Parasha Ki Tisa (Exodus 30.11-34.35)
Let me start out by saying; what a great Parashah reading! It makes your head spin. We can divide this week’s reading into three major parts.
In the first part, we read a little more about the building of the Mishkan.
G-d instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelite people, and each should pay a “ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them” (Ex. 30.12). Every Israeli should pay half a shekel, no more and no less, that will be used towards the building of the Mishkan. Why not pay more or less? Rashi explains:
“when you wish to take the sum [total] of their numbers to know how many they are, do not count them by the head, but each one shall give a half-shekel, and you shall count the shekels. [Thereby] you will know their number.”
This practice still exist in Jewish custom as to determine if the minimum ten is present for prayer (minyan): ten words of biblical verse are said instead of counting heads.
The reading continues with the instruction for a washbasin of copper that should be placed between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Aaron and his sons should wash their hands and feet before they perform any services. The recipe is given for the sacred anointing oil and incense. The anointing oil shall be used to anoint the Mishkan and all its furnishings only. It should not be served for personal use. The same applies for the sacred incense. G-d puts in charge two master craftsmen of building of the Mishnah. Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur from the tribe of Judah, and Oholiab son of Ahisamach from the tribe of Dan. This shows us that the construction of the Mishnah was executed by people of other tribes not just priests and Levites.
Now, let me comment on the selection of Bezalel and Oholiab. They were not simply selected because they were great craftsman, on the contrary, they were selected and then G-d gave them ability and knowledge through divine spirit. Here is one lesson for us: No one should say how great they are at something. It’s better to say: Baruch HaShem! How great is our Creator!
Next, the commandment to keep the Shabbat is repeated. This emphasize the importance of G-d’s holy day. Even when Israelites building the Mishkan (holy place) should cease from work on Shabbat (holy time) because it is more important.
We now get to the second major part in this Parashah. The famous story of the golden calf!
Probably it is one of the most well-known stories from the Torah. In a nutshell, some people grow impatient when Moses does not return from Mt. Sinai when they expected him to do. They demand of Aaron to build them a god. Aaron ask them to bring gold and make them a golden calf. They are worshipping, taking sacrifices to it, singing and dancing around it. It is really bad!
To be fair, keep in mind that these idol worshippers were 3,000 in numbers, (Ex. 32.28), while total number of Israelites were about 600,000 men over the age of twenty (Ex. 12.37) plus women and children. Some say that there must have been at least 2.5 million people at the Mt. Sinai revelation. Needless to say, G-d gets very angry, and threatens to destroy the whole nation, and make a new nation of Moses.
Moses pleads, reasons and begs G-d on the behalf of his people. Does it sound familiar? Yes, he sounds like his forefather, Abraham. What a great leaders! He descends the mountain carrying the two tablets that had the Ten Commandments inscribed by G-d on it, sees the golden calf, he throws the tablets to the ground and shatters them to pieces. Let’s stop here for a moment. What just happened? Does Moses need to enroll himself in an anger management program? No, of course not. Rashi explains:
“This can be compared to a king who goes abroad, and leaves his betrothed with the maidservants. Because of the immoral behavior of the maidservants, she acquires a bad reputation. Her “bridesman” (the person appointed to defend the bride should any problems arise) rises up and tears up her marriage contract. He says, ‘If the king decides to kill her, I will say to him, “She is not yet your wife.”
The Torah absolutely forbids the worship of idols. What Rashi says here is that Moses broke the tables in order to save the Israelites. If no law, no punishment.
“Others explain that Moses broke the tablets in order to discourage G d from implementing His plan to annihilate the Jewish people for their sin, and to recreate a new chosen nation from Moses and his descendants (see Exodus 32:10). Upon breaking the tablets, he told G d, “Now I am a sinner just like them. If You decide to eradicate them, destroy me as well.””(from Chabad.org)
This takes us to the third major part. The renewal of the relationship between G-d and his people. Moses destroys the golden calf, then gathers the Levites and he has them kill those 3,000 who were involved in the building of the calf. Next day Moses goes back to G-d to ask for forgiveness. G-d forgives but sends a plague upon the nation. Then G-d promises that he will send an angel before them that will lead them to the promised land. Moses sets up the Tent of Meeting outside of the camp, and whenever Moses would enter the Tent, a pillar of cloud would descend. Moses pleads with G-d once again. He wants G-d himself to guide them to the promised land. G-d tells Moses that He will do what he asked him for because Moses truly found His favor. He asks Moses to prepare another set of tablets, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai, and stays there for forty days and nights. He receives the two tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed on it by G-d, a promise that he and his people will see wonders like never before, and other instructions. It is here where G-d proclaims The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.
“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Lord, Lord, benevolent God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, preserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin; yet He does not completely clear [of sin] He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34.6-7)
After forty days Moses goes back down to the camp, his face so radiant from having spoken with the Almighty that he has to wear a veil over his face. He would only take off the veil to speak to G-d and to teach Torah to the people. Shabbat Shalom! ~~~~~~~~ Bogie
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Read this week´s commentary from our mentor Rabbi Ruven Bar Ephraim, Or Chadasch Congregation, Zurich, Switzerland, and Rabbinic Advisor to the EUPJ Torah from Around the World #262 de la WUPJ.
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