"When you lift up
["ki tissa"] the head [singular] of the sons of Israel to be
mustered, they shall each give the ransom of his soul to YHVH in mustering
them, and there shall not be a plague among them in mustering them" (Ex.
30:12, literal translation). Hundreds of years later, when King David made an
attempt to conduct a census, YHVH reprimanded him heavily ("And Satan stood up against
More instructions for articles and utensils, which are to make up the future Mishkan, follow. In 30:17-21, the brazen laver is mentioned, and then the instructions for making the incense and anointing oil (ref. vs. 23-25). "It shall not be poured on the flesh of man, and you shall not make any like it in its proportion; it is holy. It shall be holy to you. If a man prepares any like it, or who gives from it to a stranger, he shall be cut off from his people" (30:32,33), is the injunction in connection to both (the oil and the incense, see also vs. 37, 38). No doubt the exclusive usage of these articles may also be applied to our lives – being careful to distinguish the set-apart from that which is not, without mixing the two (in spite of the above statement of, “fusing various components and aspects of life into one act”). Thus, different matters, commandments and actions, need to be put into their specific Elohim-regulated context.
Now that all the instructions with respect to the Mishkan are in place, it becomes necessary to select the artisans to execute the work. The men chosen by YHVH are Betzal'el the son of Oori, the son of Choor from Yehuda, who was filled with YHVH's Spirit, and Ohali'av (“Father is My Tent”) the son of Achi'se'mach from the tribe of Dan. These two were endowed with all the wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and skills that it would take "to make all that I have commanded…" (ref. 31:1-6). YHVH declares, "I have called by name Betzal'el" (31:2, emphasis added), and indeed the meaning of the name is "in the shadow of the Almighty" ("beh"-"in"; "tzel"- “shadow”; “el"-"mighty"). Notice the order of the 'qualifications' of Betzal'el: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. If compared to Isaiah 11, with the attributes which the Spirit endowed upon the "Rod from the stem of Yishai", we find that wisdom and understanding were the first two, while knowledge ranks further down (Is. 11:2,3). Incidentally, the choice of the two craftsmen represents the principle “from the least to the greatest”, as Betzal’el hailed out of the foremost tribe and from a family that was to produce the royal line, while Ohali’av's tribe was considered the least.
Just before Moshe's return with the Torah instructions, inscribed on the tablets of the testimony "by the finger of Elohim" (31:18), attention is given once more to the Shabbat. It is to be "as a sign between Me and you, throughout your generations, that you may know that I am YHVH who sanctifies [separates/sets apart] you" (31:13). Shabbat is seen here as the seal for the "everlasting [or perpetual] covenant" (v. 16) that YHVH made with Yisrael, who, as a nation is to testify to the fact that He "made heaven and earth in six days and in the seventh He ceased and was refreshed". These instructions are preceded by one little word, "ach" (v. 13), translated, "but", “surely”, or "as for you". However, in this context it appears to mean, "whatever else you do [keep My Sabbaths]”! Even the construction of the Mishkan does not take precedence over the set-apart day. All seems to be in order now. YHVH hands Moshe the stone tablets He had written, and Moshe is about to descend from the mountain and deliver the Divine Message to the People.
Suddenly there is a shift of scene and time. At what point exactly was it that the people's restlessness and disenchantment with Moshe led them to put pressure on A'ha’ron to ease off their frustrations? The answer to that remains unknown, but the text does inform us about the people's firm resolve to alleviate these frustrations. "And the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain. And the people gathered to Aaron. And they said to him, 'Rise up, make for us gods who may go before our face. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him" (32:1).
Several keywords in this text (32:1-6) help in unraveling this scene as it unfolds. Moshe's delay here is "boshesh", its root being "bosh" (bet, vav, shin) whose primary meaning is “shame, disgrace, to cause shame and disgrace, or embarrassment (e.g., Gen. 2:25), withering, dryness, and destruction”. This verb decodes the emotions and thoughts that were plaguing the anxious Israelites. It is not difficult to envision them expressing the following sentiments: “What embarrassment and shame is this man Moshe subjecting us to! His strange ways and disappearance will be our demise, and we will wither and be destroyed in this desert!” A large crowd gathers around A'ha’ron, denoted by "(va)yika'hel", of the root k.h.l (kof, hey, lamed) which means “assembly or congregation”. Thus, the assembly of Yisrael congregates around the only person whom they deem able to execute the plan that they had already formulated. To the "elohim" which they demand that A'haron make for them, they refer in the plural (“make us gods, which shall go before us” 32:1), being in direct defiance of what they had heard just a little while earlier… "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Parashat Yitro, Ex. 20:3). With bitter sarcasm, they refer to Moshe as "this man who brought us out of Egypt", while at the same time not only forgetting the miracles and wonders it took to extricate them out of the land of their affliction but also avoiding any reference to YHVH Himself. "Seeing that Moshe had delayed" (32:1 italics added), they are now calling for visible gods which would "walk before their faces”. This is too is an utter audacity, as the individuals and the nation were to “walk before Elohim’s face”, and not the other way around (e.g. Gen. 17:1, 24:40; 1st Sam. 2:30; 1st Kings 2:4, 8:25, 9:4).
In an attempt to placate the crowd, A'ha’ron complies, instructing anyone wearing jewelry to "remove" their gold earrings, using, not coincidentally, the imperative plural form for "tear-off", which is “par'ku" (32:2). The verb p.r.k (pey, resh, kof) also means “to part, to rip (Ps. 7:2), to fragment, or to tear” (I Kings 19:11; Ezekiel 19:12), thus all-too accurately describing the overall condition of those who were "tearing off" their jewels to make gods for themselves!
In the process A'ha’ron takes a stylus
- che'ret (ch.r.t, chet, resh, tet)
(32:4), which seems to share the root with one of the words for "magicians" (such as those who
Thus, whereas in Parashat Mishpatim (in 21:1) we saw that Moshe was to place the Torah in front of YHVH's chosen Nation as a mirror, here the backsliding Israelites, who are so desperate to see with their eyes (as pointed out above), actually suffer a loss of sight, as they are blindfolded by a "ma'seh'cha" (a veil) of their own making. In 34:17, in the course of the renewal of the Covenant, it was necessary to remind them once again, “You shall make no molten gods – elohey ma’seh’cha”.
Continuing in chapter 32: “…And they rose early on the morrow, and they offered burnt offerings and brought near peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" (v. 6, emphasis added). The offense of these descendants of Yitz'chak (Isaac) climaxes when they act in total defiance to the stern warning, which was presented to them in Sh’mot (Exodus) 22:20 (and 34:14): "One sacrificing to gods shall be destroyed”. The verb for “play” is "(le)tza'chek" (of the root tz.ch.k, tzadi, chet, kof - “to laugh") and is used here, implying "making sport, toying with, mocking", or "conjugal caresses" - all of which speak of the lewd debauchery in which Yitzchak’s progeny was engaging.
YHVH discloses to the unsuspecting Moshe the gory details of what "your people whom you brought up out of Egypt" (literal translation, italics added) have done, and with that, He (symbolically) charges him "to go… to descend" (32:7). The all-knowing Elohim, being aware of the fact that Moshe would beseech Him on behalf of this reproachable people, makes here a declaration (v. 10), allowing us a rare glimpse into what is otherwise an 'off limits' domain of His deep hurt: "Leave Me alone (that My anger may glow against them, that I may consume them)" (italics added). But Moshe's uninterrupted intercessory address (vs. 11-13) does result in YHVH being "moved to pity concerning the evil which He had spoken to do to His people" (v. 14).
The language employed in 32:15,16 could not be more emphatic in recounting the preciousness of the divinely written tablets: “…the two tablets of the testimony… tablets written on their two sides, on this and on that side they were written. And the tablets were the work of Elohim, and the writing was the writing of Elohim; it was engraved on the tablets". All of this is in sharp contrast to the horrendous sight awaiting Moshe at the foot of the Mountain.
“When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses. ‘There is a noise of war in the camp’” (32:17). The people were “in the process” of making a sound of “teruah” – literally “b’re’o”. This unusual usage of the verb “to sound a t’ruah” echoes “ra” or “ra’ah” (resh, ayin) – evil, and indeed just a little further A’ha’ron says about the people, “they are set on evil” – ra (v. 22. Refer also to 32:12,14, where ‘harm’ – ra’ah - is used 3 times). This follows the burning of the image, grinding its ashes to powder, and mixing it with water, an act performed by Moshe, who then made the people of Yisrael drink this concoction. YHVH’s messenger was acting on behalf of a jealous Husband who was more than suspicious of His wife’s unfaithfulness and betrayal (see Numbers 5:11 ff – the “law of jealousy”). “She”, therefore, had to partake of this unsavory drink.
After a sad confrontation with A'ha’ron, during which the latter defends
his position by making weak excuses, Moshe realizes that the People is
"loosed – unrestrained - for Aaron had let it loose – unrestrained - for a
derision among their enemies" (32: 25). The words for "loose" used here stem from "para" (p.r.a. pey/fey, resh,
ayin). As we observed already in Parashat Miketz (Gen. 41-44:17), the same
consonants appear in Par'oh's name. The question that arises here is whether
the meaning of this root ("unruly," "disorder",
“unrestrained”) had any bearing on the meaning of the title accorded to the
Egyptian monarchs (although "Par'oh", as we noted there, does have
its specific and separate meaning in the Ancient Egyptian tongue). This issue seems to be quite pertinent in
this case, as the Hebrews were certainly manifesting a reversal to practices that
they no doubt observed in the land of their sojourning. Likewise, we have just
seen a resemblance of the word denoting
The first six verses of chapter 33 describe a transitional phase, leading to the restitution of the relationship between YHVH and His People. They remove the rest of their jewels as part of the People's mourning and repentance (verse 6). Interestingly, the verb for removing the jewelry is not the same as the one used above (32:2). Instead, here an unusual word is used, one that in Shmot (Exodus) 12:36 was employed for "spoiling" (the Egyptians). This verb – va’yit’natzlu - shares its root (y.tz.l yod, tzadi, lamed) with the verb for "deliver" (Ex. 3:8). Being utilized here in the course of healing the breach in the relationship with the Almighty, could be a reminder to Yisrael of their miraculous deliverance from Egypt by their Elohim.
In the course of Moshe’s intercession on behalf of the People of Yisrael, YHVH says to him: “… lead the people to that which I have told you…” (literal translation, 32:34). “N’cheh” is the imperative here for “lead”. Later on, in 33:14, after a long discourse between YHVH and Moshe, the Holy One promises: “My Presence – panim-face – will go, and I will give you rest” (literal translation). “Give rest” – hani’choti – actually shares its root with “lead”, and more specifically, “leading toward a goal”, without forgetting, of course, the element of “rest”. Thus, it was only by virtue of YHVH’s “restful and purposeful guidance” that Moshe was able to be the goal-oriented leader that he was.
The rest of the Parasha deals with issues relating, not surprisingly in view of the recent events, to YHVH's presence, His reverence, His revelation to Moshe, and the renewal of the Covenant. In mentioning the writing of the "d'varim" – “words” on the new stone tablets, the figure "ten" is cited (34:28), unlike the first mention of these “words” (on the original tablets), where no number was specified (Parashat Yitro, Ex. chapter 20). In this verse (28) Moshe is described as staying on the Mount, in the Presence of YHVH, for forty days during which time he wrote the tablets, abstaining from food and drink. In 24:10,11 (Parashat Mishpatim) we encountered the elders and nobles of Yisrael ‘seeing’ the Elohim of Yisrael while “eating and drinking”, just prior to Moshe’s first ascent to the Mountain. These two contrasting scenes form quite an object lesson; the one foreshadows the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” and the time when He will dwell with His own (Rev. 19:9), while the other is signified by markings of sorrow and mourning, resulting from the sin committed by the Nation.
The variety of events crowding Parashat Ki Tissa illustrates, in a microcosmic fashion, the topsy-turvy nature of Yisrael's relationship with her Elohim in years to come. Finally, having had the "maseh'cha" (which we discussed above) distort their spiritual sight, the Israelites could not bear the glory which emanated from Moshe's face when he came down from the Mountain. He was therefore obliged to cover his face with a veil ("mas'veh"). "But we [on the other hand] all with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of YHVH in a mirror [the "Torah of liberty"], are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, as from YHVH, the Spirit" (2nd Cor. 3:18 italics added). Truly something to be thankful for, and not to be taken lightly!