לסדר כי תשא
כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
When you take the census of the people of Israel (Exodus 30:12)
In the Midrash it is written: At the moment that the Holy One Blessed Be He taught Moses the chapter of כִּי תִשָּׂא Moses was perplexed. The Holy One Blessed Be He therefore showed him a fiery coin beneath the throne of glory and said "this they shall give" (זֶה יִתְּנוּ), a coin like this they shall give.
Our master explained to us the meaning of this Midrash in the name of his father the gaon (R. Avraham Glasner, 1826-78). Moses was rightly perplexed by this chapter, for how can it be that a person achieves atonement for his soul through the giving of charity? Do not all those who transgress the commandments (כָּל הָעֹבֵר עַל הַפְּקֻדִים) say that they can atone for their sins by giving charity: for what does the Eternal require of any person but to do kindness? Yet here the Scripture supports them, as it is written "whoever transgresses the commandments" (כָּל הָעֹבֵר עַל הַפְּקֻדִים), i.e., as the holy Zohar explains, whoever transgresses the commandments of the Torah should give half a shekel, and his sin will be removed and his guilt forgiven. This is why Moses was perplexed.
The answer is that charity does indeed atone for our sins, but only if the coin that is given is purified sevenfold from any trace of prohibition [i.e., like that shown to Moses], so that the donor's wealth is not the result of any violation of the Torah like robbery, interest, oppression, desecration of the Sabbath or the Festivals, working of the land on the Sabbatical or Jubilee years, plowing the land with an ox and a donkey together, planting two kinds of seed together (כִּלְאַיִם), or similar prohibitions. But if a person's wealth is untainted by any of these impurities, then his gift of a half-shekel will go up with favor before Blessed One to expunge his earlier transgressions. If, however, in acquiring his wealth, a person has not been careful to avoid all these transgressions, so that his money is itself polluted by some transgression, then even if he does charity and kindness with that money and may even receive a reward for his good deeds, he will nevertheless not be protected against the punishment that is due him for his transgressions. And perhaps this is the metaphorical meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 16:20) "Justice, only justice, shall you pursue" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף). By way of a coin that you acquired according to the laws of the Torah shall you seek to perform acts of kindness.
וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ
And he gave to Moses, when he finished talking with him. (Exodus 31:18)
Rashi comments: The word "כְּכַלֹּתוֹ" is written without a "ו after the "ל" to intimate that the Torah was given over to Moses as a gift, just as a bride is given over to the groom [i.e., "וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּכַלֹּת" (He gave Moses a gift like his bride)], for in the brief time that Moses was on the mountain he was not able to learn the Torah in its entirety.
And in the Talmud (Nedarim 38a) R. Johanan said that, at first, Moses was studying the Torah, but kept forgetting it, until the Almighty gave it to him as a gift as it is written "וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ".
Behold our master taught a great lesson about the words of the Sages and their riddles by revealing their hidden meaning. For the Almighty gave us two Torot: the Written Torah that the Eternal gave to Moses written in its entirety by the Finger of G-d and the Oral Torah that was transmitted from the mouth of the Eternal to Moses. Now there is no end to the multitude of the laws that are contained within the Oral Torah, for its length is longer than the earth and its width wider than the oceans. No man is capable of comprehending it in its entirety. And even if a man were to raise himself upon a cloud so that his head reached the heavens, his intellect could not master all these laws or enumerate their multitudes.
Now the words of the Sages emerge like a rock, proved seven times over. For at first, the Eternal wanted to teach Moses the entire Torah - each and every law and all the statutes together as a unit, with not even one missing. And the Almighty wished to seal it off, so that it would not be possible for Moses or the Sages of later generations, to originate anything new beyond that which had been received at Sinai. However, even Moses, the mightiest of the shepherds and the lord of the prophets, could not bear such a burden, for the laws were too many and he was too weary to carry them all on the tablet of his heart to keep them constantly in his memory. So Moses kept studying and forgetting the Torah until the Almighty gave it to him as a gift. For then the Almighty gave Moses the Torah with its rules of inference, i.e., the thirteen hermeneutic rules by which laws may be deduced from the Torah, and with a few additional laws that were also transmitted to Moshe at Sinai [i.e., הלכות למשה מסיני]. And it was through these rules that Moses could interpret the Torah and bend it as he desired should he wish to bring near or wish to push away, just as R. Joshua exclaimed when he rose up to argue with R. Eliezer (Bava Metzia 59b), "we do pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, for it is not in heaven" (אין משגיחין בבת קול כי לא בשמים היא). Rather the Torah is ours to do with as a person does with his own property. So when the Torah was given to Moses as a gift, it was only by means of the thirteen hermeneutic rules that it was within his capacity to comprehend the Torah in its entirety. And understand well, for these are the words of the living God.
עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ
Make us gods, which shall go before us; and as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what became of him. (Exodus 32:1)
See what we have written in פרשת תרומה in the name of our master, and we have an opportunity here to explain further. In the early generations when people walked in darkness rather than light, it was the practice of all nations to worship their kings and their rulers as gods, because the people saw that their leaders were educated and wise and therefore concluded that their leaders could not be ordinary people. So Hiram, the king of Tyre, in his towering conceit, said (Ezekiel 28:2) "I sit in the seat of G-d" (מוֹשַׁב אֱלֹהִים יָשַׁבְתִּי). And so did Pharaoh say, "my river is my own and I have made it for myself" (לִי יְאֹרִי וַאֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִנִי). So they led their barbarous peoples to believe in their divinity, as they alone possessed knowledge and wisdom, which they kept to themselves and withheld from their peoples. The kings wanted the people to continue to dwell in darkness so that they could do as they pleased to them.
But Moses our teacher did not conduct himself in this way with our ancestors. For he appeared to them as an ordinary person, and he said to them: "I am a man and not a god." Moses very much wanted that all Israel, as one person, obey all the commandments of the Torah given at the mountain from the midst of fire and that they all study in order to know the Eternal, so that the entire nation would be holy. The Scripture therefore says (Deuteronomy 33:4) "Moses commanded us a Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב) to show that Moses wanted all to have an equal share in the Torah, so that no one might raise himself above his brethren, and so that all the people should be priests. Thus, the Eternal commanded them through Moses (Exodus 19:6): "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ). And did not Moses say (Numbers 11:29): "would that all the Lord's people were prophets" (וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל עַם ה' נְבִיאִים)?
However, our ancestors in the desert did not understand, for they were a nation void of counsel (כִּי גוֹי אֹבַד עֵצוֹת הֵמָּה); and they rebelled against counsel and wisdom, because they were idolaters (as it appears that the fish of the swamp enjoy the muddy waters and despise the fresh waters of a rushing stream). They therefore gave precedence to "נַעֲשֶׂה" before "נִשְׁמָע" as we explained above (פרשת תרומה), because they refused to see that a wise person is above a simpleton. And what they meant by saying "make us a god who shall go before us" was that they wanted to be led, like all the nations around them, by a leader who would be a god and would go before them so that they, without knowledge or understanding, could just follow blindly.
"For this Moses, the man" (כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ) who would lead us, who says that he is a man like any other man, "we know not what is become of him" (לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ). Why would he lead us like an ordinary person, and why would he not want to raise himself up above us to be a god unto us? והבן