"When you lift up ["ki tissa"]
the head [singular] of the sons of Israel to be mustered, they shall each give
the ransom of his soul to YHVH in mustering them, and there shall not be a
plague among them in mustering them" (Ex. 30:12, literal translation).
Hundreds of years later, when King David made an attempt to conduct a census,
YHVH reprimanded him heavily ("And Satan stood up against
Going back to the census, we see how it enabled further national organization to take place, while offering an opportunity for contributions to be collected for the construction of Ohel Mo’ed (“tent of meeting”, as it is referred to in this Parasha). This pragmatism, wherein the nation's practical and spiritual needs were combined, illustrates the Torah’s intrinsic and typical proclivity for fusing various components and aspects of life into one act or event, as seen here. This command also made it clear that, before the Almighty all were equal: “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel” (30:15).
More instructions for articles and utensils, which are to make up the future Mishkan, follow. In 30:17-21, the brazen laver is mentioned, and then the instructions for making the incense and anointing oil (ref. vs. 23-25). "It shall not be poured on the flesh of man, and you shall not make any like it in its proportion; it is holy. It shall be holy to you. If a man prepares any like it, or who gives from it to a stranger, he shall be cut off from his people" (30:32,33), is the injunction in connection to both (the oil and the incense, see also vs. 37, 38). No doubt the exclusive usage of these articles may also be applied to our lives - making distinctions between that which is set apart and that which is not and not mixing the two, in spite of the above statement, of “fusing various components and aspects of life into one act”. Thus, different matters, commandments and actions, need to be put into their specific Elohim-regulated context.
Now that all the instructions with respect to the Mishkan are in place, it becomes necessary to select the artisans to execute the work. The men chosen by YHVH are Betzal'el the son of Oori, the son of Choor from Yehuda, who was filled with YHVH's Spirit, and Ohali'av (“Father is My Tent”) the son of Achi'se'mach from the tribe of Dan. These two were endowed with all the wisdom, understanding, knowledge and skills that it would take "to make all that I have commanded…" (ref. 31:1-6). YHVH declares, "I have called by name Betzal'el" (31:2, emphasis added), and indeed the meaning of the name is "in the shadow of the Almighty" ("beh"-"in"; "tzel"- “shadow”; “el"-"mighty"). Incidentally, the choice of these two men represents the principle “from the least to the greatest”, as Betzal’el hailed out of the foremost tribe, while Ohali’av from the tribe that was considered the least.
Just before Moshe's return with the Torah instructions, inscribed on the tablets of the testimony "by the finger of Elohim" (31:18), attention is given once more to the Shabbat. It is to be "as a sign between Me and you, throughout your generations, that you may know that I am YHVH who sanctifies [separates/sets apart] you" (31:13). Shabbat is seen here as the seal for the "everlasting [or perpetual] covenant" (v. 16) that YHVH made with Yisrael, who, as a nation is to testify to the fact that He "made heaven and earth in six days and in the seventh He ceased and was refreshed". These instructions are preceded by one little word, "ach" (v. 13), translated, "but", “surely”, or "as for you". However, in this context it appears to mean, "whatever else you do [keep My Sabbaths]”! All seems to be in order now. YHVH hands Moshe the stone tablets He had written, and Moshe is about to descend from the mountain and deliver the Divine message to the People.
Suddenly there is a shift
of scene and time. At what point exactly was it that the people's restlessness
and disenchantment with Moshe led them to put pressure on A'ha’ron to ease off
their frustrations? The answer to that remains unknown, but what our text does
inform us about, is the people's firm resolve to alleviate these frustrations.
"And the people saw that
Moses delayed to come down from the mountain. And the people gathered to Aaron.
And they said to him, 'Rise up, make for us gods who may go before our face. As
for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the
Several key words in this text (32:1-6) help in unraveling this scene as
it unfolds. Moshe's delay here is "boshesh",
its root being "bosh"
(bet, vav, shin) whose primary meaning is “shame, disgrace, to cause
shame and disgrace, or embarrassment (e.g. Gen. 2:25), withering,
dryness and destruction”. This verb decodes the emotions and
thoughts that were plaguing the anxious Israelites. It is not difficult to
envision them expressing the following sentiments: “What embarrassment and shame
is this man Moshe subjecting us to! His strange ways and disappearance will be
our demise, and we will wither
and be destroyed in this
desert!” A large crowd gathers around A'ha’ron, denoted by "(va)yika'hel", of the root k.h.l (kof, hey, lamed) which means “assembly
or congregation”. Thus, the assembly of Yisrael congregates around the
only person whom they deem able to execute the plan that they had already
formulated. To the "elohim" which they demand that A'haron make for
them, they refer in the plural (“make us gods, which shall go before us” 32:1), being in direct defiance of what
they had heard just a little while earlier… "You shall have no other gods
before Me" (Parashat Yitro, Ex. 20:3). With bitter sarcasm they refer to
Moshe as "this man who brought us out of
In an attempt to placate the crowd, A'ha’ron complies, instructing anyone wearing jewelry to "remove" their gold earrings, using, not coincidentally, the imperative plural form for "tear off", which is “par'ku" (32:2). The verb p.r.k (pey, resh, kof) also means “to part, to rip (Ps. 7:2), to fragment, or to tear” (I Kings 19:11; Ezekiel 19:12), thus all-too accurately describing the overall condition of those who were "tearing off" their jewels to make gods for themselves!
the process A'ha’ron takes a stylus
- che'ret (ch.r.t, chet, resh, tet)
(32:4), which seems to share the root with one of the words for "magicians" (such as those who
Thus, whereas in Parashat Mishpatim (in 21:1) we saw that Moshe was to place the Torah in front of YHVH's chosen Nation as a mirror, here the backsliding Israelites, who are so desperate to see with their eyes (as pointed out above), actually suffer a loss of sight, as they are blindfolded by a "ma'seh'cha" (a veil) of their own making. In 34:17, in the course of the renewal of the Covenant, it was necessary to remind them once again, “You shall make no molten gods – elohey ma’seh’cha”.
Continuing in chapter 32: “…And they rose early on the morrow, and they offered burnt offerings and brought near peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" (v. 6, emphasis added). The offense of these descendants of Yitz'chak (Isaac) climaxes when they act in total defiance to the stern warning, which was presented to them in Sh’mot (Exodus) 22:20 (and 34:14): "One sacrificing to gods shall be destroyed”. The verb for “play” is "(le)tza'chek" (of the root tz.ch.k, tzadi, chet, kof - “to laugh") and is used here, implying "making sport, toying with, mocking", or "conjugal caresses" - all of which speak of the lewd debauchery in which Yitzchak’s progeny was engaging.
YHVH discloses to the unsuspecting Moshe the gory details of what "your people whom you brought up out of
The language employed in 32:15,16 could not be more emphatic in recounting the preciousness of the divinely written tablets: “…the two tablets of the testimony… tablets written on their two sides, on this and on that side they were written. And the tablets were the work of Elohim, and the writing was the writing of Elohim; it was engraved on the tablets". All this is in sharp contrast to the horrendous sight awaiting Moshe at the foot of the Mountain.
“When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses. ‘There is a noise of war in the camp’” (32:17). The people were “in the process” of making a sound of “teruah” – literally “b’re’o”. This unusual usage of the verb “to sound a t’ruah” echoes “ra” or “ra’ah” (resh, ayin) – evil, and indeed just a little further A’ha’ron says about the people, “the are set on evil” – ra (v. 22. Refer also to 32:12,14, where ‘harm’ – ra’ah - is used 3 times). This follows the burning of the image, grinding its ashes to powder and mixing it with water, an act preformed by Moshe, who then made the people of Yisrael drink this concoction. YHVH’s messenger was acting on behalf of a jealous Husband who was more than suspicious of His wife’s unfaithfulness and betrayal (see Numbers 5:11 ff – the “law of jealousy”). “She”, therefore, had to partake of this unsavory drink.
a sad confrontation with A'ha’ron, during which the latter defends his position
by making weak excuses, Moshe realizes that the People is "loosed –
unrestrained - for Aaron had let it loose – be unrestrained - for derision
among their enemies" (32: 25). The words for "loose" used here stem from "para" (p.r.a. pey/fey, resh, ayin). As we observed already in
Parashat Miketz (Gen. 41-44:17), the same consonants also appear in Par'oh's
name. The question that arises here is whether the meaning of this root
("unruly," "disorder", “unrestrained”) had any bearing on
the meaning of the title accorded to the Egyptian monarchs (although
"Par'oh", as we noted there, does have its specific and separate
meaning in the Ancient Egyptian tongue).
This issue seems to be quite pertinent in this case, as the Hebrews were
certainly manifesting a reversal to practices which they no doubt observed in
land of their sojourning. Likewise, we have just seen a resemblance of the word
first six verses of chapter 33 describe a transitional phase, leading to the
restitution of relationship between YHVH and His People. As part of the
People's mourning and repentance, they remove the rest of their jewels (verse
6). Interestingly, the verb for removing the jewels is not the same as the one used
above (32:2). Instead, there is the unusual usage of a word that in Shmot
(Exodus) 12:36 was employed for "spoiling"
(the Egyptians). This verb – va’yit’natzlu - shares its root (y.tz.l
yod, tzadi, lamed) with the verb for "deliver"
(Ex. 3:8). Being used here in the course of healing the breach in the
relationship with the Almighty, could be a reminder to Yisrael of their miraculous
In the course of Moshe’s intercession on behalf of the People of Yisrael, YHVH says to him: “… lead the people to that which I have told you…” (literal translation, 32:34). “N’cheh” is the imperative here for “lead”. Later on, in 33:14, after a long discourse between YHVH and Moshe, the Holy One promises: “My Presence – panim-face – will go, and I will give you rest” (literal translation). “Give rest” – hani’choti – actually shares its root with “lead”, and more specifically, “leading toward a goal”, without forgetting, of course, the element of “rest”. Thus, it was only by virtue of YHVH’s “restful and purposeful guidance” that Moshe was able to be the goal-oriented leader that he was.
The rest of the Parasha deals with issues relating, not surprisingly in view of the recent events, to YHVH's presence, His reverence, His revelation to Moshe, and to the renewal of the Covenant. In mentioning the writing of the "d'varim" – “words” on the new stone tablets, the figure "ten" is cited (34:28), unlike the first mention of these “words”, where no number was specified (Parashat Yitro, Ex. chapter 20). In this verse (28) Moshe is described as staying on the Mount, in the Presence of YHVH, for forty days during which time he wrote the tablets, abstaining from food and drink. In 24:10,11 (Parashat Mishpatim) we encountered the elders and nobles of Yisrael ‘seeing’ the Elohim of Yisrael while “eating and drinking”, just prior to Moshe’s first ascent to the Mountain. These two contrasting scenes form quite an object lesson; the one foreshadowing the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” and the time when He will dwell with His own (Rev. 19:9), while the other is signified by markings of sorrow and mourning, resulting from the sin committed by the Nation.
The variety of events crowding Parashat Ki Tissa illustrates, in microcosmic fashion, the topsy-turvy nature of Yisrael's relationship with her Elohim in years to come. Finally, having had the "maseh'cha" (which we discussed above) distort their spiritual sight, the Israelites could not bear the glory which emanated from Moshe's face when he came down from the Mountain. He was therefore obliged to cover his face with a veil ("mas'veh"). "But we [on the other hand] all with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of YHVH in a mirror [the "Torah of liberty"], are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, as from YHVH, the Spirit" (2nd Cor. 3:18 italics added). Truly something to be thankful for, and not to be taken lightly!