Torah Weekly - Parshat Ki Tisa

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Parshat Ki Tisa

For the week ending 22 Adar 5761 / March 16 & 17, 2001

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  • A Real Free Lunch
  • Haftara
  • A New Heart
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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 Hashem instructs Moshe to use this oil only for dedicating the Mishkan, its vessels, Aharon and his sons. Hashem selects Betzalel 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 Hashem 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. Hashem tells Moshe to return to the people immediately, threatening to destroy everyone and build a new nation from Moshe. When Moshe sees the orgy 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 Hashem accepts his prayer. Moshe sets up the Mishkan and Hashem's cloud of glory returns. Moshe asks Hashem to show him the rules by which he conducts the world, but is granted only a small portion of this request. Hashem 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.




    "I shall show favor when I choose to show favor, and I shall show mercy when I choose to show mercy." (33:19)

    Popular wisdom has it that there is no such thing as a "free lunch." Somehow, somewhere down the road, you always seem to have to pick up even more than the tab.

    Sometimes, however, that's not always the case.

    A nice thing about banks is that they love to lend you money. Provided, however, that you have the wherewithal to repay. If you have no cash, no collateral -- and no prospects, you will find that you will be quietly shown the door.

    One of the pleasures of "banking" on the Creator is that He isn't in the banking business.

    When Moshe went "upstairs" to receive the second set of the Tablets of the Covenant, one of the sights that G-d showed him was His storehouse of spiritual treasures. Moshe saw one massive chamber reserved for the righteous. As Moshe continued his tour around this celestial warehouse, he came upon a huge unlabeled chamber. He opened the door and saw a vast treasure. He asked for whom this was reserved. G-d replied that this whole storehouse was reserved for those who had no merits of their own. It was the storehouse of Heavenly favor.

    Judaism is not a religion that answers questions with dogma. Almost every question has an answer in the Jewish scheme of things. Jews have always been known as a questioning people. There are even jokes about why Jews always answer one question with another. Come to think of it -- Why do they?

    We can ask almost any question -- except the ultimate reason why G-d wanted to create this existence. We know that He desired a place to dwell in this lower world. We know that He wanted to bestow His goodness on a creature He created whose name is Man. But why He should want this -- that we can never know. For what someone wants is who they really are. And G-d's ultimate essence can never be known by man.

    This essence is what Moshe referred to when he requested to see "Your glory." G-d replied to him, "I shall show favor when I choose to show favor, and I shall show mercy when I choose to show mercy." This means that G-d sometimes shows favor to those who are undeserving. Why?

    To answer that question, we would need to see "G-d's face." And as the next verse says "You will not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live." Understanding G-d's wishes is understanding Who He is. What He wants is Who He is -- and that, by definition, is beyond the mind of man.

    However, there is a consolation prize. For even those who don't deserve it may find themselves the recipients of a real free lunch.

    • Talmud Berachot 7a
    • Yalkut 393

    Haftara Parah

    Yechezkel 36:16 -- 38


    This year, accompanying parshat Ki Tisa is the haftara of Parshat Parah, the third of the four special Parshiot.

    Just as Parshat Parah concerns the laws of spiritual purity, so too its haftara contains the words "and I will sprinkle upon you the waters of purity." Its prophecy consoles the exiled Jewish people, relating to the reasons of the exile and to their future restoration and establishment in the land of Israel. In the future, spiritual purity, together with a "new heart and new spirit," will be bestowed from above upon those who return to the Torah.


    "And I will remove the heart of stone from within you and give you a heart of flesh."

    When a person transgresses the Torah, he actually harms himself; his suffering soul introverts within his conscience, his feelings become numb and his emotions phlegmatic. This state not only hinders spiritual elevation but lures him to deepen his depression with additional sin. This is the meaning of the statement "a sin motivates a sin" (Pirke Avot 4:2), as the spiritual harm caused by the first decision to sin strengthens his desire for future sin.

    Our Sages compared this situation to a thirsty sailor drinking salt water; the more he drinks the more he thirsts, never to quench his thirst.

    Nevertheless, when a person is determined to return to the Torah path, Hashem removes his heart of stone and furnishes him with a new, sensitive heart of supple flesh, enabling him to embark on a new beginning.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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