Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen – First Aliya – 45 p’sukim – 30:11-31:17
The longest First Aliya in the Torah, by far (but not the longest for Monday, Thursday, previous Shabbat Mincha reading, since we don’t read all of the first Aliya.
The first 6 p’sukim of the sedra are the portion of the Mitzva of the Half- Shekel , which we will read again next week as the Maftir for Parshat Shkalim. 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 – 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 (next Shabbat, IY”H) and the giving Zeicher L’Machatzit HaShekel before Megila reading. Remember: Today we don’t give Machatzit HaShekel, we 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 (V’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. (Actually, 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 (should be, until after the first swallow of the HaMotzi bread). 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 com pound 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.
At this point, G-d reminds Moshe that the Shabbat may not be violated, even for the construction of the Mishkan. (We might have thought otherwise, due to the sacredness of the endeavor, hence the reminder. Shabbat is the eternal sign between G-d and the People of Israel.[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 “pushed aside” Shabbat. And we learn many rules and details for Shabbat from the laws of Shabbat. 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. If 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. This is one aspect of the relationship between the Written and the Oral Word.]
Levi – Second Aliya -47 p’sukim – 31:18-33:11
The longest Second Aliya in the Torah, tied with Parshat Pinchas in number of p’sukim, but longer in words and letters.[SDT] The division of the Aliyot in Parshat Ki Tisa is extremely disproportionate. 45 and 47 p’sukim for the first two portions, leaving 47 p’sukim for the remaining five Aliyot. Two factors produce this result. First, we generally read a tragic portion of the Torah to one person (i.e. within one Aliya); we try not to break it up. The portion of the Sin of the Golden Calf is completely contained within one Aliya. So too, we do not want to call a Yisrael to the portion of the Golden Calf – it is embarrassing to us. Nor would it be proper to call a Kohen for that portion, because of Aharon’s “involvement”. Only the Levi can hold his head high because his ancestors rallied to Moshe’s side in the defense of G-d’s honor. The result is to read for the Kohen the long series of topics at the beginning of the sedra, so the Levi gets the Golden Calf portion. What is left is divided for the remaining five Aliyot. This should teach us a certain type of sensitivity in our daily lives. We should try to avoid talking about certain topics in the presence of those whose feelings would be hurt by such words. There are many variations on this.
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…
When the People saw (or thought) that Moshe was delayed in returning from Sinai, they feared that they would be leaderless, and they appealed to Aharon to do something. Exactly what he did is disputed, but his delaying tactic resulted in the emergence of the Golden Calf. Most of the people were confused and did nothing(that was part of the problem), but 3000 men arose and reveled in the Calf. G-d told Moshe to see what the People were doing in his absence. G-d indicates to Moshe that the People are deserving of destruction.
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 Levites rally to his call and kill by sword 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 responsible.
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.[SDT] The pasuk tells us that about 3000 people were killed in the aftermath of the Golden Calf episode. The P’SHAT, the straightforward understanding, is that 3000 people of over 600,000 men sinned and were killed. (This would be half of a percent of the adult male population. With women and children, the total population was probably about 2 million.) The Midrash on Kohelet, based on a pasuk there says that approx. one in a thousand sinned. That would mean about 600 men. The Vilna Gaon sees a significance in the numbers based on the punishment for one who steal and sells or kills a cow. The Torah says he shall pay “five times for the ox”. The people paid that price with 3000 fatalities by the member of the cow family – the Golden Calf. 600 actual violators times 5 equals 3000 casualties.
If this is so, how come people who did not actually sin with the Golden Calf were killed? The answer lies with a fact of Jewish Life – All of Israel is responsible for one another. Anywhere from .1% to .5% of the adult male population sinned, but there must have been many, many people in a position to do something about the situation and didn’t.
Rambam, in Hilchot T’shuva, lists 24 kinds of sins that are very difficult to repent from. Among them, is he who causes someone else to sin. Included with this sin, says Rambam, is he who could have influenced the sinner towards good, but didn’t. This explains why additional people can be guilty of a sin.
The DRASH is a DRASH, and this explanation is oversimplified, but it does make one think, does it not?
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 5 p’sukim – 33:12-16
Moshe argues that G-d must remain in the midst of the People in order to demonstrate that He truly chose us. One senses the unique relationship between G-d and Moshe that permits Moshe to speak to Him the way he does.
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.
R’vi’i – fourth Aliya – 7 p’sukim – 33:17-23
G-d agrees to Moshe’s request, because of His special feelings towards Moshe. Then Moshe asks that G-d reveal more of Himself to him (Moshe). G-d tells Moshe that such a revelation is impossible, but that Moshe will be able to experience more of G-d’s essence. This, with the understanding that it won’t be everything. The p’sukim in this portion of very enigmatic. Commentaries attempt to unravel the mysteries of these p’sukim.
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.
Chamishi – fifth Aliya – 9 p’sukim – 34:1-9
This portion (read on Fast Days) contains the 13 Divine Attributes. One can say that not only did G-d forgive the People for the Golden Calf, but He also gave them (us) the method of approaching Him in prayer. Not only are we to recite these 13 Attributes, but we must emulate as many of them as possible. “Just as He is merciful, so too must we be merciful…” In this way we will KNOW His Attributes, not just mechanically recite them.
G-d next tells Moshe to cut new stones to replaced the ones he had broken. Moshe once again ascends Sinai to receive the new Luchot, the Attributes, and G-d’s message of Divine Forgiveness. This 40 day period – Elul and the 10 Days of T’shuva, became days of special approach between G-d and the People.
Shishi – sixth Aliya – 17 p’sukim – 34:10-26
Our position relative to other nations is conditional upon our keeping of the mitzvot. We are forbidden to make covenants with the nations in Eretz Yisrael. Specifically, we are forbidden to eat or drink of idolatrous offerings . All this to avoid falling to their temptations and to avoid intermarriage. We must destroy their idols.
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.
The differences among the three types of B’CHOR are interesting. A human B’CHOR must be redeemed. Even though the Kohen asks the father which he would prefer, his son or the silver, it is not a free choice. The father must opt for the child.
In the case of cow, goat, and sheep, it is forbidden to redeem the firstborn. It must be given as a gift to a kohen, and he must bring it (if it is fit) as a korban. Attempted redemption is forbidden, and results in both the original B’chor and the attempted exchange-animal being sacred.
The firstborn of a donkey SHOULD be redeemed (exchanged for a sheep or its value). If the owner refuses to redeem the firstborn donkey, it must be destroyed. This destruction (with no one benefiting from the carcass) is also a mitzva (as is redemption).
Another point of interest is the distinction between the first born kosher animal and the donkey is what is done today. According to Shulchan Aruch, the mitzvot of B’chor apply in our time, even without the Beit HaMikdash. In the case of the kosher animals, though, there is a problem.
Picture this: Today, a person owns a ewe (female sheep) who is expecting her first offspring. It’s a boy! Kadosh. The lamb is sacred from birth. Whether the owner proclaims it (which the mitzva requires him to do) or not. He is required to raise it for 30 days, and then to give it to a kohen of his choice. If the lamb is blemish-free (if not there are some difficulties, as well), the kohen must bring it as a korban within its first year. Problem. No Beit HaMikdash. Okay, the kohen must take care of the lamb, never deriving benefit from it. It’s sacred. Even today. When the lamb needs shearing for its own health and comfort, the wool must be buried. No benefit. Just the burden of caring for its entire lifetime. This kind of situation is considered so tempting for the kohen to do something he may not (sell it, slaughter it, maim it, etc.) that our Sages did a sad thing. They command us to avoid this mitzva. With all the mitzvot that don’t apply in our time, it is sad that they have to tell us to avoid a mitzva that technically does apply. It is easily accomplished. Sell a minor share of the pregnant sheep to a non- Jew. Then the firstborn has no sanctity as a B’chor. After the birth, buy the token share back and there are no problems.
What about the donkey? Maybe I’ll sell a share in the mother to avoid losing a sheep in the redemption process. Forbidden. Having just taught us how to avoid the birth of a sacred B’chor of a kosher animal, the Shulchan Aruch must forbid us from using the same halachic technicality to avoid the mitzva of Pidyon Peter Chamor, the redemption of the first born donkey. The reason for the difference is that there is no sanctity problem, no Beit HaMikdash and korban issue with the donkey. There is a mitzva to perform. It can be done today with no problems. Therefore, it should be done.
If one avoids this mitzva, he is in violation of a Rabbinic law, but the baby donkey would have no restrictions and no redemption would be needed. If, on the other hand, a person were to not avoid B’chor of a cow, goat, and sheep, the mitzva would apply and impose serious restrictions, and instead of saying Yasher Ko’ach to the person, we’d point out that he violated a Rabbinic prohibition.
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.
The Midrash says that when G-d dictated to Moshe LO T’VASHEIL G’DI BACHALEIV IMO, and explained to him the laws of meat-in-milk, Moshe Rabeinu asked G-d’s permission to write meat and milk (rather than the potentially misleading and confusing G’DI in the milk of its mother). It seems that Moshe anticipated the questions and comments that people would have, and the wrong ideas that would spring from the wording of this mitzva. Is it forbidden only to cook but permitted to eat? Only the animal’s own mother’s milk or any meat with milk? Just meat from a young animal, or a mature one too? Etc.
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..
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 9 p’sukim – 34:27-35
Moshe is commanded to write all this down, for they are the basis of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish People. When Moshe returns from Sinai, he is unaware of the aura emanating from his face. Aharon and the people shy away from him. Moshe calls them back so he can teach them Torah. Moshe transmits the words of G-d to the People of Israel. The last 3 p’sukim are reread for the Maftir.
Haftara – 39 p’sukim – M’lachim Alef 18:1-39 (S’faradim begin from pasuk 20)
The Haftara parallels the main features of the sedra with the episode of Eliyahu on Mt. Carmel and the challenge to the prophets of Baal. Just as Moshe Rabeinu was confronted with a people with confused loyalties, so too Eliyahu HaNavi. Eliyahu HaNavi asks all the people how long they plan on straddling the fence. This was the problem of Dor HaMidbar with the Golden Calf. They did not abandon G-d; they were just confused about which way to turn and some wanted both G-d and the Calf. Both G-d and the worship of Baal. Rabbi Jacobs points out that both Moshe and Eliyahu used highly unconventional methods to make their points. Moshe smashed the Luchot. Eliyahu offered a sacrifice outside the Beit HaMikdash.
The Haftara concludes with the dramatic pronouncement, HaShem Hu Ha’Elokim. We borrow this reaffirmation of our belief and faithfulness to G-d at the conclusion of Ne’ila.