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Parashat Ki Tisa: Moshe Rabbenu’s “Gift” to the Satan

After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbenu pleaded to G-d on the nation’s behalf, and he asked that if G-d would not forgive the people for this grave sin, "then erase me, please, from Your book which You have written" (32:32).

Tradition teaches that even though G-d ultimately forgave the people, nevertheless, Moshe’s demand was fulfilled in some way, in that his name was omitted from Parashat Tesaveh. His name was "erased" from that Parasha as a partial fulfillment of his request.

The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909) comments that this "erasure" is alluded to in the word "Mi’sifrecha" ("from Your book"), which may be read as, "Mi’sefer Chaf" – "from the book of the letter Chaf." The numerical value of the letter "Chaf" is 20, and thus "Mi’sefer Chaf" alludes to the 20th Parasha in the Torah – Parashat Tesaveh.

The Ben Ish Hai added that Moshe’s demand was also fulfilled in a different way. Later, in the Book of Bamidbar (12:3), the Torah says of Moshe that he was "Anav Me’od" – "exceedingly humble." The word "Anav" ("humble") is normally spelled, "Ayin," "Nun," "Yod," "Vav," but in this instance, it is written without the letter "Yod." This letter was "erased" from the Torah’s praise of Moshe Rabbenu, in fulfillment of his demand that his name be "erased" from the Torah.

The Ben Ish Hai comments that this "erasure," too, is alluded to in the word "Mi’sifrecha." The numerical value of the word "Yud" – the name of the letter that was removed from the word "Anav" – is 20, and this letter is thus hinted at in the word "Mi’sifrecha," which may be read as, "Mispar Chaf" – "the number 20." The letter whose name equals 20 – the letter "Yod" – was erased in fulfillment of Moshe Rabbenu’s request.

The Ben Ish Hai adds that this is the deeper meaning of the Pasuk at the beginning of Parashat Ki-Tisa, "Ki Tisa Et Rosh Beneh Yisrael." The simple meaning of this phrase is, "When you take a head count of Beneh Yisrael," and the Torah here commands that when a census is taken, every member of the nation must give a half-shekel with which he is counted. But on a deeper level, the Ben Ish Hai explains, the Torah here alludes to the two "erasures" of Moshe’s name. The word "Ki" consists of the letters "Chaf" and "Yod," and thus represents the two omissions that were made to fulfill Moshe’s demand – the omission of Moshe’s name from the 20th Parasha, Parashat Tesaveh, and the omission of the letter "Yod" from the Torah’s praise of Moshe’s exceptional humility. The phrase "Ki Tisa Et Rosh Beneh Yisrael" can then be understood to mean that the "Chaf" and the "Yod" were taken from "Rosh Beneh Yisrael" – the leader of the Jewish People, Moshe Rabbenu.

Why did this have to happen? Why did Moshe’s name need to be "erased"?

The Ben Ish Hai explains that after the sin of the golden calf, the Satan – who is always trying to prosecute against Am Yisrael – set out to advocate against the nation before G-d. Once Beneh Yisrael committed such a grave misdeed, the Satan felt he had a very strong case that he could bring against them before the Heavenly Tribunal. Moshe’s strategy, the Ben Ish Hai writes, was to the send the Satan a "gift" of sorts, to appease it by having his name "erased." The Satan would be gratified to see that the name of Moshe, the revered leader of the Jewish People, would be omitted from an entire Parasha, and that the Torah’s praise of his humility would be diminished somewhat through the shorter spelling of the word "Anav." Moshe made this sacrifice as though throwing a "bone" to the Satan, making the Satan feel he succeeded his attempts to harm Beneh Yisrael, and this sacrifice paved the way for the people to be forgiven for the grave mistake of the golden calf.

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