Ki Sissa 5777


כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל… זה יתנו כל העבר… מחצית השקל (שמות ל:יב-יג)

When you take a census of the Jewish people… everyone shall give a half shekel (Shemos 30:12-13)

Parshas Ki Sisa begins with the Mitzvah of Machatzis Hashekel, the half shekel coin. The Torah is stating the requirement that whenever the Bnei Yisrael are counted, they should not be counted one by one; rather, each person should donate a half shekel coin, and the coins are counted instead of the people.
Among the reasons why we don’t count the Jewish people is that it can cause an Ayin Hara, evil eye. One understanding of Ayin Hara, as my father zt”l explained, is that every person has Aveiros. Why doesn’t Hashem punish everyone right now? Because He has mercy and hopes we will do Teshuva. What happens if someone demands that justice be served upon a certain Jew? If that happens, then in Shamayim they say, “Let’s look at the books.” When one calls attention to himself, he can bring about the evil eye. This is the reasoning behind the Torah’s commandment.
The Me’am Lo’ez records a few instances which demonstrate the severity of Ayin Hara and how careful we must be to avoid it at all costs. In Shmuel Beis 24, Dovid Hamelech counted the Jewish people by their heads as opposed to using coins. As a result, a plague occurred and 70,000 people were killed.
Also, later in Parshas Ki Sisa, Moshe broke the first set of Luchos. The Midrash Tanchuma says that since the first Luchos were given to Bnei Yisrael with a lot of publicity and the entire world could see what was going on, they were broken, whereas the second Luchos were given in a much more modest way and as a result were not broken.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 107b) records that the Amora Rav once went to a cemetery and was able to discern the cause of death for each person buried there. He said that out of 400 people, only one had died from natural causes, and the rest had died as a result of Ayin Hara.
In regards to the half shekel, the Midrash says that Moshe had a difficult time understanding what the coin looked like. Hashem therefore showed him an image of the coin in fire. The Torah also records that Moshe had a hard time picturing the Menorah and the crawling insects and Hashem showed him what they looked like. We can understand that the Menorah with all its design intricacies or the crawling insects may be hard to picture, but had Moshe never seen a coin before? And why did Hashem show the coin to Moshe in fire?
The Oznayim LaTorah explains that Moshe did not have a hard time picturing the actual coin. Rather, he did not understand the concept that money, “the root of all evil,” could provide spiritual forgiveness. Hashem showed him the coin in fire to demonstrate that just as fire can have dual purposes, so, too, can money. True, fire can burn and destroy, but it can also be used to cook and heat homes. It is up to man to use it properly. So, too, with money. It can be used to cheat, lie, and steal, but it can also be used to help the poor and spread Torah. When used in the proper manner way, money can bring atonement. This is what Hashem was showing Moshe through the coin in the fire.


ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את השבת (שמות לא:טז)

The children of Israel shall preserve the Sabbath, to maintain the Sabbath… (Shemos 31:16)

There is an extremely perplexing Ohr Hachaim on this Pasuk. It is well known that one is permitted, even obligated, to desecrate the Shabbos to save someone’s life. The Ohr Hachaim adds that this is only true if as a result of the action, the sick person will live until the following Shabbos. If, however, he will die during the week and won’t survive until Shabbos, then it is not permissible to save him.
The Poskim grapple with this statement, as it seems to contradict an explicit Gemara (Yoma 85a) which mandates desecrating Shabbos even for חיי שעה, a momentary extension of life. The Shulchan Aruch (O. C. 329:4) rules accordingly.
The Apter Rav, in his classic work Oheiv Yisrael, suggests that the Ohr Hachaim is referring to a scenario in which the “Chillul Shabbos” will only be adding weekday hours to his life (e.g., the medicine will only be ready after Shabbos ends), and this is prohibited. Only חיי שעה of “Shabbos hours” would permit Shabbos desecration. (This is obviously not the final ruling.)
The Minchas Elazar (Siman 9) relates an interesting story from the Sefer Ohel Moed in connection with the above explanation. A certain Talmid Chacham once gave the Apter Rav a different solution to the difficulty. He maintained that the Ohr Hachaim was referring to a baby born during the eighth month of pregnancy, which Halacha deems a נפל, a non-viable baby who is presumed to have no chance of survival. In this instance, one cannot transgress Shabbos to save him if he won’t survive until the next Shabbos. The story goes that the Apter Rav stood up, kissed him on the head, and said that if he were able to reprint his Sefer Oheiv Yisrael, he would delete his original answer and replace it with this correct approach.
The Minchas Elazar strongly disagreed with the second answer. Even if the baby born in the eighth month would happen to live until the following Shabbos, it is still not a בר קיימא, a viable baby presumed to stand a chance of survival. In addition, he totally debunks the authenticity of the account, for the Apter Rav passed away in the year 5585, and his Sefer Oheiv Yisrael was only printed posthumously in the year 5621!
The Sfas Emes presents another approach. He first entertains the possibility that these words were not penned by the Ohr Hachaim, but that in fact a mistaken student wrote them. He then offers the following solution. The above Gemara provides two Scriptural sources supporting the idea that one is required to be Mechalel Shabbos to save his life. The first is וחי בהם, the laws of the Torah were not given to cause death. But this only teaches that one is permitted to desecrate Shabbos. It does not indicate that one is obligated to do so. Perhaps a sick man may be “stringent” and choose to die rather than have Shabbos transgressed for his survival. The second Pasuk of ושמרו teaches that one is obligated to desecrate one Shabbos to enable the observance of many future Shabbosos. Therefore, a person is obligated to be Mechalel Shabbos to save his life. It is this obligation that the Ohr Hachaim is referring to when he says that there is a condition that he will live until the following Shabbos.
The Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah 32) and Minchas Elazar explain that even the Ohr Hachaim never meant this as practical Halacha. He was merely writing according to the opinion that the Pasuk ושמרו instructs one to desecrate Shabbos to enable many more Shabbos observances. According to this opinion, it is only permissible if he will be able to observe the following Shabbos, as the simple meaning suggests.
The Shulchan Aruch, however, rules according to the opinion that the source isוחי בהם , and the Gemara is ruling according to this opinion when it states that even for חיי שעה, a momentary extension of life, the sanctity of Shabbos is overridden.
The Biur Halacha (329 s. v. Ela) writes that temporary life is so valuable that we transgress Shabbos even for a שוטה who cannot perform any Mitzvos. This idea teaches us to appreciate the preciousness of Jewish life.