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Parashat Ki Tisa - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Ki Tisa ("when you take")

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Brit Chadashah

Ki Tisa

Exodus 30:11-34:35
Num. 19:1-22 (Parah)

1 Kings 18:1-39
Ezek. 36:16-38 (Parah)

2 Cor. 3:1-18

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Torah Reading Snapshot:

In Ki Tisa we find Moses still upon Sinai receiving instructions from the LORD regarding the Tabernacle. During this session, Moses is told to institute a census tax, where each male over 20 years of age was to contribute half a shekel of silver to the tabernacle "to make atonement" (kippurim) for the lives of the people.

The parashah begins:

Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11-12 (BHS)

The LORD said to Moses, "When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. Exodus 30:11-12

The Census Tax

The LORD told Moses to collect half-shekel coins from each male (20 years and older) and then count the coins (to obtain a census) "so that there be no plague among them when you number them."

According to Midrash, the reason for this is that as each Jew is being counted, Satan takes note and accuses them before the LORD as a transgressor, calling for the punishment of his sins.  More likely is the idea that the census was meant to muster an army, and the tax was meant as v'notnu ish kofer nafsho la-Adonai - each shall give a ransom (atonement) for his soul to the LORD, namely for shed blood during battle. Since there was no minting process going on in those days, the exact amount of the half-shekel  is unclear, though it probably represents a known unit of measurement for the required silver.

This collected money was called kesef hakippurim, atonement money, and was to be melted down to create the 100 adanim (sockets) used to hold the pillars of the mishkan (tabernacle). Later, after the Temple was created, the half-shekel coin was used to purchase korbonot (animal sacrifices) for the tzibur (community) of Israel. Ezra the Scribe instituted the reading about the half-shekel coin in parashat Shekalim.

Kiyyor Nechoshet - Bronze Basin

The LORD next instructed Moses regarding the kiyyor nechoshet, the bronze wash basin used by the priests during their avodah (service) in the mishkan.  The kiyyor stood near the Mizbeach Ha'olah (the altar of sacrifice) in the courtyard and the priests would wash their hands and feet before ascending the altar to perform a sacrifice. 

This recalls the early Passover Seder that Yeshua held with His disciples, when Yeshua washed the disciples feet (John 13:1-18). Peter's desire for Yeshua to wash his entire body (and not only his feet ) harkens back to the role of the bronze wash basin in the mishkan, in which the priests were required to only wash their hands and feet -- the rest of their bodies being covered by the righteousness that their robes of office conferred.

Shemen Hamishcha - The Anointing Oil

The anointing oil (shemen ha'mishcha) was a special oil used to consecrate all of the objects of the mishkan, and was also applied to the heads of the kohanim (priests). A midrash says that the bottle of shemen hamishcha Moses made miraculously lasted for 750 years, and that just before the destruction of the Temple, King Josiah hid the bottle. One day the Messiah will restore this hidden bottle back to the children of Israel.  The LORD also instructed Moses to make the ketoret (incense) used for the mizbeach haketoret (altar of incense) used in the Holy Place of the mishkan.

Betzalel - a Type of Mashiach

The LORD then told Moses that He had chosen Betzalel (Bezaleel) to be the chief architect of the mishkan. Betzalel was the grandson of Chur (of the tribe of Judah and ancestor of King David) who, according to Josephus (Antiquities 3:2) was the husband of Moses' sister Miriam. Chur was chosen to go with Moses and Aaron to the top of a mountain during Israel's first great war against Amalek (Ex. 17:8-13).

Betzalel (betzal'el) is a type of Messiah, a man "called by name" from Judah who was "filled with the Spirit of God" (ruach elohim) and whose name means "in the shadow of God" (Betzalel's chief assistant is Oholiab (aholi'Av), whose name means "the Father's tent").  A midrash says that Moses was so impressed with his abilities that he is reported to have said, Betzel El Hayita - "you were indeed in God's shadow, for you have the ability to create what the Holy One, blessed Be He, had commanded me."

In other words, when Moses was shown the pattern for the mishkan and all its furnishings on Mt. Sinai, he was astonished that Betzalel (who was only a young man) could so perfectly recreate the vision. Therefore Moses said that he must have been "in the shadow of God" when he was being given the revelation from the LORD.

Betzalel was like Yeshua in that he was from the kingly tribe of Judah, he was (among other things) a young carpenter, he was unusually "filled with the Spirit of God," his father's name (Uri) means "my light" (Jas. 1:17), his assistant (Oholiab) was from the tribe of Dan (symbolizing Torah), but it was he (rather than Moses) who actually built the mishkan (which was the archetypal pattern for the Temple - see 1 Peter 2:5). As it is written in Hebrews 3:1-6:

    Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Yeshua, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Yeshua has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses - as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

The Sign of the Sabbath

The LORD then repeated His commandment regarding the sanctity of the Sabbath day. "Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you" (Exod. 31:13). According to the Talmud, the commandment to observe the Sabbath is so important that if all the Jews were to completely keep two consecutive Sabbaths, the Messiah would come.

Moses receives the Two Luchot (tablets)

The narrative then shifts to the account of Moses the receiving of the two luchot (tablets) with the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them. According to Jewish midrash, the tablets of stone were made of blue sapphire as a symbol of the heavens and God's throne, written by the "finger of God" (Ex. 31:18). The Hebrew letters were said to be bored fully through the stone (Ex. 32:15), which was a miracle, since the inner part of some of the Hebrew letters (such as Samekh and the final Mem) "floated" in place. Moreover, even though the letters were bored fully through the stone, both sides appeared normally (that is, the "back" of the tablet looked identical to the front - Shabbos 104a).

The Sin of the Golden Calf (egel maseikhah)

Before Moses reappeared from the mountain top, however, the people talked Aaron into making a molten calf (egel maseikhah) which they began to worship (Ex. 32:1-6). The LORD told Moses of their idolatry and

Blue Sapphire


Golden Calf

threatened to destroy the Israelites, but Moses interceded on their behalf. As he rushed down the mountain, with the tablets in hand, he saw the people dancing about the idol. The tablets then became heavy and were smashed to the ground (Ex. 32:19). Moses then destroyed the molten calf and led the Levites (the only tribe that had not contributed gold for the idol's creation) in slaying 3,000 of the ringleaders. The next day he returned to God and said: "If You do not forgive them, blot me out from the book that You have written." Despite Moses' intercession (based on Zechut avot, the merit of the patriarchs), God sent a plague upon the Israelites.

Some time later, Moses was told to prepare a new set of tablets in order to once again ascend the mountain, where God would graciously reinstated the covenant. This second set of tablets was carved from sapphire by Moses himself (instead of by God) as an atonement for Israel's sin with the Golden Calf.

According to Rabbinic tradition, Moses carved the new tablets during the month of Elul, during his second 40 days upon Mt Sinai. According to this tradition, Moses ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended on the 10th of Tishri, at the end of Yom Kippur, when repentance and restoration of the people was complete. The month of Elul therefore represents the time of national sin and the forgiveness obtained by means of teshuvah (repentance) before the LORD.

Rashi wrote concerning these events:

    On the 6th of Sivan, Moses went up onto the mountain.... On the 17th of Tammuz the Tablets were broken (1st 40 days). On the 18th he burned the [Golden] Calf and judged the transgressors. On the 19th he went up for forty days and pleaded for mercy (2nd 40 days). On the 1st of Elul he went up to receive the Second Tablets, and was there for forty days (3rd 40 days). On the 10th of Tishrei God restored His goodwill with the Jewish people gladly and wholeheartedly, saying to Moses "I have forgiven, as you ask", and gave him the Second Tablets.

This traditional understanding of the timing of these events explains why:

  • The festival of Shavu'ot (Pentecost) is celebrated as Z'man Mattan Torateinu - the time commemorating the giving of the Torah
  • The 17th of Tammuz is observed as a time of national tragedy
  • The month of Elul is a time of selichot
  • The 10th of Tishri marks the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

Moses' Intercession and the 13 Attributes of Mercy

After the Jews had committed the grievous sin with the golden calf, Moses despaired of the Jews ever being able to find favor in God's eyes again. God graciously reassured Moses by revealing to him the thirteen middot (attributes) of His mercy. These thirty-two words (Exod. 34:6-7) have become known in Jewish tradition as the Shelosh Esrei Middot, the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy:

    "And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." (KJV)

According to various traditional interpretations, these thirteen attributes of God's Name may be understood as follows:

  1. Adonai (יהוה) - I, the LORD, am the Compassionate Source of all of life and Ground of all being; I am the breath of life for all of creation. I am the God of all possible worlds and Master of the universe. Everything that exists is an expression of my loving will and kindness:  עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalm 89:3[h]). Since the relative difference between existence and non-existence is infinite, God's creation represents infinite kindness, and since you exist, you likewise are expression of God's kindness and love. You do not exist because God needs you but soley because your life is willed by God as an expression of His love.
  2. Adonai (יהוה) -  Though the LORD created the universe "very good" (טוֹב מְאד), He remained the Compassionate Source of life even after mankind sinned, and therefore the Name is repeated to refer to His loving relationship with alienated, fallen creation. I, the LORD, am also compassionate to one who has sinned and repented (i.e., the Creator gives us free will and the good gift of teshuvah). God created mankind for the sake of teshuvah - that is, our return to Him. God desires atonement with mankind even after sin and therefore continues to give existence to the world. "He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). Moreover, as the Savior and Redeemer of the world through Yeshua, the LORD reveals kindness even to the evil, and even partakes of its presence by means of His sacrificial love on the cross. Since teshuvah can only exist after the advent of sin, Yeshua is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

    In this connection, it should be noted that while God "wills" evil (in the sense of allowing the actions of the wicked to occur), he does not desire it. The sages note that while the Creator supports the existence of both the wicked and the righteous, he loves the righteous, and only their actions are desired by Him (Psalm 1:6). God wills the brokenness of the sinner so that the soul can return to Him by experiencing His salvation, love, and blessing.
  3. El (אֵל) - I, the LORD, am God the Almighty and Omnipotent; my strength to show compassion recreates the fabric of the universe itself;
  4. Rachum (רַחוּם) - I, the LORD, am merciful (rachamim (רַחֲמִים) means "mercy" and rechem (רֶחֶם) means "womb"). Rachamim refers to the LORD's constant care for His creation, and in particular, for His compassion for those created in His image.
  5. Chanun (חַנּוּן) - I, the LORD, am gracious; I pour out my favor freely to all of creation. (Chen (חֵן) is the word for "grace"). Note that the word chaninah (grace) refers to the attribute of God's unmerited favor given to those who cry out to God for deliverance.  "I will show grace to him to whom I show grace" (Exod. 33:19) connotes the idea of an undeserved gift that derives entirely from God's desire to identify with creation and to demonstrate His compassion to the unworthy. It is that quality of God's heart that identifies with a person in distress - an empathy wherein God sees His Presence suffering in the sinner's place. Thus, when "they cried out, God heard, and God knew" (Exod. 2:23-24). As it is written in the Psalms: imo anokhi vetzarah (עִמּוֹ־אָנכִי בְצָרָה), "I am with him in distress" (Psalm 91:15). The attribute of the LORD's graciousness means that He suffers with you... He feels your pain and knows your sorrows. Unlike mercy (rachamim) which sustains us and frees us from the penalty we deserve, the LORD's grace is His response the inner pain of the heart. It represents God's broken heart for the pain He sees in His children....
  6. Erekh Apayim (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם) - I, the LORD, am slow to anger and patient (the word erekh means "long" and af (אַף) means "nose." The idiom erekh apayim means "long suffering, patient");
  7. Rav Chesed (רַב־חֶסֶד) - I, the LORD, am abundant in love (חֶסֶד) to both the righteous and the wicked;
  8. Rav Emet (רַב־אֱמֶת) - I, the LORD, am truthful and faithful in carrying out promises;
  9. Notzer Chesed La'alafim (נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים) - I, the LORD, retain chesed (love) for thousands of generations, taking into account the merit of our worthy ancestors (called zechut avot);
  10. Nosei Avon (נשֵׂא עָוֹן) - I, the LORD, forgive iniquity (avon), defined in the tradition as wrongful deeds committed with premeditation; I "carry iniquity away" (nasa) for the penitent;
  11. Nosei Pesha (נשֵׂא פֶשַׁע) - I, the LORD, forgive transgression (pesha), defined as wrongful deeds committed in a rebellious spirit;
  12. Nosei Chata'ah (נשֵׂא חַטָּאָה) - I, the LORD, forgive sin (chet), defined as those wrongful deeds that were inadvertently committed;
  13. Nakkeh (נַקֶּה) - I, the LORD, will not cancel punishment, but I will clear the guilt for those who genuinely return to Me in teshuvah. 

The Shelosh Esrei Middot formula is recited on Yom Kippur, and also during the Torah service on the High Holy Days, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Moses' Face Shines

The parashah ends with a description of Moses' face alight with the Shekhinah glory of the LORD, which remained on his face until the day of his death. From henceforth Moses would veil his face except when he would speak to the nation as God's mediator.

It is enlightening to realize how this revelation prefigures the New Covenant that was given to Israel in Yeshua. Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were broken, so a second set was given based on the middot (attributes) of the LORD's mercy and grace.  Indeed, Yeshua was broken on behalf of the law but was raised again so that all who trust in Him can truly understand that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in stedfast love and truth" (Exod. 34:6, Psalm 86:15, 103:8).

It can be argued that the second revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) was a "gospel" moment for Israel. The episode of the Golden Calf revealed that the Jews were unable to keep the law, even though they personally experienced the power of God's deliverance from Egypt and His ongoing care on the way to Sinai. Despite the judgments brought upon Egypt, despite the overthrow of Pharaoh and his armies in the sea, despite the bitter waters made sweet, despite the manna from heaven, despite the miraculous well of Miriam, despite the awesome revelation at Sinai, and despite the pledge of the Israelites: kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh v'nishma, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (Exod. 19:8; 24:7), the Sin of the Golden Calf revealed that something more was needed, and that the law itself was insufficient to change the inner heart of man. The poignant intercession of Moses - his "passion experience" - was a picture of Yeshua that ultimately revealed the heart of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), the revelation of the LORD's attributes of mercy and grace...

A midrash states that in the future, after the Mashiach appears, every tzaddik's face will shine like Moses' face, though not all in equal radiance.  Some will have the brightness of the sun, some of the moon, others of the stars, and some only like that of a candle.

For more about the shining face of the believer in the Messiah Yeshua, see the article entitled, "Paul's Midrash of the Veil."

Haftarah Reading Snapshot:

The Haftarah of Parashat Ki Tisa is about the prophet Elijah's confrontation of the evil King Ahab and the subsequent power encounter between the LORD and the prophets of Baal. This is another case demonstrating the proclivity in human nature towards idolatry and the God of Israel's vindication.


Brit Chadashah Reading:

The Brit Chadashah reading contrasts Moses' "ministry of condemnation" with the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the surpassing glory of the ministry of the Mashiach. The veil of Moses is indeed lifted and the revelation of the glory of Yeshua the Mashiach shines forth when we put our trust in Him! (For more on this, see "The Surpassing Glory.")

    "...our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.  For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:6-18) 


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