Torah Weekly

For the week ending 2 March 2024 / 22 Adar Alef 5784

Parshat Ki Tisa

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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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 and Aharon and his sons. G-d selects Betzalel and Oholiav as master craftsmen for the Mishkan and its vessels.

The Jewish People are commanded to keep the Shabbat, 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 to be delayed, and so they force Aharon to make a golden calf for them to worship. Aharon stalls, trying to delay them. Hashem 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 destroys the golden calf. The sons of Levi volunteer to punish the transgressors, executing 3,000 men.

Moshe ascends the mountain again to pray for forgiveness for the people, and G-d accepts his prayer. Moshe sets up the Mishkan and G-d's clouds of glory return. Moshe asks G-d to show him the rules by which he conducts the world, but he 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 Watched Pot

“For this man Moshe, who brought us up from Egypt, we do not know what became of him.” (32:1)

My father was a keen Zionist. In fact, he got into serious trouble with my mother when, at their wedding reception, which was a few days after the founding of the State of Israel, he managed to toast the State of Israel and somehow forgot to mention my mother.

But my father, as so many Jews, found it difficult to believe in the coming of the Mashiach. I said to him once, “Daddy, you were born in 1910. You saw the worst horror unleashed on the Jewish People in history, and four years after the end of that nightmare, the Jewish People had a sovereign state for the first time in over a thousand years. If I’d been around in 1930 and told you then that all this was about to happen, you’d have laughed at me. So, is the coming of Mashiach that much more outlandish?”

It seems to me, at the time of my writing this article, that there is no natural solution, no realistic ‘day after’ scenario for the war in Gaza. It is clear that Hamas will not settle for a state unless it’s from the river to the sea. And Hamas isn’t just the voice of Gaza. A recent Palestinian poll showed that 44% of the adult population in the West Bank support Hamas, up from just 12% in September. And in Gaza itself, the atrocities of October 7th enjoy 42% support, up from 38% three months ago. The idea that Hamas enslaves the poor peace-loving citizens of Gaza, and all we need to do is to get rid of those nasty Hamas terrorists and the Palestinian street will rush out to welcome a two-state solution, is a dangerous pipe-dream.

And, on the other side, Israel isn't going to meekly accept a set of water wings – supplied no doubt by the UN - and happily paddle out into the Mediterranean Sea with Tel Aviv fading into the distance. This is an existential war without a solution. It’s not a question of how to divide up the cake. Not a question of where to draw the line on the map, as in “You get this bit and I’ll swap you this bit.” This is a war of ideals, a titanic clash of cultures that will not, and cannot, end in a stable compromise.

As a believing Jew, it’s clear to me that the only solution to this situation is Mashiach, the Messiah, for whom we daily hope, wait, and pray. I’m sure that to some people this hope seems like a pipe dream. Because nothing in our experience has ever resembled Mashiach.

Imagine you’d never seen water boil. Imagine you lived in a world where there was just no means to heat something hotter than around 200 F or 90 C. You’d imagine that water just got hotter and hotter and hotter. The idea that a cataclysmic change in the nature of water, turning it into vapor, would seem absurd and fanciful in the extreme. It’s difficult for us to imagine cataclysmic change. Today was like yesterday, and yesterday was like the day before that, but things actually do change, and, sometimes, cataclysmically.

Hashem has promised us He will bring Mashiach to us, and just as He promised to preserve His people throughout our long years of exile and torment, which He has done against all the laws of history, so I believe that He will bring His redeemer to Zion.

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