This week’s Sedra, Ki Tissa, has many dramatic elements - perhaps most famously the tragic story of the Golden Calf. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai for the 1st time he is carrying the original Tablets that had the 10 ‘commandments’ carved into them by HaShem. Some of the people had miscalculated Moses’ 40 days and were concerned he was not coming back - and thus urged Aaron to make an idol. Aaron tried to stall these people demanding their jewelry, and when this was thrown into a fire it formed a golden calf.
I want to share an idea which I heard from Rabbi Riskin that really resonated with me. We read today about the second set of tablets which were given as a sign of God’s forgiveness. The Rabbis are certain that this occurred on 10th Tishri which consequently is now Yom Kippur. The date when the first tablets were given is unknown. According to the Rivash (Yitzhak ben Sheshet, 1326-1408) this is because they failed to achieve their purpose.
In this week’s Sidrah is the famous incident of the golden calf. In this episode, while Moshe was on Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people went to build the golden calf and Chur was one of the only people who tried to stop them. Unfortunately, he lost his life in the process.
One may question that is this the reward of someone who tries to protect G-d’s honour?
The Torah needs to be understood both chronologically and conceptually, and makes leaps in time and space to suit the purpose. There is no “earlier” or “later” in Torah, and this means that occasionally the conceptual order supersedes the chronological order. Today’s Sedra illustrates this need to look at concepts, rather than just narrative.
Most of the book of Shemot takes place over one year, and the events in Ki Tissa form part of a period of 120 days. Rashi writes:
Ki Thissa v 3 390: Rabbi Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat has explained an aspect of Ki Thissa that always puzzled me. So, with acknowledgement to him, I share his insight with you. Why is it, he asks, that the second tablets that Moshe brought down from the mountain were exactly the same as the first? Why were no changes made to accommodate B’nai Yisrael’s total and almost instant failure to observe the second Commandment? Did the whole incident of the Golden Calf count for nothing?
This week’s Sedra begins with HaShem commanding Moshe to take a census of the Jewish people. It is a well known fact that it is forbidden to count Jews directly and the census was therefore conducted by each Jew contributing half a shekel. The purpose of this census was to count how many Jews remained after the sin of the golden calf. At this point in time, Bnei Yisrael were not in a position of favour and they needed some sort of merit in order to achieve forgiveness. By contributing half a shekel towards the tabernacle, which was a communal cause, they thereby achieved forgiveness.
The opening commandment in the Sidra of Ki Tissa instructs Moses to conduct the census which took place by means of a contribution of half a Shekel from each person over the age the 20. The age of 20 was the military age in ancient times. Therefore, it is to be assumed that Moses wanted to take a census in preparation for the conquest of the land. The problem was that it was considered to be a sin to count the people, because it showed lack of trust in God.