְדִ֔י וּפָקַדְתִּ֥י עֲלֵהֶ֖ם חַטָּאתָֽם.  I am not going to remember or think about cheit ha'eigel now.  The slate is wiped clean.  However, when it comes time to remember all the good that Bn"Y does, וּבְי֣וֹם פׇּקְדִ֔י, if someone then tries to take away credit, if someone says that what else should you expect from bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, then I will remember and remind them of cheit ha'eigel, proving that we too had burdens to overcome, and we managed to do so. 


  1. I don't know how much is yours and how much is R Levi Yitzchok's, but even discounting for the Chassidishe proclivity for turning chesronos into maalos, this is so interesting. I don't agree with it at all, of course. My instinct is to use naaseh venishma to invoke the standards of kechut hasaarah, not to use the eigel to give more splendor to naaseh venishma.

    1. You don't have to agree with it to appreciate the ingenuity and creativity.

  2. Kind of funny, Rabbi YY Jacobson's woman's class this week was on the same piece of Rav Levi Yitzchak