Shabbat Shalom! – Ki Tisa

Image: Stylized image of a golden cow (Kaz/pixabay)

This week’s Torah portion is full of drama. God commands a tax of a half-shekel, based on the census. This will go for upkeep of the Tabernacle [Mishkan]. We meet a central character of the wilderness years, Betzalel, who will be the general contractor and chief artist for the Mishkan.

God gives two stone tablets to Moses, who carries them down Sinai, only to find that in his absence, the Israelites have panicked and build a calf-idol of gold. (There is a great midrash on this story about what happened when the men asked the women of Israel for their golden earrings.) The Golden Calf story ends in disaster, of course. Moses shatters the tablets and the people who messed around with idolatry get a terrible punishment. The aftermath of these events leaves Moses with rays of light coming from his head, rays that a later generation of Biblical scholars will mistranslate as “horns.”

Some excellent divrei Torah on this portion:

Courage, Convictions, and Leadership by Rabbi Dan Levin

Go Down, Moses! by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger

Half a Sheqel by Rabbi Jordan Parr

Inspiration by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

A Call for Calf Control by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

True Believers Inflame by Rabbi Nina Mizrahi

Theological Revisionism by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Magical Merciful Tour

Image: Sunlight streaming through clouds. (Unsplash/Pixabay)

Every High Holy Days, we recite the words from Parashat Ki Tisa:

Adonai, Adonai, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and pardoning. – Exodus 34:6-7

Known as the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy,  our ancestors believed that by  repeating this passage, the congregation would convince God to indeed be merciful. (RH 17b). Such a “magical formula” is offensive to modern Jews. Surely we cannot manipulate God by reciting a charm!

Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (17th c) argues in Shene Lukḥot haBerit that, rather than recite the Thirteen Attributes as they have come down to us, we should not be reciting, but acting upon the words:  “Ya’asu lifne b’seder hazeh”  “let them do before me in this order.” In other words, there is no magic formula. Our deeds bring God’s mercy into the world when we ourselves behave mercifully. 

 

Therefore it is up to us to strive daily to be “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, pardoning.” This is a tall order indeed, but we are human beings created in the image of God, living in covenant with God. We can bring forgiveness into the world for others and for ourselves by our actions.

Shabbat Shalom! Ki Tisa

Image: The Adoration of the Golden Calf. Painting by Nicolas Poussin. Public Domain.

This week’s Torah portion is full of drama. God commands a tax of a half-shekel, based on the census. This will go for upkeep of the Tabernacle [Mishkan]. We meet a central character of the wilderness years, Betzalel, who will be the general contractor and chief artist for the Mishkan.

God gives two stone tablets to Moses, who carries them down Sinai, only to find that in his absence, the Israelites have panicked and build a calf-idol of gold. (There is a great midrash on this story about what happened when the men asked the women of Israel for their golden earrings.) The Golden Calf story ends in disaster, of course. Moses shatters the tablets and the people who messed around with idolatry get a terrible punishment. The aftermath of these events leaves Moses with rays of light coming from his head, rays that a later generation of Biblical scholars will mistranslate as “horns.”

Some excellent divrei Torah on this portion:

Please Let Me Know Your Ways by Rabbi Robin Podolsky

Can You Really Ask God That? by Rabbi Beth Kalish

Behind the Veil by Anita Silvert

In the Face of It All by Rabbi David Kasher

All that Glitters is not Gold by Rabbi Lisa Edwards

2 Minutes of Torah – Ki Tisa by Rabbi Ellie Steinman [VIDEO]

Can You Teach an Old Calf New Tricks? by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

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