February 26-27, 2016 – 18 Adar 1 5776
Annual (Exodus 30:11-34:35): EtzHayim p. 523; Hertz p. 352
Triennial (Exodus 33:12-34:35): EtzHayim p. 538; Hertz p. 362
Haftarah (1 Kings 18:1-39): EtzHayim, p. 548; Hertz p. 369
Welcome to the new “Torah Sparks” direct from the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem! The CY’s beautiful Beit Midrash is full of students learning Jewish texts and enhancing their relationships with Jewish prayer and the Jewish community. Torah Sparks brings you a taste of their enthusiasm for Judaism and Jewish text from Jerusalem every week.
When Moses Finally Said “No!” to God
By Dr. Shaiya Rothberg, CY Faculty
The prophet Isaiah emphasized that mysterious are the ways of God and rarely are divine intentions just what they seem (Isaiah 45:15, 55:8). A close reading of this week’s Torah portion suggests that under the surface of the story may lay just the kind of hidden agenda that the prophet means.
After inviting Moses into a “devouring fire” at the top of the mountain in front of all Israel, God keeps him up there for forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:12-18). One can’t but suspect that God was well aware that by the time Exodus 32:1 rolled around, the people would think Moses dead and themselves abandoned in the desert. Sure enough, “The people saw that Moses didn’t come back and so they gathered around Aaron and said ‘Get up! Make us a God! …because this man Moses, we don’t know what’s happened to him…” Was God really surprised?
Furthermore, God’s response to the calf is more than a little strange. God says to Moses, “Now allow me [וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי] to let my anger destroy them and I’ll make you into a great nation” (32:10). “Allow me”!? Since when does God, about who it is said “God gives no account of any of God’s doings” (Job 33:13), ask permission to do anything? And one wonders whether God’s offer to make a new nation out of Moses was a test. Would Moses take the bait? In truth, Moses’ answer seems a little weak. He more or less says (Exodus 32:11-14), “God, it will be really bad for Your image in Egypt if you kill them all now.” One might have expected a more principled argument, as Avraham had raised before God at Sdom (Gen 18:23): ‘Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?’
In Exodus 32:32, after Moses had more time to think about God’s threat/offer, he revises his position. He says to God: “Now, if you forgive them – great, but if not, erase me from the book that You have written!” There’s a lot of chutzpah in that statement. Moses essentially said, “Sure, you can kill them if you want, but I refuse to be the father of your new nation!” Maybe then God said to God’s self: “Finally, he’s growing a backbone! I’m not sure how much more idle talk, about bad public relations I could take!”
God’s next move points to the same hidden agenda. In Exodus 33:3, God makes it clear that while obliterating the people is off the table, God is leaving Israel and will send an angel instead. The people mourn and Moses immediately removes the Tent of Meeting (with God) from the Israelite camp (33:7). But then a period of negotiation between Moses and God begins (33:12-21). Verses 33:14-15 are difficult to interpret. Following Rashi, we might render them like this: “OK”, God says in verse 14, “I agree to move back in”. “That’s good”, responds Moses in verse 15, “because if you don’t move back in, I quit!” Perhaps at this point God leaned back and said, “I think he’s gotten the hang of telling Me off. The goal of this lesson has been achieved!”
A Vort for Parashat Ki Tissa
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
God concludes the revelation of His attributes to Moshe: “visiting the iniquity of the parents upon children, and children’s children, to the third and fourth generations;” at which point “Moses made haste (va’yimaher) to bow low to the ground in homage” (Ex 34:7-8). What was Moshe’s rush? The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Efraim Luntschitz, Poland, 16th) said that when Moshe heard God counting off the generations to be held liable for the sins of their ancestors, he was afraid the chain of responsibility could continue forever. He thus hurried to bow down and pray in the hope of stopping the recitation and saving further generations from being held accountable.
By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
We are in the story of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) but taking a break to see what the people are doing while Moshe is up on the Mountain receiving the tablets. Here comes the Golden Calf!
1) The Torah allows for a census in a creative way. How will we know how many people are in the nation? What is the purpose of giving this silver (30:11, 15)? What is this silver to be used for (30:16)? Keeping all this in mind, why is the wealthy not allow to give more, and the poor not give less?
2) As we come to the end of the instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), laws and reasons for Shabbat are presented (31:12-17). Shabbat is a sign between God and the people. What is it a sign of? What is the reason for Shabbat, according to what is written here? Why does this appear at the end of the instructions of building the Mishkan?
The story of the golden calf and its consequences take up about 3 chapters. These questions touch on a few points.
3) When the story begins Moshe has been up on Mount Sinai for nearly 40 days, receiving the tablets. Read 32:1. What do the people want Aaron to do and why do they want him to do it? Do you think that this was this a rejection of God or an attempt to connect to God?
4) God is furious with the people’s actions (why?) and wants to destroy them (32:7-10). Moshe (still up on the mountain) approaches God with 2 arguments against killing the people. What are his arguments? Neither argument has anything to do with the merit of people themselves. Why does Moshe not try to speak well of the people to God?
5) When Moshe comes down and sees the dancing around the calf, he throws down the tablets and breaks them (32:19). Why do you think that he did this? Do you think that he was right to do so? Why?