motzei Shabbos: Ki Tisa 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas KI Tisa – Wholeness

“This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to the L-RD.” – Exodus 30:13

The census characterizes a concept, in regard to identity, inasmuch that a half shekel denotes a lack, in and of itself, since it is only half of the whole; thus, each Israelite in giving a half shekel in order to be included in the census taken for K’lal Yisrael, must needs to acknowledge his or her deficiencies. Only by making up for the difference between our real self, and our ideal self, can we become whole. In this specific case, regarding the census, as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf, the half shekel atones for the decreased spiritual level of the soul that occurred as a result of this sin.

R’Bachya speaks of the “dual-duty of the Jew to look after both his body and his soul,” thus implying the need to be aware of both spiritual as well as material needs; furthermore, within the context of the half shekel offered as an atonement for the individual souls of Israel, as recompense for the transgression of the eigel – golden calf – the half shekel represents the need to make up the difference in what each soul spiritually lacked at the time of that debacle. In fact, there was an overindulgence of material pleasures committed along with the idolatry.

Only three thousand were executed as those who were brazen enough not to stand down from their revely, when Moses returned; yet, all 600,000 souls, were guilty, inasmuch that they did not attempt to prevent the idolatry. This is akin to the bystander of evil, who permits bad things to happen, not exactly through participation of that evil; rather, through not speaking out against the evil. And, so all the people needed to make an atonement for the souls, that had become deficient on a spiritual level; having been complicit, their spiritual status was decreased, and could only be elevated again through the census –  tisa es rosh (to lift up the head), or elevate the soul.

parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – Mesiras Nefesh

“Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.’” – Exodus 32:32, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Moses refers to the ‘Book of life’ in which every human being is inscribed on Rosh Hashanah if he was found deserving on the basis of his past record.” – Chizkuni on Exodus 32:32; sefaria.org

After the debacle of the golden calf, Moses pleaded with H’Shem on behalf of B’nei yisrael, saying, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold” (32:31, JPS). In asking of H’Shem to forgive the sin of the people, Moses offers to have his name written out of the Book of Life. This is an unmistakable gesture of mesiras hanefesh (self-sacrifice), that Moshe offers on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. Yet, G-d declines the offer, stating in what appears to be an impromptu decree for the ages: “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record” (Exodus 32:33, JPS).

Nevertheless, the immediate punishment, concerning H’Shem’s intent to destroy this generation, and start over again with Moses had already been averted through Moshe’s prayer. Now, forgiveness does not seem to be sanctioned; rather, a newly mentioned punishment is delayed, “when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.” (Exodus 33:34, JPS). After this statement, the Torah records that a plague is sent amongst the people. So, the question remains, when will H’Shem make an accounting, thereby bringing them to account for their sins? The question continues to ring, like a bell of proclamation.

parashas Ki Tisa 5781

shiur Ki Tisa 5781 – Incense and Avodah

parashas Ki Tisa 5781

B”H

shiur for parashas Ki Tisa 5781

“H’Shem said to Moses: Take for yourself – spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – spices and pure frankincense.”  – Exodus 30:34

The incense was offered every day in the morning, and in the afternoon.  The incense fragrance connotes the understanding that we are to serve G-d in a pleasing manner; inasmuch that we are His servants, it is our responsibility to serve Him.  Yet, He would like us to develop the inward desire to serve Him.  This is reflected in the two ways of obeying His commandments – out of fear, and out of love.

To observe His commandments out of fear, demands acknowledgment of H’Shem as “the L-rd thy G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2).  In and of itself, this is the first commandment, inasmuch that we are obligated to acknowledge H’Shem as sovereign; once we accept His authority, then the commandments follow as authorative statements; i.e., divine decrees (Baal Halachos Gedolos).  

Yet, some of us are still plagued by our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt): our limitations that prevent us from excelling in our service (avodah) to H’Shem. Others are floundering along the way, in danger of being overcome by Amalek (symbolic of doubt), underappreciating the miracles that H’Shem has done for us, thereby permitting our desire for Him to “cool” down. On Purim, we recall the hidden miracle – how we were rescued from Haman, a descendent of Agag, an Amelekite; and, how we were victorious against the Amalekites who rose up against us within the 127 provinces of King Ahasueros.

Yet, do we recognize the miracles every day in our own lives?  The potential for us to experience His shefa (everflowing grace) is always offered to us when we look towards Him in our struggles.  We should be thankful to Him for these blessings.  Additionally, we should praise Him every day, for He has given us the breath of life; each and every day is an opportunity to lift our voices to Him in appreciation, thanking Him for all that He has given us. 

Lifting up our hearts to Him will help us to develop ahavah (love) for Him. In serving Him out of love, we are commanded to love him with an undivided heart (Sifrei), as is written, “thou shalt love H’Shem thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Moreover, Maimonides writes, “Once a person loves G-d appropriately, he will fulfill the commandments out of love” (Hilchut Teshuva 10:2).

Yet, both love and fear are necessary, like the wings of an eagle; for without fear (awe, reverence, respect), there is not the proper attitude conveyed towards Him.  Without love, we may not be able to fly towards Him, higher and higher on our journey; yet, we continue climbing, as it is, for we will reach Him with dveykus: constant clinging to His Essence.

dvar Ki Tisa 5781 – the Remedy Prevails

parashas Ki Tisa 5781

B”H

dvar for parashas Ki Tisa 5781

“H’Shem plagued the people, because they made the calf.”

– Exodus 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; during this time, H’Shem spoke with Moses – according to some commentators, Moses received the instruction for the Mishkan at this time. It is mentioned in the Talmud, that H’Shem creates the cure before the ailment. Here, the blueprints for the Mishkan served as the remedy to what had not yet occurred – the idolatry of the golden calf. H’Shem prepared the cure (Mishkan) before the sickness (eigel).

What is the malaise of idolatry? To place anything in our lives above our commitment to H’Shem. This raises up the created above the Creator, G-d forbid. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (Talmud). Therefore, our conscious effort to make G-d most important in our lives through yiras H’Shem (reverence towards G-d) is incumbent upon us; in effect, we are called upon to crown Him as King – sovereign over every aspect of our lives.

In these challenging days, we also look for the remedy to the various ailments of our lives; yet, even when there seems to be little hope on the horizon, we must maintain a sense of bechirah (trust) in H’Shem, that He has already designated, the time, place, and remedy for each of us to continue on the derech (path) towards righteousness, drawing closer to Him with every step along the way.

Yet, the path is narrow, there are many distractions along the way. It was only when Moshe sought out the forgiveness of H’Shem, on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, that he was able to receive the second set of tablets. We are also given second chances in our lives; however, if we do not even realize the need to improve upon our ways, we may be given a wake up call.

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the wilderness) permitted B’nei Yisrael to focus on avodas (worship of H’Shem); we need to do the same, in a manner of speaking, and be ever mindful of H’Shem’s Presence in our lives; then, we can devote our mitzvoth (good deeds) to Him. “I have set the L-RD always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

motzei Shabbos: Tetzaveh 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Tetzaveh 5781

“And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it.” – Exodus 30:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

In like manner that the menorah was lit every evening, the incense were burnt every morning in the Sanctuary. The light may be understood to represent the wisdom of G-d. “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalm 119:18, JPS). The smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayers. We should keep a light burning in our heart, in the evenings; all throughout the night, staying focused on G-d; and, in the morning, ideally to rise early, in order to offer up our prayers to Him.

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Righteous Clothes

“And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me.”

– Exodus 29:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s forty days on Mount Sinai, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was shown to him, complete with all the details necessary to construct a Mishkan on earth, where H’Shem’s Presence – the Shechinah – would dwell. Also, the commandments and details in regard to the Kohein Gadol (High Priest), and the kohein (priests) were given.

Aaron was chosen as the first Kohein Gadol; however, Moshe served unofficially in that position, during the seven-day inauguration, when he brought the offerings. His role was given to him by H’Shem, who said to Moses: “This is the thing [word] that thou shalt do to them [the kohein] to set them apart as kodesh [holy];” i.e., to sanctify them for service to H’Shem.

The verse continues with the offerings, necessary for the inauguration. Also, the commandment is given for the kohein to cleanse themselves in a mikveh. Also mentioned are the garments that Moses will place upon the Kohein Gadol, before anointing him with oil. These garments, referred to previously, are described as “holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and glory” (Exodus 28:2, JPS).

 “Let Thy priests [kohanim] be clothed with righteousness” (Psalm 132:9, JPS 1917 Tanach ). Righteousness is likened to clothes, because righteous thought, speech, and acts clothe the soul; they have everlasting value, whereby our righteousness will be rewarded in Olam Haba.  

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith

parashas Tetzaveh 5781

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tetzaveh 5781

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, [outside] the veil which is before the testimony.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Behind the veil (parochet), rested the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies (Kadosh Kadoshim).  Outside of the veil, within the less holy area, called the Kadosh, were the Menorah, Showbread Table, and, the Mizbeach (incense altar), where incense was burned.  Although these three were mentioned in detail, earlier in the Torah, the Menorah is mentioned, specifically, in the beginning of this parashas, with specific regard towards its function. 

Of noteworthy mention is the specific command for all of Israel to bring the specific kind of olive oil reserved for use in the Menorah. In other words, all of Israel contributed to the olive oil that burned “from evening until morning.” It lit up the darkness, conveying in effect the light of G-d, that symbolically illuminates for us in times of darkness and uncertainty. 

According to the sages, when discussing the significance of the phrase, “emet v’emuna (true and faithful),” in the evening prayer, the word, emuna, represents G-d’s faithfulness to us during the exile, inasmuch that it is a reminder that we will be redeemed. So, the nighttime, when this prayer is said, represents exile.  Therefore, the light of the menorah, throughout the night, may also be understood as symbolic of G-d’s faithfulness towards us, during the current exile.

Crushed for the Sake of Purity

parashas Tetzaveh 5781

 “And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

H’Shem instructs Moshe to command B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to provide the olive oil that will be used for the seven-candled Menorah, residing in the Holy Place of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), outside of the paroches (curtain) that served as a veil, dividing the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies) where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, from the Kadosh [Holy], where the Menorah, Showbread Table and Incense Mizbeach (Altar) were placed.

The light of the Menorah represents the light (ohr) that existed at the beginning of Creation; yet, this light was hidden after the sin of Adam, and reserved for the righteous in the Kingdom. Even so, there is a light that shines in the darkness of our lives, despite all of the years of oppression. “I will bear the indignation of H’Shem, because I have sinned against Him; until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me; He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness” (Micah 7:9).

We are likened to the olives that are crushed, until a drop of pure olive oil is produced, representing the transformation of our brokenness into a purity of heart that only occurs after surviving the many nisyanos (challenges) in our lives. Perhaps, this is why the people themselves were commanded by Moshe to bring the purest olive oil for the light of the Menorah that burns continually, i.e., to emphasize our plight in the world that would reveal the light that shines in the darkness on a continual basis – the ner tamid. For “H’Shem shall be unto thee an everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:19, JPS).

 

motzei Shabbos: Terumah 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Terumah 5781

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” – Exodus 25:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The sin of the golden calf preceded the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). The gold used to build the calf, was contributed by the men, who gathered the earrings for the cause of making an idolatrous calf. “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (Exodus 32:2, JPS 1985 Tanach). When Moses returned from on top of Sinai, he shattered the tablets upon discerning the idolatrous revelry focused on the golden calf; thus, in effect, the covenant was symbolically broken upon its intended reception (Jeremiah 31:32). Incidentally, the covenant was not renewed, until Moshe spent another forty days on the mountain; and, brought down the second set of tablets.

Yet, first, Moshe pleaded on behalf of B’nei Yisrael for H’Shem to forgive their descent into idolatry. Moreover, it can be understood that even before the actual transgression, the remedy for the sin had already been given to Moshe on the mountain, when he received the instructions regarding all of the details for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). For, “the Tabernacle was a form of atonement for the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, JT Shekalim 1:5, sefaria.org).

The collection itself of the materials for the construction of the mishkan served as a form of repentance; inasmuch that the collection was designated as a free will offering; this reflects the nature of teshuvah (repentance). Or HaChayim explains that this is the reason why the collection was not made mandatory; instead, everyone contributed of their own free will, inclination, and what their heart compelled them to give; otherwise, “they would not enjoy the atonement for their participation in the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org).

The essential nature of the Mishkan reveals a hint as to why this type of repentance led towards reconciliation with H”Shem. The Mishkan is where H’Shem’s presence dwelt, in a visible way when the clouds of glory would hover over the Tabernacle. There is an inherent transition enacted amongst the people, from idolatry to the worship of H’Shem, indicated by the difference between them freely contributing gold for the golden calf; versus giving freely from their heart for the tabernacle that will enable the worship of H’Shem. We may also make that transition in our lives, from the idolatry of the modern world, towards the everlasting values given to us at Sinai.

Sanctuary

B”H

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they take [lakach] for Me an offering [terumah]; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering [terumah].”

– Exodus 25:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

While H’Shem conversed with Moshe on Mount Sinai, He gave him the instructions for the building of the Mishkan. In order for the Mishkan [portable tabernacle in the desert] to be built, first, a collection was necessary. The collection was a freewill offering of the people for H’Shem, for the sake of building a sanctuary, where H’Shem would dwell. Everyone gave according to what their heart inspired them to give.

The Hebrew word, “lakach” is translated as “take;” although, “bring for Me an offering” would seem more linguistically correct. According to many commentators, the Torah is teaching us that when we bring an offering, we are actually taking for ourselves. I.e., the benefits of giving to a G-dly cause, outweigh the cost. We receive much for our efforts, for we have a reciprocal relationship with H’Shem. When we give, we are blessed with abundance.

For example, regarding the tithes, brought during the first Temple period, it is written, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency” (Malachi 3:10, JPS).

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle.”

– Exodus 25:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Hebrew word, mishkan [tabernacle], literally means “dwelling place.” The Mishkan, or tabernacle was a structure that served as a Mikdash (sanctuary). Within the Mikdash, or sanctuary, the Ark of the Covenant rested within the inner part of the sanctuary, the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies). It was here that H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah rested, between the two golden cherubim [angels] on the cover [kapporet] of the Ark.

From this holy place, surrounded by a Cloud of Glory, H’Shem spoke to Moses. After the Revelation at Mount Sinai, H’Shem’s Presence dwelt within the Sanctuary. Yet, According to Sforno, the Shechinah would have rested upon each and every individual, who was at Sinai, because of the high degree of spiritual elevation present. Only because of the sin of the Golden Calf did the Tabernacle become necessary, wherein the Shechinah dwelt in the  Sanctuary.