Parshat Ki Tisa
Moshe conducts a census by counting each silver half-shekel donated by all men age twenty and over. Moshe is commanded to make a copper laver for the Mishkan. The women donate the necessary metal. The formula of the anointing oil is specified, and G-d instructs Moshe to use this oil only for dedicating the Mishkan, its vessels, Aharon and his sons. G-d selects Bezalel and Oholiav as master craftsmen for the Mishkan and its vessels. The Jewish People are commanded to keep the Sabbath as an eternal sign that G-d made the world. Moshe receives the two Tablets of Testimony on which are written the Ten Commandments. The mixed multitude who left Egypt with the Jewish People panic when Moshe's descent seems delayed, and force Aharon to make a golden calf for them to worship. Aharon stalls, trying to delay them. G-d tells Moshe to return to the people immediately, threatening to destroy everyone and build a new nation from Moshe. When Moshe sees the camp of idol-worship he smashes the tablets and he destroys the golden calf. The sons of Levi volunteer to punish the transgressors, executing 3,000 men. Moshe ascends the mountain to pray for forgiveness for the people, and G-d accepts his prayer. Moshe sets up the Mishkan and G-d's cloud of glory returns. Moshe asks G-d to show him the rules by which he conducts the world, but is granted only a small portion of this request. G-d tells Moshe to hew new tablets and reveals to him the text of the prayer that will invoke Divine mercy. Idol worship, intermarriage and the combination of milk and meat are prohibited. The laws of Pesach, the first-born, the first-fruits, Shabbat, Shavuot and Succot are taught. When Moshe descends with the second set of tablets, his face is luminous as a result of contact with the Divine.
A Nation Of Presidents
“I have seen this people, and behold! it is a stiff-necked people.” (22:9)
A former President of the United States once asked his Israeli counterpart how things were going.
"I have many problems," said the Israeli. Replied the American President, "You think you have problems? You are the President of 8 million people, while I am President of 180 million."
To which the Israeli President replied, "Mr. President, you are President of 180 million people. I, however, am the President of 8 million Presidents."
“I have seen this people, and behold! it is a stiff-necked people.”
The Torah itself calls the Jewish People a stiff-necked people. Sometimes this obstinacy can be for the good and sometimes for the not so good.
Stubbornness can be an extremely dangerous trait, for it can foil any attempt to improve our situation. Stubbornness enters a person’s mind and blinkers him from any other possibility other the one on which he has set his mind.
Thus, in the incident with the golden calf with all its severity, the Torah doesn’t focus on the sin itself, rather on the obstinacy that it revealed. A negative action can always be atoned for and repaired, whereas implacable wrong-headedness allows no place for the way of return.
However, there is also a positive side to being stubborn:
In a certain concentration camp, there was one particularly sadistic Nazi officer. One day he ordered a Jew to follow him to the top of a nearby hill. He indicated a cloud of dust rising on the distant Eastern horizon. “Do you know what that is?” “No.” replied the Jew. “That is the Russian Army. In a couple of hours they will be at the gates of the camp. The war is over for you. I want you to eat this piece of ham now, or I will shoot you.” The Jew refused on the spot without batting an eyelash. And the Nazi shot him also without batting an eyelash.
Edward Gibbon in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” writes that of all the nations that Rome subjugated, the only people that clung successfully to its beliefs was the Jewish People. All Rome’s other vassal states managed to segue the Roman gods into their pantheon without batting an eyelash. The Jews, however, were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice rather than abandon their faith.
It is this intransigence, imbued in the spiritual genes of our people by our forefathers, that has preserved Jewish identity to this day.
- Based on Rabbi Simcha Zissel from Kelm