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Torah Portion

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KI SISA- EXODUS 30:11-34:35
A short study of the reading by Yaakov Fogelman,
who lectures on Torah and Zionism

A PLAYFUL INTRODUCTION: Imagine that a 4 year old U.S. Oleh hears the first 2 words of our portion-ki sisa-"when you lift up (count)"; as this expression isn't used in modern Hebrew, he'll likely translate it: "when you go on a seesaw"!

In our unified world, all stems from God and is ultimately connected to everything else; our physical reality is the audiovisual division of His Great Academy. So this association of the portion with a "see-saw", naturally popping up in an American unconscious stream of consciousness, turns out indeed to be a leit-motif of our portion. Perhaps we need the interpretations of every time, place and civilization to get all of the Torah's nuances. Zechariah ben Yehoshua ben Saruk (15th century, Spain and Morocco, author of "Peirush Megillat 'Ahashverosh", 1493, published in Venice, 1565*) justifies his writing yet another commentary on Esther, for: 1) the book is divinely inspired, and therefore limitless in scope. 2)

Man, being composed of matter and spirit, is limited in his capacities; therefore, a human being can never totally comprehend the Divine and there is always something to be added to what has already been said about a divinely inspired book.

I did not find him in the secular academic EJ. But he was listed in the encyclopedia of great scholars of Israel of Dr. Mordecai Margolies. Zechariah occupied important pulpits in Aragon, Spain before the expulsion of 1492, when he left all he possessed and fled with his family to Algeria, where he was greatly honored. His work on Megillat Esther was a token of gratitude for their communal kindness.

We indeed see-saw up to the heights of Sinai with Moshe to get the 2 holy tablets in this portion- but suddenly he must see-saw back down to the depths of despair, the Golden Calf Night Club (Glatt kosher-see their ad in The Jewish Press), to bring the Jews back up to God. His temporary descent to his folk leads to his further ascent toward God, "yerida l'tzorech aliya"-Moshe seeks and obtains new revelations of Divinity, after God puts most of Israel on probation, rather than destroying them, in answer to Moshe's prayers.

The new revelations may be even higher, deeper than those before, a descent for an ultimate ascent. Life often resembles a swing or a sliding board, with its ups when we exert effort, and its downs, when we let go; yet, no matter how individualistic we may be, much of it is really more like a seesaw, all of us linked together-the bodily joy of swings, slides and seesaws may indeed relate to their powerful subliminal life messages! As little children are socialized for Israel's see-saw existence, they sing Bialak's Buberian poem NADNEDA (seesaw): "Nad-ned, Nad-ned, go down, go up, go up and down! What's above, what's below?-- only I, I and You. We two are balanced on the scale, between heaven and earth".

CHAPTERS 30-31: God now gives Moshe His last 5 instructions for the Tabernacle construction (NONE of it has yet been conveyed to the Jews)-

1) Each man who is counted for a military census (from the age of 20) MUST give a half shekel to the tabernacle campaign, an atonement for his soul- thus he'll not be struck by plague WHEN COUNTED! A HOLY SHEKEL = 20 gerahs of silver; silver was also one of the materials VOLUNTARILY given to build the tabernacle. Moshe counted the soldiers soon after this-the resultant first census offering of 301,775 shekels of silver was used for the 100 silver socket bases of the 96 gold plated boards of the Tabernacle walls, and of the 4 beams holding the cloth partition between the holy of holies and the tabernacle proper (100 talents), and 1775 shekels (88.75 lbs.) for the hooks, capitals and fillets of the 60 pillars of the tabernacle courtyard (Ex. 38:28). Per Rashi, this census was taken right after the debacle of the Calf and the resultant deaths.

In later ages, public sacrifices were purchased each year with the half shekels; they were collected in Adar, before the new holy day calendar began in Nissan. So we also read this first section of Ki Sisa on the Shabbat before Adar or Adar II, Shabbat Shekalim, and give three halves of the coins of the local currency, for the poor, at afternoon services on the day before Purim, when all gather to hear the Megillah reading. This corresponds to the three times that truma, uplifting donation, and "half a shekel" are mentioned in our portion. Besides this, other money is given to the poor on Purim. Adar 13 is also the festive "day of Nikanor" (Ta'anis 18b)-- Yehuda b. Mattisyahu killed Greek tyrant Nikanor, who brutally oppressed Israel, in Israel, on Adar 13.

2) The Torah now describes the last utensil-the brass laver, in the tabernacle courtyard, between the bronze altar and the Tabernacle. Barefoot Aharon & sons washed their hands and feet there, before entering the tent or performing sacrifice-otherwise they might die. Today we wash only our hands before prayer, which now replaces sacrifice; our feet are shod, tho some oriental Jews, as Arabs, remove their shoes at prayer.

3) Moshe is given the formula for holy perfumed anointing oil and ordered to make it; it's to be used only for consecration of the tabernacle and priests. Vendyl Jones claims to have discovered the oil, "shemen afarsimon", at Qumran, following the Copper Scroll's encoded directions; he says that he gave it to Rav Getz of The Wall for safekeeping, but does not know what he did with it; Jones also claims that he discovered the ancient spices used in the incense and anointing oil, and identified them thru pollen analysis-pollen does not decay. I hope to get further info in print from him. His most exciting current project is exploring the site of the ancient tabernacle at Gilgal, the walls of which he claims to have discovered by aerial radar photography; he attributes the hostility of the government archeological establishment to his work to their anti-religious bias, afraid that his discoveries will make them return to Judaism; he similarly attributes his successful discoveries to his Noachide involvement with, and faith in, old Jewish sources, with the help of God. I don't know if his ultra-right wing political sympathies affect his work.

4) Moshe is told to make holy perfumed incense-it may be burnt only on the 1 x 1 x 2 cubit "pure gold" altar, facing the partition veil, which covers the ark of testimony.

5) Bezalel, son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of Judah, has been filled with the spirit of the Lord, wisdom, knowledge and all types of craftsmanship. He is to be appointed to build the Tabernacle, assisted by Oholiav of Dan and all inspired craftsman, in whom God has placed wisdom.

Ibn Ezra explains the above order-after the Torah described the annual atonement for abuse of the golden altar (30:10), it continues with the annual atonement of the half shekel; "halfness", one side of the seesaw, conveys one's sense of individual inadequacy, of the need to join with the community to meet God and His goals, e.g. public male prayer with a quorum of 10. The female, created like God's Own unified Will (ratzon), is more whole and complete within herself, and has less public obligations The laver isn't described earlier, as it's made from copper mirrors, donated separately by the women. So the anointing oil and incense were, in fact, special gifts of the princes (tho mentioned generally with all the materials in 25:6); but special donors aren't mentioned in our portion, only in Vayakhel, Ex. 35:27-28. The anointing oil leads to a list of the utensils to be anointed. We then go on to those in charge of the work, Btzalel and Ohialov.

God next tells Moshe to order the Jews to cease holy construction of the Tabernacle, sacred space, on Shabat: "...for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to really know that I, God, make you holy"-

31:13. Shabbat violation, when defiant and properly witnessed, entails the death penalty. Shabbat is a perpetual covenant for the Jews, who WILL observe it strictly: "It's an eternal sign between Me & the Children of Israel, that God made heaven and earth in 6 days, & ceased and withdrew to His soul on the 7th day (17)".

So God precedes his holiday laws of sacred time in Lev. 23:4f with a warning that Shabat must be fully observed, including the prohibitions on cooking and carrying, even when it is also a holiday (Lev. 23:2-3); this refutes Prof. Yaakov Milgram's highly speculative claim that those verses on Shabbat, not holidays, are meaningless unless viewed as a later insertion to console the Jews after the destruction of the temple, when there were no holidays left, only Shabbat!! But the holidays were still in full force then, other than their sacrifices- shabbat sacrifices also could no longer be brought! One still dwelt in a sukka and ate matzos on Pesach! The Vilna Gaon indeed claims that these verses do not refer to Shabbat at all, but to the 6 "regular" holidays and the unique 7th holiday, Yom Kippur-they stress that the usual relaxation of Shabbat creative work prohibitions on the other 6 holidays, when one may do SOME work-cooking and carrying, do not apply to Yom Kippur, Shabbat Shabaton, a Sabbath of Sabbaths (which term, of course, would not apply to Shabbat itself).

This twisted text was apparently the strongest evidence of Yaakov Milgram, a pleasant, spiritual and traditional Shlomo fan, for his polemic against Jewish tradition, which proclaims that the entire Torah is one entity, dictated by God at Sinai (he and I share the awesome joy of Shlomo's Rosh HaShana tapes, $25 from TOP). I will, God Willing, write a bit more about this in our Let's Learn series; it is, as I see it, another illustration that there is little that is "scientific" or "academic" about most speculations of Bible Critics, e.g. Moshe Greenberg, may God heal him soon, Shmaryahu Talmon, Yair Zakowitch-their conclusions usually cannot stand up to talmudic analysis and criticism of their criticism, and to our oral tradition of Biblical interpretation; while such folks certainly know more about ancient languages and cultures than do talmudic scholars, the latter have a much broader and more accurate understanding of the tradition and the Divine meaning of the Torah. The study of Ugaritic, has some redeeming social value for Jewish studies, but is no substitute for study of Vilna Gaon and other traditional sources, in our attempt to deeply explore God's World & Word.

When God finished speaking to Moshe on Sinai, He gave him 2 tablets (for a golden calf headache?) of stone, written with the FINGER OF THE LORD (18), a metaphor-it's also used in Ex. 8:15 and Deut. 9:10, God's fingers are found in Ps. 8:4, THE HAND OF GOD in Ex. 9:3, 14:31, 15:6 and Ps. 139:5, His palm in Lev. 33:22-3, and His arm in Is. 53:1; the priests' fingers are dipped in blood or oil in Lev. 4:6,17; 9:9; 14:16, and used to apply or sprinkle it in Ex. 29:12, Lev. 16:14,19; 8:15; 4:25,30,34; 14:16,26; Num. 19:4. Rambam discusses such anthropomorphism, Guide I:46f.

CH. 32: The people feared that Moshe wouldn't re-enter earthly reality, after his peak experience with God (Second Comings can take awfully long!). They gathered about Aharon, asking him to make them a LORD or ORACLE to lead them, for "who knows what's happened to Moshe, WHO BROUGHT US UP FROM EGYPT?". God's not tangible enough for these newly liberated Egyptians- cf. traditional Christianity. Aharon formed the gold in a mold, casting it into a calf... THEY (who?) said: "These, ISRAEL, are YOUR Lord(s), who brought YOU out of Egypt (32:4)". After SEEING (i.e. having insight), Aharon built an altar before it and PROCLAIMED: "A festival to God tomorrow!". The Jews brought burnt and peace offerings early in the morning. The people SAT DOWN to eat and drink AND GOT UP to FOOL AROUND. They thereby rendered that day, the 17th of Tammuz, a day of historical mourning for the Temple's destruction; Zecharia predicts that it will someday become a day of joy-sin leads to destruction and mourning, which eventually leads repentant man back to God and joy! Man can't escape his destiny, but he can take a long detour ("Maina Shel Torah, Rav A. Kook").

If U grasp too much, you've grasped nothing-a little, you've grasped something (R.H. 4b)

The Haftara speaks of Eliyahu and his miracles and fireworks on Mt. Carmel; tho they TEMPORARILY thrill and inspire the Jews, there's no great change in Israel's faith in God and their understanding of His Torah. Eliyahu's efforts are no more successful than Sinai's drama- the people quickly revert to idolatry, as the prophet becomes burnt out and discouraged. Patient Elisha, who does a little here, a little there, a Yidel here, a Yidel there, takes over. He masters the art of patient waiting, filled and inspired by yearning, the lack of which was the downfall of Adam on Friday and the Calfian Jews at Sinai, when Moshe didn't descend when expected; our third significant waiting is that of Sisra's mom, whose tears, awaiting her Hitlerian son's return, with grim foreboding that he won't, are the basis for the sh'varim-t'ruah notes of our shofars on Rosh HaShana (Rav M. Gafni). To be a Jew is to wait in anticipation of a better world, tho it come after our own departure: "Tho he (The Messiah) tarry, I await daily his arrival". Only after thousands of years of Elisha's patient methods, will Eliyahu return to herald the arrival of the Messiah. The Meshiach will bring all Jews back to Israel for a new rendezvous with God Himself; he'll then teach an existentially bankrupt world, which really needs "Messiach Now"! (Genesis Raba 98:9)

On SHABAT PARA, we also read about the red heifer, Numbers 1:19-22. The Haftara then is Ezekiel 36:16-38, which speaks of the redemption and purification of the people and land of Israel. All will marvel at their new vitality, prosperity (now), and holiness (on the way)-- Divine intervention will be obvious.

Do More Golden Calves roam Bible Land? THE GOLDEN CALF turns up again in Jeroboam's separatist northern kingdom of Israel (IK12:28ff, 2Ch.11:15, 13:8). Jerusalem's Temple would lure his people away, toward his rival, Solomon's son, King Rechavum, in Judea; so Jeroboam banned pilgrimages to Judea, after many priests and Levites fled there. He set up two golden calves in Bet El and Dan as alternative religious centers; he too proclaimed: "These are your lords, o' Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!" He too intended only to create a symbol of God, but idolatry quickly set in. False priests and holidays rapidly sprang up to fill Northern Israel's religious void, leading to its destruction, before that of Yehuda. It's hard for us to see what's in a golden calf, but it's lure spanned many centuries. Otherwise, why pick such a symbol of failure and punishment? You may sense the answer if you dress as one on Purim! The first 2 sections of Ki Sisa are unusually long-- 92 of its 139 verses; this is to give the reading about the golden calf to the 2nd honoree, a Levite, whose tribe was chosen and distinguished for their pious zeal during that tragic affair (Magan Avraham).

From: Rabbi Berel Wein :
The narrative of the incident of Israel and the Golden Calf in the desert is so riveting and fascinating that we return to it year after year with new fascination and interest. How do human beings that experienced Godly revelation at Sinai revert to worshipping a Golden Calf just a few short weeks later? What happened to the "the kingdom of priests and holy nation" to cause this terrible reversal of course? The great commentators to the Bible, and in fact, the Jewish people itself, in its deepest soul, have all wrestled with the problem of understanding this unfathomable fall of Israel and its consequences. And even though a full solution to this problem is not present, at least in this limited space, I think that there are a number of insights that are apparent from this event, and that these insights are pertinent and necessary to us, personally and nationally, today as well.

The Torah stresses that the absence of Moses from the Israelite encampment for so many weeks after the granting of the Torah on Sinai was a strong contributing cause to the debacle of the Golden Calf. Jews, like all other humans, need strong, courageous, sensitive, wise leadership. Every person must perforce make difficult decisions for one's self. The world and Jewish society especially, is not a dictatorship governed by infallible people. But, at the same time, people require guidance, direction and vision in their lives. There must always be someone to point the way, to identify the goals and to formulate plans and ideas as to how to get there. The Jewish people were yet too raw, too insecure, too new to freedom, to be able to be weaned from Moses' continuing presence and leadership. Panicked, they searched for a substitute Moses and reverted back to the idolatrous ways of the society of Egypt, where they had been raised. After forty years, the Jewish people would be able to bear the permanent loss of Moses. But it would take many years of Torah life and training for them to make it on their own, with Joshua as their new leader. The absence of visionary leadership in many sections of today's Jewish world is what has contributed to the plethora of Golden Calves that surround and bedevil us. The Holocaust has crippled us in many ways. Visionary leadership has been one of its worst casualties.

The creation of the Golden Calf was instigated by a group of people described by the Rabbis as "the eiruv rav" (a great mixture of peoples.) This section of the Jewish people was comprised of members of many other nations in Egypt who escaped from their bondage by attaching themselves to the Jewish people at the moment of the Exodus from Egypt. These people became "fair-weather" Jews. During the decades of Jewish wandering in the desert of Sinai, the eiruv rav constantly agitated against Moses and against true Jewish interests. At every opportunity, whenever problems and discomfort arose on the road to the Land of Israel, they always raised the option of returning to Egypt, of becoming pagans once more, of discarding the great Jewish dream for "watermelons and leeks and onions and cucumbers." Unfortunately, whether out of malice or ignorance, the eiruv rav still is present amongst us today. In a wholesale manner, Jews are abandoning Judaism and are being encouraged to do so by others whose commitment to Judaism and Jewish survival is tepid at best. In the present society's permissive atmosphere, that allows one to construct the rules of one's own religion as one wishes, the eiruv rav agitates for the destruction of tradition and the elimination of explicitly stated Torah values and behavior. Is it any wonder that the people yet dance around the Golden Calf?

Lastly, I wish to point out that saving the Jewish people from the clutches of the Golden Calf is not always pleasant and joyful work. When Moses returns to the encampment of the Jews and sees for himself the destruction - both physical and moral - that the creation of the Golden Calf has wrought, he calls for action, even for civil war in order to save the people. "Who is unto God, let him come unto me!" is his battle cry. And the men of the tribe of Levi who rallied to his cause at that fateful moment in Jewish history slew thousands in order to save Israel from the wrath of Godly destruction. Moses remembers the loyalty of Levi to the cause of Jewish survival in his final blessings to the people of Israel. "They spared not even family in their loyalty to God's covenant," he exclaims. No compromise with the Golden Calf is allowed by Moses, for that will only lead the people down the slippery slope of spiritual annihilation. It is an insight that we should ponder in our current society as well (YF: Just what would he do, insofar as we view today's Jews as captives of the contemporary tzeitgeist?.

Our condolences to the Bayewitz and Adan families upon the sudden peaceful death of Blanche Bayewitz of the Jewish , a truly religious woman of great vitality and kindness; she raised outstanding children, a truly great grandma to their children

Mazal Tov to Marna and Stan Snyder and all their family upon the bar mitzva this shabbat of Benny at Jerusalem's Ariel Hotel.

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