Parashat Ki Tisa
The first 6 p'sukim of the sedra are the portion of the Mitzva of the Half- Shekel , which we read as the Maftir for Parshat Shkalim, three weeks ago.
The half-shekel was used to count the People and to create the fund for the purchase of communal offerings throughout the year, as well as other spiritual needs of the community. The half-shekel was required of males from age 20 and up. It was optional for women. (Since the half-shekels were used to count the standing army, it was necessary to keep separate records of a woman's optional contribution. Nonetheless, women could participate in this mitzva.) Although Kohanim were also required to give a half-shekel, they were not forced by the courts in the way that non-kohanim were, as a courtesy to their standing and function in society
Sh'kalim were NOT accepted from non-Jews. (There were funds in the Beit HaMikdash to which a non-Jew may contribute, but NOT the half-shekel. It is sort of like membership dues in Klal Yisrael - for members only.)
Collection took place in Adar, so that the fund would be ready for Nissan, the beginning of the "Beit HaMikdash year". The mitzva applies during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, at which time even Jews living abroad were required to contribute. Without the Beit HaMikdash, we do not actually perform the mitzva, but we have commemorative practices, namely the reading of Parshat Sh'kalim and the giving Zeicher L'Machatzit HaShekel before Megila reading. Remember: Today we don't give Machatzit HaShekel, we just commemorate it. Important distinction.
Participation in the mitzva of the Half-Shekel indicated that a person wanted to be part of Klal Yisrael and included the individual in the atonement of the People.
[SDT] The Midrash says that G-d took a fiery coin from under His Heavenly Throne, showed it to Moshe Rabeinu, and told him: Like this shall they give. What can we learn from the image of a fiery coin? Commentaries say that just as fire can be destructive if misused, but can be very useful and beneficial if used properly, so too is it with money. Perhaps money is (or can be) the "root of all evil", but it can be used for charity and acts of kindness, the purchase of beautiful sacred objects, hiring teachers of Torah, providing a lifestyle that is conducive to Torah study.
The next portion deals with the Laver (KIYOR) and its stand (KANO), for the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet before their sacred work . A kohen who does not wash (sanctify) his hands and feet before doing "service" in the Beit HaMikdash is liable to "death from Heaven" and the korban he has brought is invalid.
What might this say to us? Our Sages have commanded us to wash our hands before eating a bread-meal. (This "Rabbinic Mitzva" is attributed to Shlomo HaMelech and his Sanhedrin.) There are several p'sukim in the Torah that are considered to be the inspiration for the mitzva to wash our hands. This is one of them, based on the famous concept that our (food) table is like the Altar. We are challenged to elevate the mundane act of eating and invest it with a spirituality which is the hallmark of Judaism and a Torah way of life. The comparison between the Altar and our dining table is responsible for several customs, including salting the HaMotzi and removing or covering the bread knife (not necessary on Shabbat, according to some sources) for Birkat HaMazon, not sitting on a table, and more. And, before we approach our "Altar" to serve G-d, we too wash our hands. Just like the Kohen. Not with the same penalty for not washing properly, (thank G-d). Could you imagine a Heavenly death penalty for not washing for HaMotzi? No. But the comparison SHOULD prompt some serious reflection on our part, and hopefully, an improvement of the way we relate to this everyday mitzva.
Basically, the point is to be inspired by the same p'sukim in the Torah that guided our Sages, and to recommit ourselves to Torah, mitzvot, halacha, and Jewish practice.
Back to washing our hands. First, are you careful about washing for HaMotzi? You should be. You are? Good. Are you careful to dry your hands BEFORE washing, so that the water has its intended purpose of removing ritual impurity in the best way. It might seem like a small matter, but there are opinions that washing wet hands does not fulfill the mitzva properly. And do you properly dry your hands after washing? And do you complete the bracha before your hands are completely dry? That too is important. Are you careful not to interrupt between washing and HaMotzi? Of course.
Good. You don't talk until after HaMotzi (until after the first swallow of the HaMotzi). But silence is also an interruption (less severe) and one should try to minimize the gap between washing and HaMotzi. It's not always practical, but it can be done. The point is, to THINK about what we do and why we do it, and HOW we do it. Washing for HaMotzi is an example of a mitzva that is easy to take for granted, to go on "automatic pilot". But if we do, we'll be missing so much. Let's wash better, bench better, daven better, do mitzvot better, treat each other better. Let's be thinking and feeling Torah Jews all across the board.
Next follows the command to take specific quantities of various spices, mix them with olive oil, and prepare the special "anointing oil". The Kohen Gadol and kings of Israel are to be anointed with this oil , as were the sacred vessels of the Mikdash. It is forbidden to use this oil for personal use , or even to dare dishonor the Mikdash by compounding the special mixture privately .
We are next commanded to compound the K'toret, the incense offered twice daily in the Mikdash. The mitzva of K'toret is presented and counted in T'tzaveh; here we have the prohibition of compounding the same formula for personal use .
G-d tells Moshe that B'tzalel shall be in charge of the actual construction and fashioning of the Mishkan and its contents. His assistant shall be Oholiav of Dan, and a team of skilled artisans shall join in the work.
[SDT] Shabbat and Mikdash "rub elbows" several times in the Torah. They complement each other, in that Mikdash represents the Sanctity of Place, and Shabbat represents the Sanctity of Time. One may not build the Mikdash on Shabbat, but the functioning in the Mikdash "pusheS aside" Shabbat. And we learn many rules and details for Shabbat from the CONSTRUCTION OF THE mISHKAN. There is an equation of sorts, certainly a link established, with the pasuk - My Shabbats you shall preserve, and my Mikdash you shall revere.
[SDT] We know that Shabbat steps aside for Piku'ach Nefesh (life-threatening situations) and for Communal Offerings in the Beit HaMikdash (and for testifying for Kidush HaChodesh). That these two items are able to be done on Shabbat, we learn from specific sources in the text of the Torah. That Shabbat steps aside for ANYTHING is learned from the passage here - ACH ET SHABTOTAI TISHMORU. The word ACH - but, however - is generally considered to be limiting. My Shabbats you shall keep, would mean, with no exceptions. ACH - indicates that there are situations when that which is usually forbidden on Shabbat can be done. Again, what the specific things are, are learned from other p'sukim. The ACH here teaches us the general state of affairs - Shabbat can be "violated", under specific circumstances. [Further note. It is not the word ACH that teaches us its meaning. It is our Oral Law and Tradition that teaches us the meaning of the ACH, when it applies and when it doesn't.]
Levi - Second Aliya - 47 p'sukim - 31:18-33:11
The Torah now returns to telling us of Matan Torah, which was "interrupted" by the portions of the Mishkan. G-d gives Moshe the Tablets of stone...
Moshe turns and descends the mountain with the Luchot in his hands. When he sees the Calf, the Tablets either slip from his hands and break or he intentionally smashes them (opinions differ). He seizes the Calf, destroys it, spreads its ashes over the water, and prepares a potion for the people to drink. He asks Aharon what happened. He calls to those "who are on G-d's side" and the Leviyim rally to his call and kill those who dared "worship" the Calf.
On the next day (the exact sequence of events is debated by commentators), Moshe went up the mountain to continue pleading Israel's case before G-d. G-d promises to punish those at fault.
As a result of the Golden Calf, G-d distances Himself from the People. He does, however, reiterate His promise to give them (us) the Land of Israel. The People are distraught by G-d's words. Moshe too removes himself and his tent from the midst of the camp. Moshe remains in direct contact with G-d... and Yehoshua was constantly in the Tent.
Shlishi - Third Aliya - 5 p'sukim - 33:12-16
At the same time that our relationship with G-d was changing because of the Golden Calf, Moshe was asking G-d for a more intimate understanding of the Divine Essence.
Here's a thought... Is it not strange that specifically when Bnei Yisrael is in the midst of a very rough time that Moshe asks G-d to reveal himself to Moshe more than He already has? Perhaps Moshe had a bit of a "spiritual panic" in that G-d, Who had been so close to the people at Sinai was about to distance Himself from us. And Moshe feared that he too would lose out. Mixed with his efforts on behalf of the people, Moshe wants to safeguard and enhance the relationship that he has with HaShem. This will also help in his pleading for the people.
G-d next tells Moshe to cut new stones to replaced the ones he had broken. Moshe again ascends Sinai to receive the Luchot, the Attributes, and Divine Forgiveness. This 40 day period - Elul through Yom Kippur, became days of special approach between G-d and the People.
We are commanded to keep Pesach in the Spring. In a direct link to the Exodus, we have 3 types of B'CHOR mitzvot - human, kosher farm animals, and donkey.
Shavuot and Sukkot complete the cycle of the Pilgrimage Festivals; males are required to appear at the Beit HaMikdash (and not empty- handed). This mitzva and others guarantees our hold of the Land. Shabbat and the Land's Shabbat, Shmita , are referred to. The Korban Pesach may not be offered while its owner has Chametz, nor may we leave K.P. over to the morning. Bikurim are to be brought to the Mikdash and meat-in-milk may not be eaten , as opposed to cooked, which is prohibited in Mishpatim.
Kind of strange that these two mitzvot share a pasuk. Some say that the custom of eating dairy dishes on Shavuot comes from this verse, and its identical counterpart in Mishpatim.
G-d's answer in the Midrash comes from the pasuk that follows LO T'VASHEIL - And G-d said to Moshe: you write these things, for it is on the basis of these things that I make my covenant with you with Israel.
Some see G-d's response as teaching Moshe about the significance of the Written Word and the Oral Law. The Written Word is incomplete without the Oral Tradition handed down from generation to generation. And G-d means it to be that way. He does not want the Torah to be correctly understood by those who have and value only the written word. Misunderstandings when it comes to the laws of milk? Not if you have the whole Torah. Not if you have access to the Talmud and Rambam and Shulchan Aruch and, most importantly, to the teachers who know how to transmit Torah and Mitzvot and their explanations faithfully from one generation to the next..
In the Haftara we witness the common jump from the TAMEI-TAHOR issue to SIN-ATONEMENT. Every time that happens, we have to remember that it isn't a sin to be TAMEI. It's even a mitzva sometimes. Why then do we tend to interchange TAMEI and SIN and TAHOR and ATONEMENT?
Whatever other sources of TUM'A there would be, there would be no TUM'AT MEIT (defilement from contact with a dead body) if there would be no dead bodies. And there would be no dead bodies if there would be no death. And there would be no death if there would be no sin. So there is a connection.
It started with Adam HaRishon and Chava. G-d told them that they will die on the day that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam did die - 930 years after he ate from the Tree. In their case, you will die meant, "there will be such a thing as death". Before Adam and Chava disobeyed G-d, there was to be no death. Eternal life.
But eternal life is incompatible with sin. And the same thing happened with Bnei Yisrael after Sinai. A new relationship had "developed" between G-d and human beings - not all humans, but a subset known as Bnei Yisrael. With our new lives of Torah and Mitzvot, there would not have to be any death for us. Along came the Golden Calf and changed that. Death became part of Life (pardon the expression). Ritual impurity from contact with a dead body is G-d's way of reminding us (so to speak) that people sin. That there is death in this world. For all of us.
It may not be a sin to become Tamei, but essentially, TUM'A exists because of sin. And that's why we keep making the jump from Purification to Atonement and vice versa. Maybe.
Here's another thought - a modification on the first idea. Let's say that Death was always meant to be part of human life. Even without sin, there was to be a finiteness to life. But that does not automatically mean a status of impurity from a dead body. If the body is the receptacle of the holy Soul, then when the Soul departs, what's left should (could) be just a simple empty shell, without its sanctity, but not necessarily a source of Tum'a, the highest (or lowest) form of Tum'a, no less.
Unless we say that it is the physical, base component of the GUF-N'SHAMA (body-soul) combination that causes the person to sin. We do not blame the N'SHAMA for the sin, except by association. (This N'SHAMA was housed in this body, therefore it is held accountable for the deeds of the individual, even after the Soul leaves the body. In other words, without sin the body would not be AVI AVOT HATUM'A, it would just be like an eggshell, to be discarded (in a respectful manner, because of TZELEM ELOKIM, the image of G-d in which it was created). But if a person sins during his lifetime (and who doesn't?) then the body can be likened to a container that partially spoiled its holy contents, and we treat the outer shell as a negative thing, something that is TAMEI.
And even if you don't want to go that far, at least we can say that the status of TUM'A reminds us of the sinning partner of the whole human being.