Torah Weekly

For the week ending 23 February 2019 / 18 Adar I 5779

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.


Only One Way

I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people.” (32:9)

Two thing stick out in my memory of Uncle Solly, a”h. One was the enormous glass pickling jars in his greenhouse. Uncle Solly’s “cukes” were the gold standard for the Spivack family. The other thing I remember vividly to this day was an interesting drive with him around the East End of London together with my cousin Gary Lyons. Because of the docks, London’s East End was always the first point of welcome for immigrants. Now even though Britain didn’t exactly have an Emma Lazarus to proclaim, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Britannia received many Jews either willingly or grudgingly during the years of the terrible Russian pogroms at the turn of the 20th century. The East End was Uncle Solly’s “back-yard” — he knew it like the back of his hand. He had a furniture factory under the arches of an elevated section of the railway. I don’t remember exactly where.

Anyway, Uncle Solly and Gary and I were zooming around the East End. (By the way, he was helping us fit out our new recording studio which later would go down in history as the studio where Queen mixed Bohemian Rhapsody.) And, suddenly, he turned sharp right into a tiny street which had two, unmistakable, red “NO ENTRY – ONE WAY” signs on both sides of the street. Gary said to him, “Uncle, this is a one-way street!” To which Uncle Solly replied in his inimitable cockney twang, “Well I’m only going one way, aren’t I?”

“I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people.” (32:9)

The Berditchever Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak once prayed: “Ribono shel Olam, Master of the World, I want to propose a deal. We have many sins. You have much forgiveness. Let us exchange our sins for Your forgiveness. And if You should say to me that this is not a fair exchange, then my reply is, ‘If we had no sins, what would You do with Your forgiveness?’”

At first blush this sounds a bit like the old Yiddish joke:

"Shloime, close the window. It's cold outside."

"Moishele, and if I close the window, it should be warm outside?"

However, far from being a person with chutzpa, the Berditchever was tapping into a truth older than time. Chazal tell us that teshuva predates the world. The verse states,“Before mountains were created… You said: Repent, sons of man.” (Tehillim 90: 2-3). This teaches that the concept of teshuva exists even before a sin has been committed.

G-d created the world for teshuva. G-d created the world for forgiveness.

If it’s possible to say, G-d created the possibility of sin — that distance that sin brings — in order that the coming close could be even greater. He created night before day (“And it was evening, and it was morning”) only so that the perception of the light would be that much greater. It is part of His love for His people that however stiff-necked we are, He created those one-way streets of life only to be at the end of them to forgive us.

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