SALT - Thursday, 20 Adar 5781 - March 4, 2021

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Ki-Tisa that when Moshe returned from atop Mount Sinai, where he had spent forty days receiving the Torah from God, he first met his loyal attendant, Yehoshua.  The Torah relates that Yehoshua heard “shouting” coming from the Israelite camp (“kol ha-am be’rei’o”), which he mistook as the sounds of warfare (32:17).  In truth, however, these were the sounds of the people’s revelry as they celebrated with their newly-fashioned golden calf.  As we read earlier (32:6), the people arose that morning, offered sacrifices to the graven image, and had a feast with merrymaking.  This was the “shouting” that Yehoshua heard.  As Targum Yonatan ben Uziel writes in explaining this verse, Yehoshua heard “kad meyabeiv be-chedva kadam igla” – “as [the people] shouted before the calf.”
            Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim La-Torah, notes the word “meyabeiv” used by Targum Yonatan in reference to the people’s revelry.  The verb y.b.v. is familiar to us from the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (33b) of the meaning of the word “teru’a” with which the Torah introduces the obligation to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (“yom teru’a yiheyeh lakhem” – Bamidbar 29:1).  The Gemara cites Onkelos’ translation of this word as “yebava,” which the Gemara understands to mean “wailing,” as evidenced by the description in Sefer Shoftim (5:28) of the mother of the Canaanite general Sisera who wailed – “va-teyabeiv” – as she waited in vain for him to return from battle.  Based on this definition of the word “yebava,” the Gemara establishes that the word “teru’a” denotes a wailing sound, though different opinions exist as to which precise kind of wailing is indicated by this term (hence the different variations which we blow on Rosh Hashanah, in order to satisfy all opinions).  Surprisingly, Rav Sorotzkin observes, Targum Yonatan ben Uziel uses this verb, which denotes wailing in grief, in reference to Benei Yisrael merrymaking as they celebrated the golden calf.
            Rav Sorotzkin boldly suggests that Targum Yonatan perhaps sought to allude to the fact that Benei Yisrael’s revelry was tempered by pangs of conscience.  Even as they gleefully celebrated, their inner spark of sanctity and devotion to God caused them to “grieve.”  Their merriment was not wholehearted; it was mitigated, if only slightly, by a sense of discomfort and unease.  Their emotional state at these moments is depicted by Targum Yonatan by the phrase “meyabeiv be-chedva” – “gleefully wailing.”  Their festivity was “gleeful,” but also accompanied by an inner “wailing,” a degree of grief, borne out of their realization of how they were betraying their core values and principles, and God Himself.  This resulted in a feeling of angst and emotional unrest, even as they feasted and reveled around the golden calf.