Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 March 2007 / 20 Adar I 5767

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, 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 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.


The Spice of Life

“…five hundred shekel-weight of pure myrrh…” (30:23)

One of the most misunderstood concepts in Judaism is tzniut.

Insufficiently mistranslated as “modesty,” tzniut is often taken to apply solely to the height of hems and the depth of necklines, but tzniut involves much more than clothing.

Cruising the block in a wild set of wheels at an easy pace, or sporting a diamond ring that looks like it should never have been let out of the Brinks van, is no more tznua that an over-revealing dress.

Tzniut really would be better translated as ‘hidden-ness’.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah lists the formulation of spices in the anointment oil and the ketoret (incense). The first of the ingredients was mor dror – pure myrrh. The Talmud teaches that myrrh is an allusion to Mordechai, for the Aramaic translation of mor dror is mora dachia – Mordechai.

What is the connection of the ketoret to Mordechai and to Purim?

The more precious something is, the more it needs to be hidden. To the best of my knowledge, Fort Knox has never given guided tours of its facility (nor free gifts at the end of the tour).

The holier something is the more it needs to be hidden. The climax of the service of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, was the burning of the ketoret in the Holy of Holies, the holiest place in the world. That central event took place in total seclusion. And even when the ketoret was burned during the rest of the year in the Heichal (Sanctuary), the kohanim would leave so that it could be burned in private.

Mordechai’s name hints to myrrh, because his great strength was inconspicuousness. Because of the tzniut of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews of Persia were spared. When Mordechai discovered a plot against the king, he didn’t take the credit for uncovering the conspiracy; rather he gave the information to Esther for her to reveal. It was Esther herself who decided to divulge that Mordechai was responsible for saving the king.

The story of Purim is a story of hidden-ness. Esther’s name means ‘hidden’. When Esther was chosen to be queen, rather than trumpeting her lineage, she hid her Jewish identity.

The very name of the book that relates the events of Purim — Megillat Esther — means, “to reveal that which is hidden.”

We live in a world where G-d has chosen to hide Himself almost totally.

“Where was G-d?” is the question so many ask when confounded by the events of recent history.

At the time of Mordechai and Esther, the question could also have been asked, “Where is G-d?”

It was Mordechai and Esther’s inconspicuousness, their tzniut, that caused G-d’s hidden Hand to be revealed.

When G-d acts with hiddenness, the only way we have to discern His Presence and to reveal Him in the world is to behave with hiddenness, with inconspicuousness and with modesty.

  • Sources: Maharal, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

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