THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
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This week's study is brought to you by our dedicated readers, Mr. & Mrs. Marc Feldman and Dr. & Mrs. Jules Levine, of Los Angeles. May they and all their neighbors soon come to the true city of angels, Jerusalem.
A PLAYFUL INTRODUCTION:
In our unified world, all stems from God and is ultimately connected to everything else; our physical reality is the audiovisual division of His Great Academy. So this association of the portion with a "see-saw", naturally popping up in an American stream of consciousness, turns out, indeed, to be a leit-motif of our portion. We go up to the heights of Sinai with Moshe to get the 2 holy tablets-- suddenly he must descend to the depths of the Golden Calf Night Club (Glatt kosher-- see their ad in The Jewish Press), to bring the Jews back up. His temporary descent to his folk leads to his further ascent toward God, yerida l'tzorech aliya-- Moshe seeks and obtains new revelations of Divinity, after God puts most of Israel on probation, rather than destroying them; the new revelations are perhaps even higher and deeper than those before. Life is like a swing or a sliding board, with its ups when we exert effort, and its downs when we let go; yet, no matter how individualistic we may be, much of it is really more like a seesaw, all of us linked together-- the bodily joy of swings, slides and seesaws may indeed relate to their powerful subliminal life messages! As little children are socialized for Israel's seesaw existence, they sing Bialak's poem NADNEDA (seesaw): "Nad-ned, Nad-ned, go down, go up, go up and down! What's above, what's below?-- only I, I and You. We two are balanced on the scale, between heaven and earth".
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A. A SYNOPSIS OF KI SISA
Chs. 30-31: God now gives Moshe his last 5 instructions regarding the Tabernacle construction (NOTHING has been told to the Jews yet):
1) each man who's counted for a military census (from 20) MUST give a half shekel to the tabernacle campaign, an atonement for his soul-- thus he'll not be struck by plague WHEN COUNTED! A HOLY SHEKEL = 20 gerahs of silver; silver was also one of the materials VOLUNTARILY given to build the tabernacle. Moshe counted the soldiers soon after this-- the resultant first census offering of 301,775 shekels of siolver was used for the 100 silver socket bases of the 96 gold plated boards of the Tabernacle walls, and of the 4 beams holding the cloth partition (100 talents), and 1775 shekels (88.75 lbs.) for the hooks, capitals and fillets of the 60 pillars of the tabernacle courtyard (Ex. 38:28). Per Rashi, this census was taken right after the debacle of the Calf and the resultant deaths. In later ages, public sacrifices were purchased each year with the half shekels; they were collected in Adar, before the new holyday calendar began in Nissan. So we read this first section of Ki Sisa on the Shabbat before Adar, Shabbat Shekalim.
2) The Torah now describes the last utensil-- the brass laver, in the tabernacle courtyard, between the bronze altar and the Tabernacle. Barefoot Aharon & sons washed their hands and feet there, before entering the tent or performing sacrifice-- otherwise they might die. Today we wash only our hands before prayer, which now replaces sacrifice; our feet are shod, tho some oriental Jews, as Arabs, remove their shoes at prayer.
3) Moshe is given the formula for holy perfumed annointing oil and ordered to make it; it's to be used only for consecration of the tabernacle and priests. Vendyl Jones claims to have discovered the oil, shemen afarsimon, at Qumran, following the Copper Scroll's encoded directions; he says that he gave it to Rav Getz of The Wall for safekeeping, but does not know what he did with it; Jones also claims that he discovered the ancient spices used in the incense and annointing oil, and identified them thru pollen analysis-- pollen does not decay. I hope to get further info in print from him. His most exciting current project is exploring the site of the ancient tabernacle at Gilgal, the walls of which he claims to have discovered by radar aerial photography; he attributes the hostility of the government archeological establishment to his work to their anti-religious bias, afraid that his discoveries will make them return to Judaism; he similarly attributes his successful discoveries to his Noachide involvement with, and faith in, traditional Jewish sources, with the help of God. I don't know if his ultra-right wing political sympathies affect his work.
4) Moshe's told to make holy perfumed incense-- it may be burnt only on the 1 x 1 x 2 cubit gold altar, facing the partition veil, which covers the ark of testimony.
5) Bezalel, son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of Judah, has been filled with the spirit of the Lord, wisdom, knowledge and all types of craftsmanship. He's to build the Tabernacle, assisted by Oholiav of Dan and all inspired craftsman, in whom God's placed wisdom.
Ibn Ezra explains the order of these instructions-- after the Torah described the annual atonement for abuse of the golden altar (30:10), it continues with the annual atonement of the half shekel; "halfness", one side of the seesaw, conveys one's sense of individual inadequacy, of the need to join with the community to meet God and His goals, e.g. public male prayer with a quorum of 10. The laver isn't described earlier, as it's made from copper mirrors, donated separately by the women. So the annointing oil and incense were in fact special gifts of the princes (tho mentioned generally with all the materials in 25:6); but the special donors aren't mentioned in our portion, only in Vayakhel, Ex. 35:27-28. The annointing oil leads to a list of the utensils to be annointed. We then go on to who's in charge of the work, Btzalel and Ohialov. God next tells Moshe to order the Jews to cease holy construction of the Tabernacle on Shabat: "...FOR IT'S A SIGN BETWEEN ME AND YOU FOR YOUR GENERATIONS, TO REALLY KNOW THAT I, GOD, MAKE YOU HOLY"-- 31:13. Shabbat violation, when defiant and properly witnessed, entails the death penalty. Shabbat's a perpetual convenant for the Jews, who WILL observe it strictly: IT'S AN ETERNAL SIGN BETWEEN ME AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, THAT GOD MADE HEAVEN AND EARTH IN 6 DAYS-- AND CEASED AND WITHDREW TO HIS SOUL ON THE 7TH DAY (17).
When God finished speaking to Moshe on Sinai, He gave him 2 tablets (for a golden calf headache?) of stone, written with the FINGER OF THE LORD (18), a metaphor-- it's also used in Ex. 8:15 and Deut. 9:10, God's fingers in Ps. 8:4, THE HAND OF GOD in Ex. 9:3, 14:31, 15:6 and Ps. 139:5, His palm in Lev. 33:22-3, and His arm in Is. 53:1; priests' fingers are dipped in blood or oil in Lev. 4:6,17; 9:9; 14:16, and used to apply or sprinkle it in Ex. 29:12, Lev. 16:14,19; 8:15; 4:25,30,34; 14:16,26; Num. 19:4. Rambam discusses these and other anthropomorphisms in Guide I:46f.
CH. 32: The people feared that Moshe wouldn't re-enter earthly reality, after his peak experience with God. They gathered about Aharon, asking him to make them a LORD or ORACLE to lead them, for "who knows what's happened to Moshe, WHO BROUGHT US UP FROM EGYPT?". God's not tangible enough for these newly liberated Egyptians-- cf. traditional Christianity. Aharon formed the gold in a mold, casting it into a calf... THEY (who?) said: "These, ISRAEL, are YOUR Lord(s), who brought YOU out of Egypt (32:4)". After SEEING (having insight), Aharon built an altar before it and PROCLAIMED: "A FESTIVAL TO GOD TOMORROW!". The Jews brought burnt and peace offerings early in the morning. The people SAT DOWN to eat and drink AND GOT UP to FOOL AROUND. They thus rendered that day, the 17th of Tammuz, a day of historical mourning for the Temple's destruction; Zecharia predicts that it will become a day of joy-- sin leads to destruction and mourning, which eventually leads repentant man back to God and joy! Man can't escape his destiny, but he can take a long detour (Maina Shel Torah, Rav A. Kook).
Shabtai Tzvi's followers didn't fast on Tammuz 17-- in his diary (Megillat Sefer, $20 from TOP), Yaakov Emden accused Yonaton Eibshitz's family of such Sabbatarian practices. Eibshitz, in turn, accused Emden of Christian sympathies-- Emden considered Jesus and Paul good guys, who just wanted to bring gentiles to Torah's universal religion, the Noachide Code (end, Sefer Hashimush); Rav Riskin sees Jesus as a well-meaning potential Messiah, who failed, asking God why He forsook him (see TOP's video of his Xmas eve lecture at the Falk Israel Center; but Rambam considered Jesus evil, trying to take Jews away from their unique eternal covenant with God (Letter to the Jews of Yemen). Eibshitz and Emden, who fought to their last moments of life, wound up buried near each other!
One of our most active and interesting rabbis, fellow independent maverick and Bostonian Moshe (Marvin) Antelman, a scientist, is about to publish The Great Aguna Debate, giving his radical rabbinic solutions to the radical problems of agunot, women condemned to be spinsters because they cannot not obtain a religious divorce or chalitza, releasing them from levirite marriage (yibum); Sharon Shenhav repeated her tale of blackmailed Elizabeth (Shame, Spit and an Oversized Shoe, JPost, 1/24/97) in the JReport, bearing the false date of 3/6/97; but this time she did not advocate mission impossible, to simply ignore the Torah's law of chalitza; neither did she, unlike Antelman, propose any actual solutions. Antelman claims that most of the establishment rabbinic authorites are both ignorant of the law and indifferent to the fate of the suffering women. We both served in JDL patrols to protect elderly Jews in Roxbury and Dorchester, before Kahane turned the JDL into a racist hate group, which denied the authority of the Israeli government.
Antelman has also done extensive research on the Emden-Eibshitz dispute, and is convinced that Eibshitz, a great scholar, was indeed a follower of Shabtai Tzvi and a secret Christian, who only attacked the Catholic church because he was Lutheren, baptized at birth. Moshe ignores Emden's own nasty and neurotic nature, perhaps due to an act of his revered father, Chacham Tzvi of Amsterdam, who forbade him to marry his life-long love. Antelman has impressive sources to back up his position on Eibshitz-- see Bechor Satan, Yaron Golan (1992), Sod HaEmuna HaShabtait, by Prof. Y. Liebes of Heretical University (H.U.), and J.J. Schachter's book review in Jewish Life on The Pursuit of Heresy by Dr. Elisheva Carlebach. To talk to amiable Antelman, call (08)456406, fax (08)491512, or write to POB 382, Rechovot, or e-mail: email@example.com; to get Eibshitz's side, contact Herschel Teitelbaum, his descendant, who recently made aliya from Ottowa.
God tells Moshe, still on Sinai, what's going on back at the ranch, and orders him to go back downstairs-- the people he's brought up from Egypt has quickly become corrupt, leaving God's commanded path. God adds that He's SEEN (has insight into) the people AND that it's stiffnecked. He offers Moshe a deal-- to wipe out Israel and to make a great nation from him! (Moshe's sons have just been rejected for eternal priesthood). Moshe rejects the offer, trying to appease God with 3 arguments: 1) the Jews are His people, whom He's taken out of Egypt. 2) the Egyptians will assume that God intended Israel's destruction from the start-- God cares about what ALL His children think of Him. 3) God promised the patriarchs that their seed will be like stars in the sky, in the State of Israel. God was placated. Moshe then descended with 2 tablets, made and written by God, engraved on both sides. Yehoshua thought that he heard battle shouts, but Moshe said that the Jews were just whooping it up (cf. Freudian relations between sensuality and aggression, and rock music, redeemed by Shlock Rock, available at TOP). When Moshe saw the Golden Calf Disco, supervised by the high priest, he was angry (as he described God before!), and threw down the tablets, breaking them! He took the calf which they made, burnt and pulverized it, and made them drink a calf-and-water cocktail. He asked Aharon what the Jews did to him, that he brought such great sin upon them. Aharon begs Moshe not to be so angry, and describes Israel as a people bent on evil. He claims that a calf CAME OUT when he cast the gold into the fire (Evil "will over matter"?)!
THE PURGE: Truthful Moshe saw the people abandoned and wild, due to peaceful and loving Aharon; Israel was now a source of derision to their enemies (cf. Eilat and Tel Aviv discos, and Jews shopping in the Jaffa Gate shuk on Shabbat, as viewed by the Arabs). He asked for volunteers FOR GOD-- ALL Levites came (Yoma 66; cf. Yaakov's curse of Levi's anger). He ordered them to slay the idol worshippers, regardless of friendship or family ties; about 3000 died (there's a limit to love and tolerance in Judaism-- cf. Chanukah). Moshe calls the Leviim blessed (Rashi-- and consecrated), for not sparing even their sons and brothers. The next day, he announced his return to Sinai, to seek atonement for this great sin. He asked God to blot him out of His book, if He doesn't forgive Israel-- his words must take effect; thus his name doesn't appear in T'tzaveh, where Aharon & Co. take over the priesthood. God replies that only he who sinned will be wiped out of His book! Moshe's to go back to work, leading the people to Israel, together with His ANGEL-- so most of us can respond to Arab terrorist attacks only by being extra careful, praying, and continuing our daily tasks to build an ideal state of Israel.
The nation of Israel gets a suspended sentence, their sin on record, whenever God later judges them. But a plague followed, ending tragic Ch. 32. 32, also the Chapter of Moshe's swan song, Haazinu, in Deuteronomy, = lev, heart; cf. Num. 15:39-- YOU SHALL NOT GO AFTER YOUR HEART (e.g. a beautiful calf statue, an icon, which leads to--) AND AFTER YOUR (sensually craving) EYES-- the ensuing orgy. Abstract God's abstract principles must be our only guide. Hand-painted icons are offered in "Inside The Vatican", 12/93, and are a cottage industry at Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Holy Cross monastery, which hosted a interfaith confab on Jerusalem last year. Keeping Jerusalem holy, unsullied by cheap shallow Western culture, is a common aim of all its faith communities.
CH. 33: GOD THEN REPROMISES THE JEWS THE LAND, defeat of their enemies, and prosperity in Israel-- the SECULAR Zionist dream; but He says an angel, not He, will be in their midst, as they're STIFF-NECKED. The people MOURNED and stopped wearing their JEWELRY-- they had lost their RELIGIOUS Zionist dream. God tells them that His Imminent Presence would destroy them, in their present state. Moshe now pitched his tent outside the camp; all stood up as he went toward it; as he entered, the pillar of cloud descended and the people worshipped. God spoke with him "FACE-TO-FACE", as friends; Yehoshua, his servant, stayed in the tent. Moshe now asked God for special favors, for He told Moshe that He really likes him, and gave him the task of bringing Israel to Israel! He seeks to deeply know God's ways, His plan and tactics, so that he can guide Israel toward their ultimate goal (Hirsch). God says that His presence will go and lead them. Moshe doesn't want to budge otherwise; God's presence is the only sign of His true grace towards Israel, and of its unique marvelous position among all humanity (vs. secular Zionism). Chazan Ish claimed that we cannot judge contemporary heretics, captives of their non-Jewish tzeitgeist, as heretics were judged in the past, for we don't openly experience God's miraculous Presence today, unlike in previous generations.
God agrees, as He knows Moshe BY NAME and likes him. Moshe THEN asks to be shown His glory. God says that He'll pass all His goodness before Moshe, proclaim His Name, and be gracious and show mercy to whomever He wishes. Even Moshe can't see God's FACE and live. He's placed in the cleft of a rock, "near God"-- he sees God's glory AFTER it passes; when God removes His "hand", covering him, he sees His "back", but not His "front" or "face". Sometimes we may understand God's ways in our lives only long after events occur. My winding up at HLS, rather than YLS, my first choice, led to my exposure to the breadth and depth of Rav J. Soloveichik.
CH. 34: MOSHE REASCENDS SINAI alone and hews two new tablets. God reveals His attributes as He passes by: GOD, GOD, THE LORD, MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, WITH LOTS OF LOVE AND TRUTH, KEEPING DEEDS OF LOVE FOR THOUSANDS (of generations), FORGIVING SIN, REBELLION, AND ERROR. HE DOESN'T CLEAR THE (unrepentant) GUILTY AND KEEPS THE SINS OF THE FATHERS IN MIND (per Rav Leo Jung, Ztz"l) RE THEIR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN FOR 3 OR 4 GENERATIONS (34:6-7). Moshe quickly worshipped and again asked God to forgive Israel, to take them for an inheritance, and to go in their midst. God promises a covenant with hitherto unheard of miracles, in view of all nearby peoples-- IF Israel makes NO COVENANT with idol worshippers, and destroys all signs of idolatry in Israel; otherwise, Jews will intermarry and become idolatrous (should the Israel & Bibleland Museums resurrect idols? Cf. Aguda's objection to the recent Conference of Christians and Jews and relations with the proselytizing Vatican). This does NOT apply to the monotheistic Arabs. Passover is to be observed every SPRING-- no leavened food products of 5 SPECIFIC grains are allowed for 7 days (Prof. Y. Felix speculates as to their identity in Nature, Man, and the Bible). All first born domestic animals are God's; first born humans are to be redeemed and firstborn donkeys redeemed or killed (19f; cf. 13:11f; the ass is the only unclean animal which must be redeemed, for the firstborn Egyptians are compared to it (Rashi; see Ezek. 23:20).
Shabbat must be observed, even in plowing and harvest times. On Shavout, we celebrate the new wheat crop (and the Decalogue-- if there's no flour, there will be no Torah, and v.v.-- Avot 3:17). The calendar must be intercalated so that the harvest festival (Succos) occurs at the turn of the year (Fall). All males must appear BEFORE GOD on their 3 agricultural holidays; God will protect their homes, wives and kids while they're gone. Leaven must be removed before the Passover sacrifice, which mustn't remain overnight. First fruits are to be brought to His House; no kid may be seethed in its mother's milk. Moshe's told (v. 27) to write these words for himself (the written covenant), by whose "MOUTH" (the oral law) is God's covenant with him and Israel (Sadducees & Karaites deny the Divine origin, from Sinai, of the oral law, and deny Nach; reform, reconstructionist and most "conservative" rabbis also deny that of the written law; see Git. 60b, The Condition of Jewish Belief, Himmelfarb). Moshe fasted on Sinai 40 days and nights, and God wrote the second tablets (34:1,28). When Moshe descended, his face shone with Divine light; he wore a veil when he wasn't alone with God or delivering His Word. Per Rav Yehuda Henkin, Moshe's self-effacement brought him even closer to God (32:10ff, Num. 12:3)-- he became great by avoiding greatness; so Hillel used to say: "A name made lofty is a name destroyed... he who exploits The Crown, he is finis" (Avot 1:13).
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B. SOME ???
How COULD the Jews commit the Golden Calf sin right after Sinai's glorious revelation? Why does God kill over 3000 of the sinners, if He forgives Israel for the sin, or at least suspends punishment? Why pick a calf? How many golden calves roam Bibleland? Compare the 1st & 2nd tablets. How does Shabbat interface with the Tabernacle construction and service? Why is counting people harmful? How do half shekels help? What's a "holy shekel"? How can Moshe ask so much of God, right after the golden calf debacle? Should yeshiva boys study Tanach? Should Roshei Yeshiva? Who was Avimelech? Does eshet chayil, the song in praise of a woman of valor, appear anywhere other than before kiddush in the siddur and on tombstones?
C. SOME APPROACHES TO THE ??
ISRAEL'S QUICK BREAKDOWN: Per Prof. Y. Leibowitz, the sinful calfian aftermath of the Decalogue shows that faith cannot be built from external stimuli, no matter how awesome. Others say that the Jews didn't really intend to worship the calf as an idol, only to use it as a tangible symbol of Moshe and/or God, until Moshe's return. They immediately abandoned it when he came down; they acquiesced to its destruction and humiliation, tho they rebelled against Moshe elsewhere.
The sinners are called "THE PEOPLE" here, rather than "THE JEWS". This may refer to the mixed multitude of non-Jewish idolators, who tagged along when God so impressively took Israel out of Egypt. So we can read (32:31): "THIS PEOPLE (the fellow travelers, who reverted to idolatry) have commited a great sin and have made FOR THEM (the Jews, who took it only as a SYMBOL of God) a god of gold". So THE PEOPLE demanded a god of Aharon (31:1-2)... and "THEY (the non-Jews) said: 'these are YOUR (the Jews') gods, Israel'..." (rather than OUR! gods-- 32:4). God calls them "YOUR (Moshe's) people" in 32:7; Moshe, not God, sanctioned this alien appendage (Exodus Raba 42-- be wary of converting corrupt pagans; cf. Israeli "basketball cases"; see JR, 2.20.97, Wanted: New Jews, for the tale of the attempts of non-traditional Judaism, both Conservative and Reform, to attract non-Jews to their watered-down versions of Judaism, after failing to retain so many of their own young people; Haim Shapiro's similar and similarly long PC article on non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism, JP, 1/31/97, also fails to mention the one traditional Jewish message to non-Jews, The Seven Laws of Noah, which Rambam urges all Jews to preach to all non-Jews (M. T. Kings 8:10). In 32:11, Moshe retorts that God should not let His people die because of the aliens. Pharoah chases the Jews, whom he had just expelled, when he hears that "THE PEOPLE has fled" (14:5)-- some of his own people had joined the Jews. Per Hirsch, Aharon's gentle approach weakened the Jews; then the tough idolatrous rebel missionaries (HaKamim) broke their spirit.
Thus the 3000+ who died of Calf Worship may have been native Egyptians, fellow travelers with the Jews-- but the Levites were told to kill even THEIR OWN brothers and sons!-- perhaps Levites, never enslaved, intermarried with the fellow travelers. The 3000 led the worship of the calf, or worshipped it before witnesses, after being warned (see Yoma 66b). In 32:9-10, God proposes to destroy THIS PEOPLE for their rebellion-- there He clearly refers to the Jews, for whom Moshe pleads in 32:11. So THE PEOPLE here may indeed refer to native Jews. But, if so, why call Israel THE PEOPLE here? A PEOPLE, "am", is derived from "im", "with" or "together", denoting an entity united only by practical interests-- social contract; the Jews now have forgotten their special Divine mission and intimacy, to be a unique KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND HOLY NATION ("GOY", 19:6; cf. Israel's Shabbat soccer games, Sylvester parties and cheap movies and TV). So God offers to make a NATION ("GOY", from G'viya, "face") from Moshe's progeny, a group with a unique sense of national culture and mission. While some anti-Zionist pietistic elements might accept God's deal today, Moshe refused!
THE GOLDEN CALF turns up again in Jeroboam's separatist northern kingdom of Israel (IK12:28ff, 2Ch.11:15, 13:8). Jerusalem's Temple would lure his people away, toward his rival, Solomon's son, King Rechavum, in Judea; so Jeroboam banned pilgrimages to Judea, after many priests and levites fled there. He set up two golden calves in Bet El and Dan as alternative religious centers; he too proclaimed: THESE ARE YOUR LORDS, O' ISRAEL, WHO HAVE BROUGHT YOU UP FROM THE LAND OF EGYPT! He too intended only to create a symbol of God, but idolatry quickly set in. False priests and holidays rapidly sprang up to fill Northern Israel's religious void, leading to its destruction, before Yehuda's. It's hard for us to see what's in a golden calf, but it's lure spanned many centuries. Otherwise, why pick such a symbol of failure and punishment? You may sense the answer if you masquarade as one on Purim!
Moshe hewed THE SECOND TABLETS and carried them up Sinai for God's imprint. The first tablets were "the work of the Lord", written by the "finger of God"-- metaphors for acts done by Divine proclamation, as creation itself (Guide, I:46f). Tablets hewn by man needn't be broken-- man is to redeem every aspect of life, by initiating its sanctification in the material realm; God then instills His word. The Jew is to spread Torah everywhere, even in Siberia; had he done so, there would have been no need for broken tablets (Rav Berlin)-- cf. Soviet concentration camps, where Mendolovitz and others finally brought out the holy potential of Siberia. Would a truly holy Israel suffer Oslo, the intifada, and suicide bus bombings? Per Zohar, Moshe broke the tablets, Israel's marriage contract, to mitigate their adultery (cf. Shabat 88a). Rav Shlomo Riskin compares the holocaust to the broken tablets, The State of Israel to the second set. Moshe prefers a whole nation with a broken Torah to a whole Torah with a broken nation. Eventually new whole tablets emerge, but only when Israel can endow them with sanctity (Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk). EACH tablet was square, or they formed a square together. 5 Divine Utterances were engraved thru each tablet; some say all 10 appeared on EACH. A third view is that all 10 appeared on every side of each tablet. The tablets may have been of sapphire stone, the foundation of God's throne (24:10).
Neil Gillman uses the image of the broken fragments of the Tablets, deposited in the ark, for the title of his book, Sacred Fragments. In his introduction he reads the image of the sacred fragments as a metaphor for the traditional set of Jewish images and beliefs, that have been shattered for many modern Jews by the challenges of modernity -- "the new individualism, our historical awareness, and the critical temper of our time" (p. XXV). As modern Jews, we need to "carve our own new set of tablets" (ibid), but the old ones, which represent the fragmented tradition, are still holy to us. He goes on to suggest that perhaps it is precisely out of the shattered fragments that the new tablets should be created. But he forgets that it's Moshe, with unshakeable faith in, and experience of, God's Revelation, who does the carving, and that the exact same words are written by God Himself. Rav Dovid Hartman uses the same midrashic image on the first page of his perceptive and insightful work, "Conflicting Visions".
But he doesn't explain how he understands this image; as the book is about pluralism, he may mean that each group possesses one broken fragment of God's original truth, the whole-- the second tablets-- emerging only from their unified dialogue to put the pieces back together-- cf. Mendel Hirsch's image of the two sticks, representing Judah and THE CHILDREN of Israel, his associates, and Yosef-Efrayim and the WHOLE HOUSE of Israel, his associates; they become one in the prophet's hand, a metaphor for the unity of savvy, kind, and effective, but highly assimilated, secular Jews (Yosef), concerned with the economic and political fate of all Jews everywhere (cf. the Joint, Hias), with those who, tho insular and narrow of spirit, fiercely preserved Jewish tradition, uniqueness and holiness (Yehuda-- cf. Agudat Yisrael)-- Haftarat Vayigash, Ezekiel 37.
SHABBAT supercedes construction of the tabernacle. The 39 catagories of labor involved in building the Tabernacle become the 39 catagories of prohibited creative Shabbat activity. Yet operation of the tabernacle supercedes Shabat. As the 2nd tablets must first be carved by Moshe, so God's Presence never rests in the spatial dimension until man has taken an active preparatory part-- first: THEY SHALL MAKE ME A TABERNACLE; only then: I'LL DWELL IN THEIR MIDST. But the Jew must first sanctify and recognize Shabat-- he can perceive God's Penetrating Presence by just refraining from activity in this temporal dimension.
COUNT ME OUT: The Torah clearly regards the military census as SOMEHOW harmful,possibly sinful, but doesn't explain why. Per Rashi, an "evil eye", bad luck, strikes anything counted; he mentions 70,000 who died after David's census (IIS24). But no reason is given there, nor is any EVIL EYE mentioned. AYIN RAH, evil eye, IS mentioned in Deut. 28:54, Prov. 23:6 and 28:22-- but with a non-mystical meaning: "selfishness" or "greediness"; we're told not to eat food of one who begrudges it (whose eye's evil), causing indigestion, and that mad pursuit of wealth will wind up leaving one poor (cf. Israel's stock market). A generous GOOD EYE is described in Proverbs (22:9). In the early mishneh too, "evil eye" simply denotes stinginess or meanness-- see Avot 5:17,23, where Bilaam's selfish essence is called the "evil eye", vs. the "good eye", generosity, of Avraham. So those with "good and bad eyes" differ re how much trumah they give cohanim.
But in later Talmudic passages, "evil eye" indeed denotes mystical power, perhaps reflecting prevalent non-Jewish science. Jews pick up things from their non-Jewish environments, which later become identified as "Jewish" in a different alien setting (F. Zweig-- The Sword and the Harp)-- e.g. Russian borscht, herring, and 18th century clothing, which become "Jewish" when Russian Jews come to America; Middle Eastern falafel becomes "Israeli" in the US. Rambam rejected belief in demons and magic, despite talmudic passages to the contrary. His son, Avraham (Introduction to the Agada, in Ein Yaakov) posits a PROHIBITION to follow rabbinic opinion in secular scientific matters, tho we're COMMANDED to do so in Torah matters. Rashi's followers won't even count people directly for a minyan, fearing bad luck.
FACE NOT THE EVIL EYE: Abarbanel rejects Rashi's conclusion that Moshe was told to ALWAYS count the people indirectly, via half shekels. He explains the metaphysics of the powerful evil eye, which affects faces upon which it is focused, but not other bodily parts, such as fingers (the fingers of cohanim were counted in drawing lots for the Temple service). He recounts a similar medieval belief in powerful invisible emanations (cf. laser beams and radio waves)-- that menstruant women can cause red spots upon new mirrors (mentioned by Ramban). Abarbanel cites THE WISE PHILOSOPHER as the source of this body of knowledge of mysterious forces in the universe; this suggests it's not part of our Torah tradition; he also believed in reincarnation (vs. Saadya and Albo), but attributed its discovery to the Greeks, not the Zohar. He affirms that the evil eye has NO effect when one's counted for a mitzva (e.g. a minyan). Abarbanel claims that God doesn't command a census or any particular method of counting here-- He only tells Moshe HOW to do it, should he so desire, as their military leader (or due to his great love for them, as God continually counts the Jews and a miser his money!). The Jews then should do a mitzvah, give some silver to the tabernacle, so that they'll not be hurt by the evil eye when he counts them, in normal fashion, by their heads. Indeed, none of the compilers of the 613 mitzvos lists a command to give half shekels at a census, or to count the shekels, instead of the folk.
When God later (Num. 1) COMMANDS a census, making it a mitzvah, no SPECIAL METHOD of counting is required (vs. Rashi), as the countings of the Levites and those by Saul. Abarbanel rejects Rashi's proof, from 2S24, that one must use half shekels to count. That chapter starts with the statement that GOD HIMSELF incites David to count the Jews! He is angry at them for OTHER SINS, e.g. following Shimi b. Bechri in Ch. 20; Shimi's is the last in a string of rebellions against David (Saul, Avshalom, etc.), coupled with abuse of the non-Jewish Givonite population in their territory. God uses the counting as a means to destroy the sinning Israelites, via the very same great leader, whom they've afflicted and rejected (but it's still the counting that brings destruction!).
FISHING IN THE SEA OF TORAH: Words of Torah which are poor (missing, lacking explanation and details) in their place (source) are usually rich in another place (Jer. Talmud, R.H. 3:5, K'ritot 14a, Tos.: "V'aleh")-- "She was like merchant ships, from afar she'll bring her food" (Prov. 31:14). But the same counting account in I Ch. 21 only raises more problems. Besides details which don't jibe, we read that SATAN, not God, incites David AGAINST ISRAEL, to count the Jews!!! This census indeed appears to be a demonic impulse; David admits that he's SINNED in counting them, tho Israel, not he, suffers; 2 Sam. 24 may inform us that even Satan is ultimately under the control of God and serves His purposes (cf. Job), vs. Zorastrianism; God uses David to punish the Jews-- he's the agent of Satan, i.e. Divine wrath, here.
David's sin may be counting the people AFTER defeating all his enemies, proud of his huge undecimated military force (see Ralbag); tho his motive is holy-- to proclaim God's grace-- the people experience it as Satan's word, Babelian glorification of military force; obliteration of individual identity is also a natural consequence of counting men as identical bodies, for war. The people then lose sight of their mission as a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND HOLY PEOPLE (Ex. 19:6)-- to develop their unique talents and personalities, emulating God, Who is One. They may put their trust in NUMBERS, rather than Divine aid (cf. '48, '73), thus bringing on their punishment.
Once the Jews lose sight of their destiny and divinity, Divine protection disappears; a plague spreads, until God's mercy stops it at Jerusalem; there David begins their redemption with the altar and dedication of the Temple site, where God will dwell within THE HEART OF EACH ONE, INDIVIDUALLY. So Rambam posits that individual Divine Providence, as opposed to that over a species as a whole, only extends to humans, and only to the degree that they've developed their unique intellectual Divinity (Guide 3:17, 5th Theory thru 3:18).
THE DEVIL IN THE GUISE OF GOD: The seeming contradicition between 2S24 and ICh21 may reflect unconscious rationalization-- David consciously perceives his census as God's command, but it's really Satanic instigation (cf. Jerusalem and Bnai Brak demonstrations and condemnations). Great men don't consciously sin, but construct great structures of law and philsophy to justify their wrongs. David was technically 100% OK in taking Batsheva and sending her husband off to the front lines; no Sanhedrin could fault his halachic brief, by the best rabbinic lawyer; nevertheless, the prophet Natan has David judge himself morally deficient, and they lose their first child. The Bible often teaches existential reality, rather than halachic technicality; both are essential to develop a well-rounded Torah personality.
FOUNDING FATHERS: Tho one doesn't attain his goals, his efforts may lay the foundations for another's later greater success. David wasn't entitled to a building permit for the Temple, but he laid the groundwork for Solomon's great accomplishment, after repenting for his sinful census. It will be called DAVID'S SUKKA, when God will reestablish it-- Solomon's temple fell after 410 years. Similarly an unlettered immigrant may build up a chain of department stores, using his common sense and gemora head! His grandsons will go way beyond him, with a franchise operation, whose shares are traded on the NYSE; yet they never would have had the faith and stamina to start the operation; they're also much more likely to lose everything (read Naomi Regan's The Sacrifice of Tamar; but it's highly improbable that her heroine, a well-educated Rabbi's wife, wouldn't know that her husbnd needn't divorce her after she was raped by a non-Jew; she could have just called another rabbi, using a false name, as she did in visiting a doctor).
BIBLICAL BRIDES: Rashi says a missing letter vov in 31:18 suggests the translation: "And He gave the Torah AS HIS BRIDE to Moshe"... He couldn't learn the entire Torah in such a very short time, but would constantly uncover new depths and beauty in it, as a groom with a new bride. Per Rav E. Forman, marriage only retains vitality and interest when each partner constantly develops and reveals new aspects of themselves, becoming a "new" person; changeless people are boring. A bride is adorned with 24 ornaments (Is. 3)-- so a scholar has to KNOW WELL THE 24 BOOKS OF THE BIBLE! (Choose yeshivot who focus on Bible, e.g. Yeshivot Hesder). Rav Kook urged all yeshivot to teach Tanach. Rav Nachman recommended its annual review in Elul. But Chasam Sofer (Introduction to Beshalach) urges one NOT to teach Tanach or math to young students, lest it kill their taste for Talmud! Take your pick! Can both work today?
THE HOLY SHEKEL is so called because it was of an exact unadulterated weight-- moral integrity is a prerequisite for religious spirit. Ramban adds that it was used for holy purposes, such as redemption of first fruits and the half shekel donation. So Hebrew is called the HOLY TONGUE as God used it to create His Holy World, Names, and Torah; Ramban rejects Rambam's contention that Hebrew's holiness is its lack of direct references to functions of the lower half of the body-- it has such direct references.
The only correct answer to the ?: "Who was Avimelech?" is-- which Avimelech? While almost all haredi yeshiva students recognize Avimelech, king of the Philistines, from his Genesis confrontations with Avraham, Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka, few learn and know Prophets, where Avimelech is good Gideon's bad son, the first terrible Jewish ruler, who killed all his siblings (one, Yotam, escaped), that they not challenge his rule (Judges 9). Ashet Chayil closes The Book of Proverbs, but it is not the last chapter (31)! It commences with 31:10; look up and try to explain Proverbs 31:1-9; Chief Rav Lau knows those verses by heart.
D. WHERE'S CHUR?
He helped support uncle Moshe's hands during the war with Amalek (17:10-12); he and Aharon were left in charge when Moshe ascended Sinai (24:14). Then he disappears from Torah history!-- he was murdered when he opposed the golden calf (Exodus Raba 48:3, San. 7a); Aharon then played it cool, trying to stall everything until Moshe's return. Were he to die too, 600M Jews, rather than 3M, might be executed. Chur, son of Calev and Miriam, is called Efrat in 1 Ch.2:19 (cf. however 1 Ch.2:50, 4:1-4). He begat Uri who begat Bezalel-- the builder of the tabernacle (31:2ff). Per San. 69b, Calev begat Chur at 10, who begat Uri at 8! (see Marshah). Besides the reward of being named as Bezalel's forebearer (Ohaliov's granddad isn't mentioned), he was an ancestor of Solomon, who built the temple (Tanchuma B. Ex. 121, Sot. 11b); his name appears with Moshe & Co. on Solomon's menora. He was a martyred prophet (Midrash Agada to Num. 30:15), and is considered one of 7 truly righteous men in the world (Targum Sheni, Esther 1:2). His grandson was able to fulfill Israel's request for a sense-perceivable expression of God, in the healthy form of the tabernacle, rather than just fighting them, as Chur; Aharon may have made a similar unsuccessful attempt. One of the 5 kings of Midian, slain by Moshe and Israel, was also called Chur (Num. 31:8, Josh. 13:21)!
E. ERASE ME FROM YOUR BOOK (32:32)
This request of Moshe may mean more than that he wishes not to be mentioned in the Torah, if Israel isn't forgiven. GOD'S BOOK also refers to the effects of the heavenly bodies upon the fate of lower creatures-- THE JUDGEMENT WAS SET AND THE BOOKS OPENED (Daniel 7:10, Ibn Ezra). Moshe's asking that he, not the people, be blotted out by the heavenly plague. God answers Moshe that only the guilty can be so punished, not even those who sinned only in thought (the active idolators were slain by the Levites). Per Ramban, Moshe refers to THE BOOK OF LIFE (cf. Rosh Hashana liturgy), and simply asks to die instead of the people (cf. Yehuda's offer to replace Benyamin as Yosef's slave, and David's request that God punish him and his family rather than Israel-- 2S24, 1Ch21). Besides Moshe not being mentioned in T'tzaveh or the Hagada (see our T'tzaveh study), Phil Chernofsky (T.T.) notes that Moshe's also not mentioned in Netzavim (Deut. 29:9-30:20); perhaps he who expounded the idea that Moshe's words, that his name be erased, must come true somewhere in the Torah, like Sefer Hachinuch did not consider Nitzavim and Vayelech separate portions; perhaps the place to eliminate Moshe's name is indeed in Netzavim, where the people are charged with mutual responsibility, which cannot be pushed off onto their leaders, even Moshe.
F. THE HAFTARA, I KINGS 18:1-39
If U grasp too much, you've grasped nothing-- a little, you've grasped something (R.H. 4b)
The haftara speaks of Eliyahu and his miracles and fireworks on Mt. Carmel; tho they TEMPORARILY thrill and inspire the Jews, there's no great change in Israel's faith in God and their understanding of His Torah. Eliyahu's efforts are no more successful than Sinai's drama-- the people quickly revert to idolatry, as the prophet becomes burnt out and discouraged. Patient Elisha, who does a little here, a little there, a yidel here, a yidel there, takes over. He masters the art of patient waiting, filled and inspired by yearning, the lack of which was the downfall of Adam on Friday and the Calfian Jews at Sinai, when Moshe didn't descend when expected; our third significant waiting is that of Sisra's mom, whose tears, awaiting her Hitlerian son's return, with grim foreboding that he won't, are the basis for the sh'varim-t'ruah notes of our shofars on Rosh HaShana (Rav M. Gafni). To be a Jew is to wait in anticipation of a better world: "Tho he (The Messiah) tarry, I await daily his arrival". Only after thousands of years of his methods, will Eliyahu return once more to herald the arrival of the Messiah. The Meshiach will bring all Jews back to Israel for a new rendevous with God Himself; he'll then teach an existentially bankrupt world, which so much needs "Messiach Now"! (Genesis Raba 98:9)
Last year, I wandered into a session of the Christian Zionist Convention in Jerusalem, while attending a Torah event in the same hotel; while 1000% on our side economically and politically, they're still deeply attached to Christianity, far from realizing that God has no image and that no man is God, as proclaimed in the OT (Only Testament). Yet they are becoming more and more Jewish in their orientation, singing Jewish and Israeli songs and using Hebrew terms, which may signal a slow but steady departure from Christianity, back toward the Torah and Noachism. They despise Islam and belittle its pure monetheism and rejection of Jesus as a God; but they fail to acknowledge that any faithful Jew, who's to teach mankind about God, per Isaiah II, would join the Moslem side of their debate. They buttress their critique of Islam as cruel and demonic, as evinced by its persecution of Jews and Zionism, with accounts of Moslems' shabby treatment of their own women-- see Muslim Women, edited by Freda Hussain. A great Christian Zionist contribution to universal redemption is their bringing many Ukranian Jews to Israel, via Good News Travels, led by Israel's true friend, Phil Hunter; Phil writes:
In 1983, whilst looking over Haifa Bay, two things became clear to me: God intends to bring back the Jewish people to Israel and God wants to use Gentiles in it too. * From this my wife and I, together with others in Good News, became part of this task, of which the Bible says in Isaiah 14: "The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and settle them in their own land... Gentiles will take them and bring them to their own place".
*Rabbi Irving Greenberg, speaking on Torah and Pluralism, noted the importance of recognizing all the good deeds and efforts of non-Jews too, who share and lighten our burden of straightening out the world from Zion; so the Bostoner Rebbe included me in a delegation from the N.E. Chssidic Center to a Jewish-Catholic Interfaith Conference, where we explored our common efforts to inculcate religious, family and moral values into an increasingly pagan secular culture. When we dovened mincha, the Catholic clergy and layman were quite interested and respectful; the leaders of the secular Jewish organizations joined in too, but some seemed a bit uncomfortable!
ON SHABAT PARA, we also read about the red heifer, Numbers 1:19-22. The Haftara then is Ezekiel 36:16-38, which speaks of the redemption and purification of the people and land of Israel. All will marvel at their new vitality, prosperity (now), and holiness (on the way)-- Divine intervention will be obvious.
The first 2 sections of Ki Sisa are unusually long-- 92 of its 139 verses; this is to give the reading about the golden calf to the 2nd honoree, a Levite, whose tribe was chosen and distinguished then (Magan Avraham).
G. SLAY OR SAVE SINNERS?
Tho Moshe slays the Golden Calf Disco's ringleaders and prays for the rest of Israel, he's dealing with Jews who experienced God's miracles; today non-believers and the non-observant are considered captives of their times, only to be approached with friendship and education (per Chazan Ish, Rav J. Soloveichik, Rav N. Lamm, etc.). Should Jerusalem's alleged religious leaders, e.g. chief rabbis Mashash and Kulitz, give out kiddush wine and cake and sing and talk with the youth at Talpiot's pagan discos on Friday night?-- compare the likely effects of their doing so with those engendered by their fulminating against Conservative and Reform Jews, and their unsuccessful attempts to take away the Bernstein Hostel's hechsher, just because it's under so-called "Masorati" auspices-- the Masorati Agron shul then banned my modern Orthodox sheets, tho I protested the rabbinate action!!-- was this in retaliation against the Orthodox Rabbinate? Was it a protest against our claim of a unified Divinely-dictated Torah, vs. JTS and HUC's documentary hypothesis?
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