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Vayakhel

Horns of Pride

קֶרֶן: horn

קֶרֶן זוית: corner

קֶרֶן: value, principle

קֶרֶן אור: ray

קֶרֶן: pride

קֶרֶן: Horn

וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת מִזְבַּח הַקְּטֹרֶת עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים אַמָּה אָרְכּוֹ וְאַמָּה רָחְבּוֹ רָבוּעַ וְאַמָּתַיִם קֹמָתוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ הָיוּ קַרְנֹתָיו
Andthe incense altar was made with shitimwood, an amahlong and an amahwide, square, and two amosits height — from it were its horns.1

Once a year on Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadolwould place the blood of the sin offerings on the horns of theMizbei’ach. Once a year, Hashem gives the gift of Yom Kippur to forgive our sins. Yom Kippur was the day we were forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf, where we, so to speak, lifted our own horns against G-d. Now, on Yom Kippur, just like the horns of an animal give it strength, so too the blood on the horns of the Mizbei’achsymbolizes the strength and power of atonement to wipe the slate clean.

קֶרֶן: Corner

וַיַּעַשׂ קַרְנֹתָיו עַל אַרְבַּעפִּנֹּתָיו
And its horns were made on its four corners.2

The English word cornercomes from the Hebrew word קֶרֶן/keren. Just like a horn, in order for it to fulfill its purpose it must come to a point, so too a corner is pointed. The corners are the foundation and strength of the building. Just like when putting together a puzzle one starts with the four corners, so too with a building, the corners are the essential components and are made strong in order to support the whole structure of the building. 

A corner shop has pride and place over one in the street because it has two sides facing the public.

When we leave the beis midrash, we thank Hashem for placing our portion among those who sit in the house of learning and for not placing our portion among thoseמִיוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנִוֹת/who sit on the street corners. Rashi gives two explanations forמִיוֹשְׁבֵי קְרָנִוֹת as either referring to shopkeepers, i.e., those who own the corner shops and have so much business that they have no time to sit and learn, or to those who sit idly by on the street corners talking about empty things, like the ones who play backgammon all day long on the street-corner cafés.

קֶרֶן: Value, Principle

After we make the morning brachoson learning the Torah, we recite the Mishnah in the beginning ofPe’ahthat says: אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶן בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא…/these are the things that a man eats of their fruits in this world and the principal remains in the World to Come.

Here,קֶרֶןmeans value. There are certain mitzvos where, although we benefit from them in this world, this does not depreciate their value in the World to Come. 

קֶרֶן: Ray

קֶרֶן אוֹר refers to a sunbeam. When the sun is low on the horizon and is obscured by small clouds, the sunlight spreads out in a spectacular display of light beams.

At the end of Parshas Ki Sisa, Moshe comes down the mountain after receiving the second tablets with a קֶרֶן עוֹר/ray of light shining from his face. While Moshe is hidden in the cleft of the rock, Hashem passes the back of His glory over Moshe. The experience was so exhilarating that it left a Divine imprint on his face to the point where he wasliterallybeaming with the light of the Shechinah— so much so that he had to wear a mask in order that the people would not benefit inappropriately from the Divine light. (This is the source for the anti-Semitic imagery that Jews have horns.)

Moshe Rabbeinu, who epitomized the middahof humility, was therefore depicted by the Torah to be the one worthy to carry the קֶרֶן עוֹר, in stark contrast to the קֶרֶןof pride.

קֶרֶן: Pride

וְאַל תַּעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי הַשּׁוֹר בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁעוֹלֶה מִן הָאֲגַם,לְפִישֶׁהַשָּׂטָן מְרַקֵּד בֵּין קַרְנָיו,אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל:בְּשׁוֹר שָׁחוֹר וּבְיוֹמֵי נִיסָן.
The Gemara in Pesachimgives the following advice: Do not stand in front of an ox at the time it comes up from the pond because the Satan is dancing between its horns; Shmuel says this specifically refers to a black ox in the month of Nisan.3

When we picture a black bull with fearsome horns, we immediately depict the scene of a bullfight.4The black bull is notoriously wild, yet the Gemara is informing us that in the month of Nisan, it gains an added aspect of danger.

In the Kav HaYashar, the following explanation is given: The reason why the ox becomes particularly meshugain the month of Nisan is because it is the time when the ox eats from the new growth of grasses and vegetation. The souls of the wicked, which have been turned away from the gates of Heaven, have to come down to this world as plant life to undergo tikkun. The grasses, when eaten by the animals, cause the souls to pass along the food chain until they are finally eaten by man, and when abrachahis recited over the meat or milk from these animals, the lost souls finally reach their tikkun.5

Since the nature of the ox is to eat a lot of these grasses, it causes many of these rejected souls to be ingested into him. This increases its tendency to be even wilder. So in the month of Nisan, the ox is said to be מוּעֵד לְהַזִיק/prone to cause damage. The part of the body that can inflict the most harm is the horns of the ox, which is why the Satan (the collection of all the wicked souls) is said to be dancing between its horns.

Another reason why the Satan rests davkahbetween the horns of the ox is because his pride is his horns. קֶרֶןis the only part of the animal where the inside (the bone) is on the outside, showing pride. And for this reason, in Perek Shirah, the ox sings every day to Hashem: אָשִׁירָה לַה’כִּי גָאֹהגָּאָה/I will sing to Hashem because He is exalted above the arrogant ones. The ox is apt to praise Hashem in that only Hashem is the appropriate one to have גֵאוּת/pride. Pride should not be found in the horns of the ox or in the pride of man, like it says: ה’מָלָךְ גֵּאוּת לָבֵשׁ/that Hashem is King, clothed in pride.6This is a תּוֹכָחָה/reproof to all בַּעַלֵי גַאַוָוה/arrogant men who are proud of their wealth, wisdom, position, or even their Torah; if they have the middahof גַאַוָוה/pride, they become a vehicle for the sitra achra(they are batting for the other side!).

It says: וְלָרְשָׁעִים אַל תָּרִימוּ קָרֶן.אַל תָּרִימוּ לַמָּרוֹם קַרְנְכֶם/and to the wicked do not raise your pride, do not raise your pride heavenward.7At the end of that Psalm it says: וְכָל קַרְנֵי רְשָׁעִים אֲגַדֵּעַ תְּרוֹמַמְנָה קַרְנוֹת צַדִּיק/and all the pride of the wicked I will cut down, whereas the pride of the righteous will be exalted. 

Rashi says that the קַרְנֵי רְשָׁעִים/the pride of the wicked refers to Amalek.

Parshas Zachor, the reading that reminds us of the mitzvah to wipe out Amalek, usually falls around the time of this parshah. On the words in the verse that describe Amalek’s attack, אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ/which happened to you along the way, the Kli Yakar comments that this refers to the sin of מִשְׁכַּב זָכָר/homosexuality. This is one of the weapons of Amalek, because Hashem’s kedushahis only found in a place where one guards oneself from promiscuity. As a result of this sin in particular, Amalek was able to weaken us to the point where they could wage war with us and succeed in breaking our ties with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. 

The Kli Yakar, in his commentary regarding the אַיִל שֶׁל יִצְחָק/the ram that was sacrificed instead of Yitzchak, says that anyone who is a sinner is compared לְאִישׁ בַּעַל קַרְנַים מְנַגֵחַ כְּלַפֵּי מַעַלָה/to a man with horns who uses them to gore Heaven.8These are the people who davkahsin against Heaven.

These sinners with Amalek (mentioned above) who march in the name of pride, who are proud of their yetzer hara, are in effect digging their horns into Hashem’s side. They sin against Heaven like no other sinners because they flaunt their sin to the world to the point where they have turned their sin into a mitzvah, where it is now legal to get married. These are the real wicked ones who can be said to have the Satan dancing between their horns.

The nature of a deer is to break off its horns when they become too long so that they don’t become entangled in the thicket. After Avraham was tested by Akeidas Yitzchak, the pasuksays: וְהִנֵה אַיִל אַחַר נֶאֶחַז בַּסְבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו/and behold, another ram was caught in the thicket by its horns.


The Kli Yakar comments that a man is trapped with his horns through being proud.

One who is proud of his nature cannot affect change, for it says that Hashem and pride cannot live under the same roof. So in order to return home to Hashem, one must first free himself from pride. One has to so to speak break off his horns of pride.

The mishnah at the end of Kesubosmentions that a person who gives support to a woman while her husband is overseas loses his money, using the expression: הֵנִיחַ מָעוֹתָיו עַל קֶרֶן צְבִי/as if he has placed his money on the horns of a deer, because just like a deer breaks of its horns when they grow too long, so too his money if placed on the horns of a deer that will break away, i.e., he has no way of getting it back.

So we see from here that what entraps the deer is its horns being too long and getting caught in the thicket, yet by breaking them off he becomes free from entrapment.

Therefore, the solution to the problem of the קֶרֶןgrowing too long, which represents pride, is to brake them off. This teaches us that the horns of the resha’imcan be broken, and that the ways of teshuvahare open to them to effect change, to break off their horns of pride, so to speak, and continue along the straight path unheeded.

InKoheles, we find a seeming contradiction in that it says in one place that something made bent cannot be straightened,9whereas the Midrash says what is bent can be made straight!10The answer to the discrepancy is the difference between one who doesteshuvahand one who does not — that teshuvahhas the power to straighten even something made bent.11

The Gemara in Shabbosbrings down the following derashafrom the letters daletand kuf:

דַלְתוֹתַי נָעַל קַרְנָיו לֹא אַגַדֵעַ.12

This can be interpreted in two ways: “My doors they lock, shall I not cut off their horns?” Or “My doors are locked, I will not cut off their horns.” Again, the difference between the two statements can be attributed to one who breaks himself and does teshuvah, and the one who (chas v’shalom) does not.

Is it fair that a diabetic cannot eat sweet, sugary foods? If he does, he will die, so he overcomes his desire because he realizes that life is more important. So too, if someone has a taavah/desire that goes against the spiritual laws of the universe, would he not stop and מִתְגַבֵּר/overcome his nature, knowing that the alternative is death?

In the Shemoneh Esrei, we pray תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל /for the blowing of the great shofar, and also מַצְמִיחַ קֶרֶן יְשוּעָה/that the horn of salvation should grow. These prayers refer to the horn of salvation from the ram of Akeidas Yitzchak. How appropriate, then,that the horn that symbolizes pride, when hollowed out from all of its גַס רוּחַ/haughtiness, is the very instrument that wakes us up to do teshuvahand which will ultimately herald the Mashaich.

In conclusion, Hashem is warning us that when the springtime comes, when the sun beams its rays and there is a sense of new life and fresh energy in the air, we should distance ourselves from the horns of the black bull, the one whose pride makes him meshugaand causes the Satan to dance between his horns. Rather, we should attach ourselves to the ox that instead sings shirahevery day to Hashem, and we should attribute the true horns of pride Heavenwards, to the קֶרֶן אוֹר/light beams of the Divine Presence. 

1Shemos 37:25.

2Ibid.,38:2.

3Pesachim 112b.

4See Bava Kamma 4:4.

5Kav HaYashar 88.

6Tehillim 93:1.

7Tehillim 75:5.

8Bereishis 22:13.

9Koheles 1:15.

10Koheles Rabbah 1:15.

11Ibid.

12Shabbos 104a.

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Tzvi Abrahams

Founding Editor at Veromemanu
Rabbi Tzvi Abrahams was raised in The United Kingdom, and emigrated to Israel where he received his Rabbinical ordination. He recently published the book Root Connections In The Torah, and lectures on the beautiful connections of Biblical Hebrew root words. Tzvi lives in Zichron Yaakov, Israel with his wife, children and their friendly dog.

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Tzvi Abrahams