Weekly Reading Insights

Ki Tissa 5763


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Ki Tissa
To be read on 20 Adar Alef 5763 (Feb.22)

Torah: Ex. 30:11-34:35;
Haftorah: Kings I 18:1-39 (parallels to Golden Calf episode)

Stats: Ki Tissa 9th Reading out of 11 in Exodus and 21th overall, contains 4 positive mitzvot and 5 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 245 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 8th out of 54 in overall length.

Commandments 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 Mocha’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 mountain top. Moshe recited special verses which 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 should 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.


"…Every man shall give G-d an atonement for his soul...a half-shekel." (30:12-13)
Moshe could not understand how money can accomplish forgiveness for the soul. G-d showed Moshe a fiery coin which weighed a half-shekel, and He explained that a coin by itself cannot atone for a grave sin. However, if one gives with warmth and enthusiasm that comes from the fiery core of the Jewish soul, then a coin can truly become the cause of forgiveness.
(Likutei Sichot)

The amount was set at precisely half a coin, to show that G-d Himself is responsible for the other half. Had He not created the Evil Impulse to tempt us in the first place, we would never transgress.

(Rebbe Simcha Bunim)




Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.

Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

Seeing that the Tabernacle was a re-enactment of the work of creation, and Israel, as the carrier of the Merkava, is closely intertwined with the forces represented in the construction of the Tabernacle, we can understand why the 39 kinds of work prohibited on the Sabbath are the ones which were employed in the construction of the Tabernacle.

In this portion, Betzalel and the other divinely inspired artisans are commanded to observe the Sabbath regulations even during such a holy endeavor as the construction of the Tabernacle, because the Torah (31, 13) says: "But you must observe My Sabbath days."

Because the Sabbath represents a mystical element of the Ineffable Name, we have been forbidden to carry items from the "private domain," i.e. the domain represented by the Ineffable Name as Yud, as we showed earlier, to the public domain (which represents the number 4, as cubits) as we described. In a nutshell, before
G-d created the physical universe, there was only a single domain, G-d's domain, the private domain; since G-d created a universe, there is an additional domain, the public domain, since G-d by having created the universe - "shared" part of His previously exclusive private domain with His creatures.

The principle of private and public domain thus became part of the creation, and is reflected in restrictions placed on the interaction of these domains on the Sabbath. Israel is described in numerous Midrashim as the mate of the Sabbath; this is because both Israel and the Sabbath are holy.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

(for a free weekly email subscription, click here)

(W:21-63 Ki Tissa )

Ki Tisa introduces the commandment, "Aaron and his sons should wash their hands and feet in it (the washstand) before they come to the tent of meeting" (Ex. 30:19). This washing had two purposes. First, cleanliness and purity is a prerequisite to priestly service. Second, by washing, the priest would come to a higher level of holiness. The Mishna calls this process, "sanctification of the hands and feet" (Yoma 28a).

Since the destruction of the Temples, it is impossible for us to serve the Almighty in totality. Notwithstanding, the spiritual imperative for the required service still exists today. The "priest" is every Jew, as the verse says, "You are a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation". Accordingly, it is appropriate even today for each of us to prepare ourselves for spiritual service by washing. The Rambam writes in his Laws of Prayer, "Before one prays the morning prayers, he should wash his face, hands and feet and only afterwards pray." His ruling is based on the Talmudic adage, "The daily prayers are said in relation to the temple offerings". Similarly, the washing we do today is representative of the purity and sanctification accomplished by the washing performed by the priest before his service.

It might have slipped by you, but the Rambam added a detail not present in the commandment for the priests - the washing of the face. The Rambam was not trying to make our lives more complicated. The washing of the face has a special significance in these days of exile. What is the difference between our present era and Temple times?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that feet and hands, means of interfacing with the world, represent the human capacity of action. On the other hand, the face connotes the subtler, inner strengths, our intellect, sight, hearing, speech, etc.. The mundane world is dealt with primarily via our feet and hands, as the verse says, "With the effort of your hands you should eat" (Psalms 128:2). This isn't an idle statement. King David is telling us that it is our hands that we should invest in the world. Your other, more inner strengths keep for the acknowledgement of and service of G-d.

From this point we can understand the difference between now and the period of the Temples. During the Temple eras, we were on a higher level. The "face" was automatically separated from the physical world. It was natural to maintain an aloofness of the mind and its faculties from the mundane. Therefore, designating sanctification of the face was unnecessary. This is not true today when it is hard to remain aloof from the world. Additionally, our higher qualities are very much under attack by the world we live in. Some extra protection, in the form of a little extra purity and holiness is required. This is the basis for the Rambam's addition, to wash our faces before prayer.

One may think that while the above is a nice idea, it's a bit superficial. Washing your face to remain aloof from an aggressive world? And according to some major Jewish authorities you are correct. They do not require such action. A Jewish person innately has the strength not to be swept away by the world. Other Rabbis say that even the subtlest effort at the start of our day, such as the saying of the "Modeh ani" prayer, is enough to put us in control and connected to our spiritual source, the Holy One blessed be He. Overt action is not required they say. The inner dimension of every Jew is always available to serve the Almighty and is out of reach of the world and its tentacles. But to be honest with you, I personally say "Modeh ani" and wash my face before I pray. (Today it is not customary to wash our feet because we cover them.)

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

(for a free weekly email subscription, click here)

For all our insights for this parsha from last year


Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION