Weekly Reading Insights: Ki Tissa


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Ki Tissa, Parah
To be read on the Shabbat of 18 Adar, 5762 (March 2)

Torah: Ex. 30:11-34:35, maftir Parah Numbers 19:11-22
Haftorah: Ezekiel 36:16-18 (for Parah-"the Red Heifer")

Stats: Ki Tissah contains 4 positive mitzvot and 5 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
Ki Tissah
ranks 10 out of 54 in number of verses, 5 in number of words, and 8 in number of letters

The Jews were commanded to make a census in which each male over the age of 20 gave half a shekel, and to make a washstand and basin, anointing oil, and incense for the Tabernacle. Betzalel and Oholiav were chosen as the head craftsman for the construction of the Tabernacle, its contents, the priestly clothes, oil, and incense. The Jews were commanded to observe Shabbos, the day of rest. Believing Moshe's descent overdue, the Jews asked Aharon to make them a deity. From gold the Jews gave, a calf was formed which the Jews began to worship. On the mountain, G-d told Moshe of what the Jews had done. Moshe pleaded with G-d not to annihilate them, reminding His promise to the forefathers to make the Jews a nation. Upon his descent, Moshe saw the Jews idolatrous behavior and threw down the tablets of the 10 commandments, breaking them. Then G-d, Moshe and the Levites punished offenders. G-d said that an angel would lead them in the desert, but eventually agreed to Moshe's plea that He directly lead the Jews. G-d granted Moshe a special vision of His glory. G-d told Moshe to carve out two new tablets and return to the mountaintop. Moshe recited special verses that mention G-d's attributes of mercy. The Jews were reminded not to commit idolatry, not to make peace treaties with the nations living in Israel, to observe Passover, Shavuos and Shabbos, to dedicate first born males, animals and first fruit to G-d, that all men appear before G-d at the Temple thrice yearly at certain times, and not to mix milk and meat. Moshe wrote down all the commandments, and G-d wrote the Ten Commandments on the two new tablets. When Moshe descended this time, his face was so luminous that he had to wear a veil over it.


"The Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath." (31:16)

The holiness of Shabbat exists independently of the Jew; all he is enjoined to do is guard it. Yet at the same time, the Jew is commanded to observe Shabbat by his own actions, adding to its inherent holiness with his preparation and service.

(Sefer Hamaamarim)

Every Jew is given an extra G-dly soul on the Sabbath, which is why we are especially careful in keeping its laws: G-d is always more stringent with those He is closest to.

(Ohr Hatorah)

"Before all your people I will perform wonders, such as have not been done on all the earth, nor in any nation." (4:10)

The Hebrew word for "wonder" is related to the word meaning "set apart." G-d promised the Jews that they would be set apart from the rest of the nations of the world, for His Divine Presence would henceforth rest only on them. But what "wonders" were promised? Not merely miracles in the physical world, but wonders in the spiritual sense, a deeper understanding of G-dliness and holiness than is afforded others. That is why the verse specifies "before all your people," for only the Jew can really understand and appreciate the depth of these wonders.

(Ohr Hatorah)



Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

"Every man over 20 years old …….and give this offering to G-d."

The Torah stipulates that the minimum age at which a person had to make his half-shekel contribution was from twenty years and up. The Torah revealed a secret here when it did not demand that males from the age of 13 and up had to make this contribution.
Seeing the males are considered as adults from the age of 13, why would teenagers not have been liable for this ransom? They also had participated in the golden calf episode!
The Torah told us here that a person's personality (nefesh) has not matured until age 20, as he had not had time to absorb and comprehend the various spiritual components that make up a true Israelite until he has reached that age. This is the mystical dimension of Psalms 2:7: "You are My son, I have fathered you this day."
Compare what the Zohar Mishpatim 98 has to say on that verse. [The Zohar on Exodus 21:9 writes that a man is called ben form the age of 13, and ben lehakodosh baruch hu from the age of 20. Ed.]
There is a sound reason why man should not be liable to punishment at the hands of heaven until he has reached that age, seeing that he has not yet matured emotionally and intellectually.
Such maturity is essential to enable us to successfully battle the evil urge and to appreciate G-d's message to man. By the time man has reached the age of 20 he is considered fully equipped to cope with all kinds of temptations.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter

When Moshe came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets, he saw how the Jewish people had sinned with the golden calf. In reaction to this, he threw down and broke the tablets in the sight of all the Jewish People. The Midrash teaches that afterwards, Moshe felt bad about having broken the tablets. G-d told him, "Don't be regretful! The first tablets had only the Ten Commandments. The second tablets, which I will give you, will have much more. Along with the second tablets, the Jews will also receive (all of the commentaries, i.e.-) halachas, Midrash, Agadot, and the entire Oral Torah." Why didn't G-d include all these with the first set of tablets? Why did G-d wait to give them until Moshe broke the first tablets?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe answers that in order for someone to be ready to receive all of G-d's Torah, he or she must be humble. True humility means that we understand that every asset we have is a gift from G-d. Our job is to use these assets properly. When someone is focused on serving G-d and therefore attains humility, then he or she is fit to receive the Torah. This is as it says in the prayer, "…and my spirit shall be like dust before all; open my heart to Your Torah." Once we become humble like the dust of the earth, then our hearts are ready to accept the Torah.

At the time of the giving of the Torah, G-d chose the Jews from all the other nations, raising us above all other peoples. The Children of Israel were on an exalted spiritual level. They felt themselves to be very important, but they were lacking the humility required in order to receive the Torah-"…my spirit shall be like dust before all…" When Moshe broke the tablets for all to see, so too was broken the haughty spirit of the Jewish people. True humility filled their hearts. They immediately became fit to receive all of the Torah-the tablets as well as the halachas and Midrash of the Torah.

This is why G-d said to Moshe "Be blessed for having broken them" (Rashi). It was not just a consolation--G-d thanked Moshe for breaking the tablets! Through their breaking, Moshe caused the Jews to become humble in their own eyes, and therefore fit receivers of the Torah. From this explanation we can understand why the Ark in the Bais HaMikdash (Temple) contained the pieces of the first broken set as well as the two whole second tablets. For what purpose were the pieces of the first tablets kept? It was to be a constant reminder to the Jews that in order to receive the Torah, one must have humility, without any arrogance. The next time something not so pleasant happens, think about how the Jewish people felt when the tablets were broken. Maybe here too the Almighty is coming to remind us of this lesson. Then, one's heart can be open to the holy Torah. (Adapted from Mayan Chai)

Shabbat Shalom!

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