[על-התורה] הפטרה: מלכים א יח א-לט (אשכנזים) | מלכים א יח כ-לט (ספרדים) | ( מלכים א יח א-מה (תימנים) | אלא אם כן זו שבת פרה
- A Census for the Half-Shekel Tax
- The Kiyor (Basin) and the Incense
- Betzalel, the Master Artisan
- A Reminder about Shabbat
- Chet ha-Egel, the Sin of the Golden Calf
- The Breaking of the First Luchot ha-Brit (Tablets)
- The Revelation to Moshe
- The Second Luchot
- Haftarah – יהי ימים רבים ודבר ה’ היה אל אליהו
One of the blockbuster parashot of the Torah, Ki Tisa includes Chet ha-Egel (the sin of the golden calf) and the breaking of the first set of Luchot ha-Brit, the tablets on which the Aseret ha-Dibrot (Ten Commandments were inscribed. Before this, however, there are some important matters laid out for the Temple tax and the building of the Mishkan and its operation.
A Census for the Half-Shekel Tax
Moshe is commanded to take a census of all those aged twenty years and older for the purpose of the half-shekel contribution to the Mishkan. A consequence of failing to enroll in the census mentioned here is the coming of a plague, as happens in other circumstances in the Torah. The census is thus established as a very important, delicate matter.
This contribution or tax is spoken of in terms of kippur, expiation (וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת כֶּסֶף הַכִּפֻּרִים; אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַה’; לְכַפֵּר עַל נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם) and as a teruma or donation (מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל תְּרוּמָה לַה’). It appears to be a one-time institution, but is mentioned elsewhere in Tanach as a permanent institution,1 and is the subject of Masechet Shekalim, in Seder Moed.2 Notably, the half-shekel tax is a relatively small amount and is to be equal for rich and poor alike.
The Kiyor (Basin) and the Incense
The next section of the parsha concerns more instruments of the Mishkan. The first is the Kiyor (basin, often translated laver) which is to be made of copper, with a copper stand. It is to be placed between Ohel ha-Moed (the Tent of Meeting) and the Mizbeach (the Altar) and used by Aharon and his sons to drawn water for washing their hands and feet, which they must do before approaching the Ohel or the Mizbeach.
Five choice spices (besamim rosh – בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ)3 are to be used to make anointing oil: 500 by weight4 of mor-dror (מָר דְּרוֹר – myrrh), 250 of kinemon-besem (קִנְּמָן בֶּשֶׂם – fragrant cinnamon), 250 of keneh-bosem (קְנֵה בֹשֶׂם – fragrant cane), and 500 by weight of kidah (קִדָּה – cassia), mixed with a hin5 of olive oil. This anointing oil is to be used to anoint the various elements and instruments of the Mishkan, indicating their consecration. Finally, it is to be used to anoint Aharon and his sons. The penalty for making its like and anointing a non-specified person or object is karet, excision.
Next, the composition of the Ketoret (קְטֹרֶת – incense) for the Mishkan is specified: in equal parts, the spices (סַמִּים – samim) nataf (נָטָף – stacte), shechelet (שְׁחֵלֶת – onycha, modern identity uncertain), and chelbena (חֶלְבְּנָה – galbanum, a gum resin), with the addition of pure levona (לְבֹנָה – frankincense). The proportion itself is sacred, and mixing these in equal proportions is forbidden again under penalty of karet.
Betzalel, the Master Artisan
In Shemot 31:2 we are first introduced to Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur (בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר) of the tribe of Yehudah, the master artisan who builds the instruments of the Mishkan. He is “filled with the divine spirit in skill, understanding, and knowledge in all crafts” (וָאֲמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱלֹקים בְּחָכְמָה וּבִתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל מְלָאכָה) and granted Oholiav ben Achisamach (אָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן אֲחִיסָמָךְ) of Dan to assist him. Here they are charged with building:
- Ohel ha-Moed – אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד and its utensils;
- The Aron (אָרֹן – Ark);
- The Kaporet (כַּפֹּרֶת), the special cover of the Aron;
- The Table (Shulchan – הַשֻּׁלְחָן) and its utensils;
- The Menorah (Lamp – מְּנֹרָה) and its fittings;
- Mizbeach ha-Ketorot (מִזְבַּח הַקְּטֹרֶת), the altar for incense;
- Mizbeach ha-Olah (מִזְבַּח הָעֹלָה), the alter for the burnt offering, and its utensils;
- The Kiyor (Basin – כִּיּוֹר) and its stand;
- The bigdei ha-serad (בִּגְדֵי הַשְּׂרָד) and bigdei ha-kodesh (בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ), the service and sacral clothing worn by Aharon and the kohanim;
- The shemen ha-mishchah (שֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה), anointing oil;
- The ketoret ha-samim (קְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּים), incense.
A Reminder about Shabbat
At this juncture, Benei Yisrael are reminded6 that they nevertheless are charged with keeping Shabbat: אַ֥ךְ אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י תִּשְׁמֹ֑רוּ. The verb used is tishmeru, from the root sh-m-r, “to keep or watch.” This passage is the source of many laws and practices. After this, it is written:
וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינַי שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת לֻחֹת אֶבֶן כְּתֻבִים בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹקים׃
Upon finishing speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave to Moshe two tablets of testimony (Luchot ha-Edut), tablets of stone written with the finger of Gd.Shemot 31:18
Chet ha-Egel, the Sin of the Golden Calf
While Moshe is still on Har Sinai, the people approach Aharon and ask him to fashion them a god, saying that they do not know what has happened to Moshe. Aharon tells them to remove all their gold jewelry and bring it to him, which they do. He then casts it into a mold, making a golden calf, which the people declare to have brought them out of Egypt. Aharon builts an altar in front of it and declares a festival (chag – חַג).
Gd then tells Moshe that he needs to return from the mountain, calling Bnei Yisrael “a stiff-necked people” (רָאִיתִי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה וְהִנֵּה עַם קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף הוּא). Moshe intercedes with G-d on behalf of the people. He implores G-d to remember the promises he made to the Avot (forefathers), and G-d agrees.
Yehoshua calls to Moshe that he hears a cry of war, but Moshe notes that he hears festive sounds. They go to the camp to discover the people dancing and singing. Seeing the golden calf, Moshe becomes enraged (וַיִּחַר אַף מֹשֶׁה) and throws down the stone tablets, breaking them.
The Breaking of the First Luchot ha-Brit (Tablets)
Moshe then burns down the calf and grinds it to a powder, which he mixes with water and makes Benei Yisrael drink.7 Moshe asks Aharon what happened and Aharon recounts the story.
Moshe then stands at the entrance of the camp and calls out, “Whoever is for the Hashem, come to me” (וַיֹּאמֶר מִי לַה’ אֵלָי). He then instructs them to put to death the others, and it is recorded that the Levites felled 3,000.
Moshe intercedes with G-d again on behalf of the people. He acknowledges their great sin, but asks G-d to erase him from the record if He cannot forgive the people. G-d says that he will only punish those who have transgressed. He tells Moshe to take the people where He told him to and that He will send a messenger to guide them. Then, G-d sends a plague on the camp on account of Chet ha-Egel.
After the plague, G-d tells Moshe to go to the Land—it’s termed here again “a land flowing with milk and honey” (אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ)—promised to the Avot (forefathers). G-d also says that He will send a messenger (angel) to drive out the seven nations now living there. However, He will not go among the stiff-necked people, lest He destroy them. This causes the people to mourn.
The Revelation to Moshe
Moshe pitches the Ohel (Tent of Meeting) outside the camp. When Moshe enters to speak with Gd, a pillar of cloud (עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן) descends upon the Ohel, and Gd “speaks with him like a person speaking to their fellow” (וְדִבֶּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ). Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן) attends him.
Moshe asks to see the face of G-d. G-d tells him that His Presence will pass before him, but he cannot see G-d’s face, since no human can see it and live. Moshe is commanded to position himself for this event:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי אַעֲבִיר כָּל טוּבִי עַל פָּנֶיךָ וְקָרָאתִי בְשֵׁם יְהוָה לְפָנֶיךָ וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם: וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא תוּכַל לִרְאֹת אֶת פָּנָי כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי: וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ הִנֵּה מָקוֹם אִתִּי וְנִצַּבְתָּ עַל הַצּוּר: וְהָיָה בַּעֲבֹר כְּבֹדִי וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ בְּנִקְרַת הַצּוּר וְשַׂכֹּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ עַד עָבְרִי: וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת כַּפִּי וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחֹרָי וּפָנַי לֹא יֵרָאוּ:
And [G-d] answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name Hashem, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show,” continuing, “But you cannot see My face, for a human being may not see Me and live.” And Hashem said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”Shemot 33:19-23
The Second Luchot
Moshe is then commanded to make a second set of tablets and bring them to the top of Har Sinai. Gd passes before Moshe on Har Sinai and tells him He will make a covenant on that day. He will drive out the people dwelling in the Land, with which there should be no intermarriage, lest it lead to idolatry. Idolatry is strictly forbidden. Chag ha-Matzot (Pesach) must be observed by the eating of unleavened bread. All male firstborns belong to Gd, and must be redeemed, including firstborn human males. There is no work on the seventh day, and Chag ha-Shavuot is to be observed as a festival of the first fruits of wheat and of ingathering; moreover, three times a year males must appear before Gd.
Blood may not be offered with leavened offerings. The Pesach offering cannot be left until morning. First fruits must be brought to the house of the Hashem. And, “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ).
Moshe is told to record these commandments, and we are told that he remained on Har Sinai this time for 40 days and nights. When Moshe returned from the mountain, his face was radiant (karan – קָרַן)8 Thereafter, Moshe would cover his face with a veil after speaking with Gd.
Haftarah – יהי ימים רבים ודבר ה’ היה אל אליהו
[Melachim Alef 18:1-39]
This section of Melachim (Alef) tells the story of the momentous events that transpire on Mount Carmel when true prophets of G-d face off against the false prophets of Baal. The story begins with Eliyahu ha-Navi appearing to Ovadia, an upright member of the court of Achav (Ahab), King of Israel. King Achav was married to Izevel (Jezebel) of Tyre, who was a worshiper of the god Baal and sought to turn her husband and his kingdom to this worship. At the time that Eliyahu appears to Ovadia, there had been a drought for three years, during which time, at Izevel’s behest, true prophets were being killed. During this time, Ovadia had hidden and supported some of the endangered prophets, for which he was rewarded with the gift of prophecy himself. (His prophecies are recorded in Sefer Ovadia, one of the Trei Asar (Twelve) Prophets.)
Eliyahu informs Achav that Achav is responsible for the drought, and tells him to bring the prophets of Ba’al as well as Asheira (a goddess) to face the true prophets of Hashem. The mutually agreed upon signal of authenticity is the consumption of a bull sacrifice. The sacrifice of the prophets of Baal proves ineffective, while Eliyahu’s sacrifice, replete with much precious water, is accepted. At this juncture, the crowd calls out, “Hashem Hu ha-Elokim,” which has become part of our Yom Kippur liturgy. Eliyahu then instructs that the prophets of Baal be killed.
Haftarah for Shabbat Parah
[Yechezkel 36:16 – 36:38]
This prophecy of Yechezkel begins with the people in their own land, but, due to their actions, they have made themselves and the land tameh, ritually impure. For this, the Jews were exiled from the land, scattered among the nations while Eretz Yisrael lies in ruin. This causes the name of Gd to be profaned, as the nations look on and see the relationship between Yisrael and Hashem disturbed. It is not for Yisrael’s sake but for that of His Name that Gd will act, bringing back the people from exile, gathering them in the rebuilt land, and, crucially, purifying them (making them tahor), relating to the themes of Shabbat Parah.
Image: Marc Chagall, Moîse brise les Tables de la Loi, Lithograph on paper, 1966.
- Melachim Bet 12:5-17 and 22:3-7; Divrei ha-Yamim 2 24:5-14 and 34:8-14,; Nechemia 10:33-34.
- There is no Gemara in the Bavli about this tractate; there is in the Yerushalmi.
- See Ibn Ezra on Shemot 30:23.
- According to Rashi on Shemot 30:23, equalling the weight of 500 shekel.
- A unit of liquid volume measurement.
- For previous mentions, see Shemot 16:29 and 20:7-10.
- This will have resonance in the ordeal of the Sotah in Bemidbar 5:11-31.
- This term that has engendered much commentary and is the reason Moshe is depicted with horns in Christian art, including Michaelangelo’s statue.