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Ki Tisa - February 20, 2022 - Torah Portion

The Torah portion for Sunday the 20th February is from Exodus 30 through 34: 35 called Ki Tisa meaning “ When you take”:

The Prophetic portion is from Ezekiel 36: 16-38 “I will put my Spirit in you and give you a heart of flesh” the New Testament from Matthew 5:16 – 18 “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.”

The Torah portion, in a nutshell, is basically this. The people of Israel are told to each contribute exactly half a shekel of silver to the sanctuary. This was not a tithe but a temple tax.

In Matthew 17:24-27 Peter and Jesus have arrived at Capernaum, the tax men came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher pay (the temple) taxes?”25 Peter said, “Of course.”…it goes on ..But Jesus said to Peter to the effect that, we don’t have to but so we don’t upset them needlessly, go down to the lake, cast a hook, and pull in the first fish that bites. Open its mouth and you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to the tax men. It will be enough for both of us.” This story links in with the Torah written 2000 years earlier.

The Torah portion gives instructions regarding the making of the Sanctuary's water basin, anointing oil and incense. “Wise-hearted” artisans Bezalel and Oholiab are placed in charge of the sanctuary’s construction, and the people are once again commanded to Keep the Sabbath and keep it Holy.

When Moses does not return from Mount Sinai when expected, the people make a golden calf and worship it and God proposes to destroy the errant nation, but Moses intercedes on their behalf.

When Moses descends from the mountain carrying the 10 commandments on two tablets of stone and sees the people dancing about their idol, he throws the tablets out of his hands breaking them to pieces, he destroys the golden calf, and has the primary culprits put to death.

He then returned to God and said, “please forgive their sins: “if you do not forgive them, blot me out from the book that you have written”. Exodus 32:31. God does forgive them and He does remove the name of Moses from the end of the Book of Numbers where his death is recorded. Moses’ name would be missing where he normally should have appeared. Thus, it is that in the week when we remember his passing, Moses’ name is gone.

However the consequence of their sin of the Golden Calf would last for many generations.

Then, God proposes to send his Angel along with the Israelites, but Moses insists that God himself accompany his people to the promised land.

Moses prepares a new set of tablets and once more ascends the mountain, where God and Moses prepare the second set of the 10 commandments on two tablets. On the Mountain, Moses is also granted a vision of the divine 13 attributes of mercy.

It concludes with the radiant face of Moses upon his return. He must cover it with a veil which he removes only to speak and to teach God’s laws to the people.

Framing the epic events of this week’s Torah portion are two objects – the two sets of the 10 commandments. The first given before the sin of the golden calf and the second after the incident, Firstly, we read:

“The Tablets were the work of God; inscribed by the finger of God, engraved on the Tablets.” Exodus 31:18

These were perhaps the holiest objects in history: from beginning to end, the work of God. Yet within hours they lay shattered, broken by Moses when he saw the golden calf and the Israelites dancing around it.

The second set, brought down by Moses, paved the way for Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement, the day marked in the Jewish calendar as a time of favour, forgiveness and reconciliation between God and the Jewish people.

The second set was different in one respect. They were not altogether the handiwork of God: Exodus 34:1 “The Lord said to Moses, chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”

Watch this…. Because it is significant. The first Tablets, made by God, did not remain intact. Moses broke them into pieces. The second Tablets were the joint work of God and Moses (Exodus 34:1) and they lasted to this very day.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. 18For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Surely the first set of the Commandments, written by God, were greater in holiness and should have been the more eternal.

Why were the more holy objects broken while the less holy stayed whole?

Why did God give us two sets of Commandments – one written by Himself and the second set written by God and Moses together?

Here we see two types of Divine-human encounter.

The first where only God is involved and the second which includes Moses handiwork.

The first is initiated by God, the second by God and man.

The first set was received in a spectacular, supernatural, event that bursts through with thunder, lightning, with fire and billows of smoke.

The second has no such grandeur. It is a gesture that is human, All too human.

Yet there is another difference between them. The first set may change the world, but it does not, in and of itself, change the man.

In the first instance, no human effort has been made.

For the Israelites who received them, they were passive. While it lasts, it is overwhelming; but only while it lasts. Thereafter, people revert to what they were doing before – grumbling and complaining.

The second set by contrast, leaves a permanent mark.

When human beings have taken the initiative, something in them changes. Their horizons of possibility have been expanded. They now know they are capable of great things, and because they did so once, they are aware that they can do so again.

The first set transforms the external world only temporarily; but the second set transforms our world permanently.

The first changes the universe; the second changes us.

The first two tablets represented the Old Covenant law written on stone and offered to the world, but the second set represents the New Covenant law written on hearts of flesh by Holy Spirit that softens and changes us.

The prophet writes in (Ezekiel 36 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God. ) God will do this when the Jewish people return to their own land and Jesus reveals himself to them.

Let me give you two examples of what I am trying to convey.

Before and after the division of the Red Sea, the Israelites were confronted by two enemies: the Egyptians before the waters parted , and the Amalekites after. The difference is total.

Before the Red Sea, the Israelites were commanded to do nothing: I read:

“Stand still and you will see the deliverance God will bring you today . . . God will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:13-14 They received this word but did nothing.

Facing the Amalekites, however, the Israelites themselves had to fight: ”Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men and go out and fight the Amalekites.” Exodus 17:9 They received the word and did something. They fought.

The first was ordered by God alone and the second required their participation. The difference was palpable. Within three days after the division of Red Sea, the greatest of all miracles, the Israelites began complaining again. (no water, no food).

But after the war against the Amalekites, the Israelites never again complained when facing conflict. (The sole exception – when the spies returned and the people lost heart – was when they relied on hearsay testimony, not on the immediate prospect of battle itself). The battles fought for us by God do not change us; the battles we fight with Him, do.

The second example was on Mount Sinai when the Glory of God fell and then the moment when the Glory filled the Tabernacle.

The Torah speaks about these two revelations of “God’s glory” in almost identical terms: I quote:

“The glory of God settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the Cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day God called to Moses from within the Cloud.”

The second reads: “Then the Cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled the Tabernacle.”

The difference between them was that the Glory on Mount Sinai was momentary, while the Glory in the Tabernacle, The Tent of Meeting, was permanent.

The revelation at Sinai was initiated by God. It was so overwhelming that the people said to Moses, “Let God not speak to us any more, for if He does, we will die” (Exodus 20:16).

When God wrote the word on the Tablets - Forty days after the revelation at Sinai, the Israelites made a Golden Calf.

By contrast, the Tabernacle involved human labour. They co-laboured with God. The Israelites made it; they prepared the structured space that the Divine Presence would eventually fill. After constructing the sanctuary, they made no more idols during their 40 year journey.

That is the difference between the things that are done for us and the things we have a share in doing ourselves.

When God wrote the 10 Commandments, it changed us for a moment, but when man partners with Him we are changed for a lifetime.

There was one other difference between the first Tablets and the second. according to tradition. When Moses was given the first set of Commandments it was the “written Torah.”

When he and God discussed the second set, he was given the oral Torah. It is written: “For by the mouth of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” Exodus 34:27

The difference between the Written and Oral Torah is profound. The first is the Word of God, with no human contribution. The second is a partnership. The Word of God as interpreted by the mind of man through the Holy Spirit.

It also helps us understand why it was only after the second set, not the first, that “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with God” (Exodus 34:29).

Receiving the first Tablets, Moses was passive. Therefore, nothing in him changed.

For the second, he was active. He had a share in the making. He carved the stones out on which the words were to be engraved. That is why he became a different person. His face shone.

When we partner with God the natural is greater than the supernatural in the sense that an awakening of man through the Holy Spirit” is more powerful in transforming us, and longer lasting in its effects, than is a Command from God without interaction.

That was why the second set of the 10 Commandments survived intact while the first did not. Divine intervention changes the world, but it is human initiative and our approach to God, our intimate relationship with Him that changes us completely and we begin to shine!

Shabbat Shalom


Notes from: Chabad: Ki Tova in a Nutshell

Hebrew4Christians Ki Tova

Rabbi Sacks on Ki Tova

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