Texts: Exodus 30:11 – 34:35 || I Kings 18:1 – 18:39 (Sephardic: I Kings 18:20 – 18:39)
NOTE: Kol HaTor, in its commentaries on the weekly Parashot, endeavours to search for and accentuate the Torah Messages contained in the Parashot as applicable to the main Theme of Tanach of the Return of the House of Israel, i.e. the Lost Ten Tribes of Northern Israel and their Reconciliation with Judah to form the reunited 12-Tribed Kingdom of Israel.
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DISCLAIMER – The authors whom we quote from for this Commentary are not associated with KOL HA’TOR and need not agree with our views expressed herein or in our other publications. While we publish their views for its relative value to the interpretation of the Parashah, KOL HATOR does not necessarily agree with the views expressed by these authors.
The title of this Parashah, Ki Tisa, as is the Jewish tradition for naming each Parashah, is taken from the opening words of the portion. Various translations render it:
- ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them …’
- ‘When thou take the sum of the children of Israel …’
- ‘When you raise the head of the children of Yisrael’
Our heading title above, taken from yashanet.com, reflects a more literal translation of this text as, ‘when you elevate’. So, what has ‘elevate’ or ‘raise’ to do with a census?
The following review will show how fallible and even misleading the translations are which we so much depend on in order to read and understand the Bible – which is G-d’s Message to mankind. Many non-Jewish Bible students forget that the Bible was NOT written in their language, but in Hebrew. They then draw their conclusions on their translations, which could be off the mark in some instances.
Our Ki’Tisa portion bears proof of this and confirms how important it is to understand Hebrew. But, even with a fluent understanding of the Hebrew language, it still lacks much, viz. the communal ‘academic’ research into the wider aspects surrounding the written Bible record. What better source for this wider insight, than the 3500 year academy of higher Jewish learning, containing the insights, debates, deliberations and conclusions of dedicated students throughout the centuries, many with above average intelligence and specialized knowledge?
We are referring to Rabbinic insight on these wider levels, founded upon practical experience over more than 3000 years with the very nation of the G-d of the Bible, the ‘G-d of Israel’. This knowledge, which initially has been transferred orally from generation to generation, was later recorded in various volumes which collectively became known as Rabbinic Oral Torah. Ki ‘Tisa is a perfect example of the need for Oral Torah as compiled by the Rabbinic academy – not by those interpreters, no matter how specialized they are, who generally do not have an in-depth Hebrew knowledge, neither any in-depth and practical experience with the culture of the nation of G-d. These specialists each have their own ‘oral’ interpretations but without in-depth knowledge of the Jewish religion which was born out of the nation which is the main actor in the entire Bible.
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So, let us delve deeper into Ki’Tisa.
(We will quote from Ohr SomayachJerusalem, Israel ohr.edu by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair)
“When you raise the head of the Children of Yisrael” (30:12)
“Why does the Torah choose the expression raise the head to mean that Moshe should take a census of the Jewish People?
“G-d explained to Moshe that the People had placed their lives in jeopardy by worshipping the golden calf. The process of counting them by the coins they were to donate would “raise their heads,” elevate them spiritually from the depths to which they sunk, and earn them atonement from their sin.
“Moshe supposed that such atonement would require a coin of a very large denomination indeed. Perhaps it would be a kikar of silver, the equivalent of three thousand silver coins. … Since G-d’s Name was defamed when they proclaimed “These are your gods, Yisrael,” this might be the level of the atonement required.
“At the very least, Moshe conjectured, G-d would demand a coin to the value of thirty shekalim. The owner of a goring ox must pay thirty shekels. By worshipping a calf, the Jewish People had traded G-d’s glory for the image of a calf.
“In the event, Moshe’s fears were unfounded. G-d said to him “You need not pay Me coins worth a hundred, or fifty, or even thirty silver pieces. All I ask is that you donate one small coin to the value of a half-shekel.”
“Those half-shekel coins from the census were melted down and used for the silver sockets, the “adonim“, that were the foundation for the walls of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In other words, the Mishkan literally stood on the half-shekalim that the People donated.”
In Parashat Terumah we saw the importance for G-d’s people to make offerings of gold, silver and exquisite fabrics for the completion and maintenance of the Temple and Tabernacle. Ki’Tisa this week opens with a minimal amount as a form of census – thus, it was levied on each and every individual from the age of 20 on, as an atonement.
Exodus 30:15, “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel when [you] give this offering to HaShem to make atonement for yourselves. 16 And you shall take the atonement money of the Israelites and use it [exclusively] for the service of the Tent of Meeting, that it may bring the Israelites to remembrance before HaShem, to make atonement for yourselves.”
Many experienced fund raisers will confirm, that it is the cumulative value of small contributions which raise the required funds.
Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, AZAMRA, comments as follows on the half Shekel atonement:
“When G-d spoke to Moses, He “showed him a kind of coin of fire, the weight of a half shekel” and He said to him: “THIS shall all who pass through the count give — a half shekel” (Ex. 30:13 and Rashi there). This fiery HALF SHEKEL COIN, which made every single citizen an equal partner in the Sanctuary and its upkeep, was the remedy for material lust and the appetite for wealth. Everyone was to join and be a partner in an enterprise that elevates material wealth — the finest vessels of gold, silver and copper, the finest fabrics, choicest animals, flour, oil, wine and spices — by incorporating them in the worship of the One G-d. This is where the display of wealth is truly fitting, a place where each may take a just pride in having a share. Having a joint share with everyone else in the national treasure, the Temple, keeping one’s eyes focused on its splendid golden vessels and their implicit messages — these are the medicine for the selfish lust for wealth for its own sake.
“Differences in wealth and assets were of no significance in this annual half shekel tax that made each citizen an equal partner in the Temple enterprise. The rich could not give more nor the poor less. Souls cannot be quantified and counted — each soul has its own unique significance that would be violated by trying to quantify it or assign it a number. What counts is that each person adds his or her own SELF and WILL, and is willing to play his or her part by paying the “head tax” and “casting a vote”. Numbers and wealth do not count in the eyes of G-d. What counts is each person’s WILL to make a contribution — to have an equal share with everyone else, without pride and without shame, in being part of the whole, feeding the Altar and bringing the fire of G-d’s presence into the world.”
The Half Shekel atonement was a united national effort – as in a national census. Every one participated – the result? – the Mishkan (Tabernacle, later the Temple in Jerusalem).
The Talmud says “if you never saw the Second Beit HaMikdash (HolyTemple), you never saw a beautiful building in your life.” The Beit HaMikdash was called the “eye of the world.” The eye is a physical organ but it receives something that is about as non-physical as you can get: Light. The Beit Hamikdash was called “the eye of the world” because it was the portal for the Light. The Beit HaMikdash was the most beautiful building not because of its dimensions and proportions or its finishes but because it revealed the resting of the Divine Presence in this world.
Rabbi Yaakov Sinclair further remarks:
“Faith is like a shadow. Faith is the knowledge of something that you cannot see.”
“The nation that dwells in the shadow of faith proclaims that existence extends beyond the here-and-now, beyond what can be perceived by the five senses of man. Faith is something that takes place in the shade. In the shadow.”
Today, both the Houses of Judah and reawakening 10-Israel reveals this Faith. What lacks though, is the “national unity.” They have to find each other and co-operate in unison like HaShem expected of 12-tribed Israel of old. Too often today, each House sees itself as the only cogwheel in the machine. Both Houses think that they can achieve Redemption by themselves; that the Divine Blessing applies to themselves only.
We need to recall the words of Rabbi Avraham Feld, founder of the Kol HaTor Vision: “Judah without 10-Israel is like an airplane without wings, a car without wheels.”
We need a ‘national census atonement.”
“he will give Terumah of G-d.”
Exodus 30:14, “Every one that passes among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the offering (Terumah) of HaShem. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering (Terumah) of HaShem, to make atonement for your souls.”
Note how these Atonement offerings are referred to as ‘Terumah’ in the same context. Now experience the following Rabbinic insight into Terumah, which is a Divine requirement on all of Israel – all twelve Tribes which were involved in Exodus. Surely, today it applies to both Judah and the re-identifying House of 10-Israel?
Commentary by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair (ohr.edu):
“The entire Oral Torah begins with the question, “When do we read the Shema prayer in the evening?” The Mishna answers, “When the kohanim (priests) go in to eat their Teruma (the priestly gifts).”
“What is the connection between saying the Shema and the mitzvah (Command) of Teruma? Why didn’t the Mishna (Oral Torah writings) just say, “The time to say Shema in the evening is when it gets dark”?
“The Torah obligation to give Teruma is as little as a single grain. The Rabbinic obligation, however mandates between one-sixtieth, which is considered miserly, and one-fortieth, which is generous. The median amount is one-fiftieth. The word “Teruma” is an allusion to this median amount, for Teruma stands for trei mi-me’ah, two out of one hundred – one-fiftieth.
“If the Torah was hinting through the word Teruma to the median gift of one-fiftieth, why did it express that fraction as two parts out of a hundred? Why didn’t it coin instead a word that used the words for “one” and “fifty” – Chad and Chamishim? Why wasn’t Teruma called “Chadshim” or something like that? And why specifically the proportion of two out of a hundred? Why not four parts out of two hundred, or eight out of four hundred?
“The Vilna Gaon (author of the book Kol Ha’Tor) explains that the core of Shema lies in the first verse, Shema Yisrael, and in the next phrase Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto le’olam va’ed, “Blessed is Hashem’s name of the Honor of His Kingdom for ever and ever” which we say immediately afterward. The essence of Shema is to affirm our belief that everything in existence is One and the smallest aspect of creation ultimately leads to Him alone.
“The Gaon of Vilna observed that the twenty-five letters in the first verse of Shema and the twenty-four letters in Baruch Shem together equal forty-nine.
“The number fifty connotes something beyond this world. We count forty-nine days of the Omer from Pesach till Shavuot, but we do not count the final day, the day of Shavuot itself, because Shavuot represents something beyond this world – the supernal moment of the closest encounter between G-d and man.
“In this world, we can approach fifty, but we cannot count it; we cannot define or delineate it.
“When I say the Shema, I surrender the ineffable, indisputable knowledge of my own existence and proclaim that there is only One Existence, and that I am no more than just one expression of that Ultimate Existence. That is the “one” that I give to make the fifty complete.
“My recitation of the Shema – my own closest encounter with G-d – represents the “one” that raises the forty-nine to fifty. And as I say the Shema twice daily, it represents the trei mi-me’ah – the two out of a hundred.
Trei mi me’ah – twice a day, the Teruma that I give is the forty-nine letters that make up my declaration of G-d’s total and absolute Unity, together with the “one” – the surrender and elevation of my own existence that joins me to “fifty” – the Ultimate Existence.”
In this, there may be a hint also of the supreme ‘oneness’ that we may achieve through the Redemption; that ‘oneness’ that seems to be the underlying motive of HaShem’s Creation Plan, which we have referred to in Parashat Commentary Lech’Lecha.
These important guidelines and Divine requirement of offerings recorded in the opening Scriptures of Parashat Ki’Tisa, are reviewed in another commentary on Ki’Tisa by:
YESHIVAT HARA’AYON HA’YEHUDI
HaRav Yehuda Kreuser SHLIT”A, Rosh Yeshiva
(presented by Rabbi Levi Chazen).
It also further confirms the deep insight that Rabbinic interpretation holds in the background to the actual Scriptures – knowledge without which it would be impossible to fully understand the Bible.
“Every Jewish child knows the elementary rule in Judaism, that one does not count the Jewish people by numbers, one… two…three. Rather, each person gives a small coin worth half a shekel and once they are collected, the coins are then counted to know the sum of the population. Rashi comments: ‘And there will be no plague among them; otherwise there will be a plague, for the evil eye can affect that which has been counted and pestilence can come upon them, as we have found in the days of King David.’
“And what took place in the time of King David? We find in the book of II Samuel that King David ordered his general, Yoav, to take a census of the Jewish people. This, in spite of the fact that Yoav objected to the taking of a direct census, because of the biblical transgression of not counting the Jewish people. But King David was adamant and the counting of the census went on. Immediately thereafter, 70,000 people died in a plague.
“The question arises: How is it possible that the mighty King David ordered his top general to take a direct census, something that is clearly forbidden in the Torah, as even every young child knows?
“It is clear that a dark decree was hanging over the Jewish people [12-Israel], and for this reason King David had forgotten a very simple rule in Jewish law and caused a plague to befall the people. But what was it that could have been so bad that it caused the death of some 70,000 people?
“Our Rabbis in the Midrash fill in the blanks and teach us that the sin of the people at that time was that they had no desire to build a House for G-d; each family was content with their own homes and gardens, letting the Holy Temple wait for some other generation, some other time. So great was G-d’s wrath at His people that this horrendous plague killed off 70,000 people!.
“And as in every generation, they had all the excuses in the world for putting off the building of the Temple: It’s not the right time… the nation is not ready… the prophet Natan had told King David that he would not be the one to build a House for G-d. they already had the tabernacle, a temporary dwelling place, so why the urgency for a permanent place? And still, in spite of all these seemingly ‘correct’ excuses, the wrath of G-d came upon the Jewish people.
“Interestingly, these same excuses are still thrown around today by Rabbis and laymen alike.
“In order to ensure that a reoccurrence of this horrible plague will not happen again, the Rabbis tried to awaken our desire for the Holy Temple.
“Three times a day we [the Jews] pray for the return to the Land of Israel, to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its House of G-d. At every wedding, our happiest moment, we break the glass to remember the Temple.
“When we build our home, we leave a small area unfinished to remember that as long as the Temple is still not built, our homes are also missing the final touch. And as we sit together at the Passover Seder, we declare: “Next year in Jerusalem”. Alas. how many of us are just saying the words, going though the motions – but in reality, it is actually the last thing that we want, for the Temple and its service would not fit into our daily lives. For if we truly desired it, nothing would stand in our way to make it happen.”
Whereas our Parashah reading relates the idolatrous affair of the 12 Tribes at Sinai, our Parashah relates the idolatrous affairs of the 10 Tribes under King Ahab before their exile. The king himself had built an altar to Baal, and his Phoenician wife, Jezebel, encouraged pagan cults and persecuted Israelite prophets. It is against this idolatrous and dangerous state of affairs that the prophet Elijah battles.
1 Kings 18:18, “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you [Ahab] and your father’s family have. You have abandoned HaShem’s Commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.
It may not be so commonly known that Elijah took on the Baal prophets of Northern 10-Israel on this occasion. Ten Tribers are normally very defensive about why the Ten Tribes rebelled against Judah and Jerusalem. They insist that it was because of the heavy taxation that Jerusalem laid on them. Elijah though, spells it out in the above encounter with Ahab (as it stands confirmed in several other Scriptures in the Bible also), i.e. because of their rebellion against Torah and acquiring themselves “other Lords” to follow. Though they claim to serve the same God as Judah, they have created for themselves an entire un-Jewish ‘trinitarian multiple godhead’ and a Messiah whom most claim has “done away with” Torah and its Divinely mandated judicial authority (the Mechoqeck) of Judah.
On this occasion the prayers of 10-Israel’s Baal prophets were NOT heard and despite an entire day of praying, running around the altar, increasing their voices, NOTHING occurred. ‘Their god’ did NOT hear!
The Message of Ki’Tisa calls loudly for 10-Israel in these days to join Judah in a ‘census atonement offering’ to build the Land and eventually the Temple. Significantly this Message presents Elijah’s confrontation and confirmation that: “HaShem – He is G-d! HaShem – He is G-d!” (The concluding text of the Haftarah).