Parshat Ki Tisa 5779: Real National Unity vs the Plague of Divisiveness and Dispute

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Ki Tisa is being sponsored Jonathan and Debbie Sassen in honor of the upcoming marriage of their son Yaakov to Sarah Leah Moser. To the Sassen family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Ki Tisa 5779: Real National Unity vs the Plague of Divisiveness and Dispute

by Moshe Burt

Amidst Hashem’s teaching of Torah to Moshe, HaKadosh Borchu, in American football terms, calls an audible. Audible us defined by, in context of American football:

Noun . Also called automatic, checkoff. Football . A play called at the line of scrimmage to supersede the play originally agreed upon as the result of a change in strategy [or, as football fans and experts observe; during the play itself, dependent upon what the quarterback sees as the alignment of the defense at the line of scrimmage, or the tendencies of the defensive positions during the play].

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin summarizes Hashem’s reaction to B’nei Yisrael and the egel zahav (the golden calf) in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, pages 257-258):

Hashem informs Moshe, who is still on the summit of Har Sinai, of the sin… perpetrated at its base. Hashem threatens the nation with immediate extinction, relenting only in response to Moshe’s impassioned pleas.

Moshe descends the mountain with the Tablets of Testimony [the Asseret HaDivrot]. When he sees the revelry… in the camp of B’nei Yisrael, …he throws the tablets from his hands in anger, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. Moshe then burns the calf, grinds its remains into powder which he sprinkles into the water and forces the B’nei Yisrael to drink, takes Aaron to task for his involvement in the sin and directs the Levi’im (who rally to his side) to execute those most directly involved in the transgression.

The next morning, Moshe reascends Har Sinai in an attempt to secure atonement for the nation’s sin. Hashem informs Moshe of his intent to punish the surviving perpetrators and proceeds to strike down these individuals.

Rabbi Goldin now provides a summary of the opening posukim of our Parshat Ki Tisa and commentary which provide valuable lessons for our generations regarding forming real national unity vs the plague of divisiveness and dispute. (ibid, pages 259-262):

Hashem commands Moshe to take census of the… males [of B’nei Yisrael] twenty years and older, through individual donations of a half shekel each. The proceeds are to be dedicated towards communal offerings within the Mishkan.

Each of the half shekels will serve… as a kofer nefesh (soul atonement) for each of the contributors. By conducting the census in this manner, the Torah continue, Moshe will enable the nation to avoid a plague. (Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Shemos, summary of Perek 30, posukim 1-16)

Questions abound [regarding] this puzzling, Divinely ordained census.

Why couldn’t the nation be counted directly? Why does Hashem direct Moshe to count the people through donations of half shekels?

Why are the half shekels referred to as “soul atonements” for the B’nei Yisrael? For what sin is the nation atoning?

Why are the B’nei Yisrael under the threat of a plague?

Addressing the need for the half shekel contribution…. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch… is among those who focus on the twin messages of equality and unity embedded in the half shekel donation. Hashem mandates an equivalent donation on the part of [each of] B’nei Yisrael, rich and poor, to demonstrate that the involvement of each individual is equally precious to Him. At the same time, the amount commanded is a half shekel, because, alone, no individual is “whole.” To be personally “complete” each [of the] B’nei Yisrael must join with those around him. On a communal level, only through the combined effort of the entire community will the nation achieve its goals. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on Parsha Shemos, Perek 30, posukim 13-15)

Concerning identification of the half shekel contribution as kofer nefesh (soul atonement), some authorities accept the opinion, first voiced by Rabbi Yehuda in the Midrash, that the half shekel s serve as “atonement” for the looming sin of the the golden calf, recorded later in Parshat Ki Tisa. Hashem prescribes these donations preemptively as a way of mercifully providing the “cure” before the “illness.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash HaGadol, Sefer Shemos, Perek 30, posuk 12)

A beautiful, exquisitely simple… interpretation is offered by Rabbi Moshe Chaifetz in his eighteenth-century work Melechet Machshevet. Hashem commands the uniform contribution of the half shekels in order to forestall the strife and jealousy that inevitably characterize communal fundraising and projects. The Torah thus testifies, “And there shall be no plague.” By insisting that each participant contribute a half shekel, Hashem enables the B’nei Yisrael to avoid the plague of divisiveness and dispute. (Rabbi Goldin citing Melechet Machshevet on Sefer Shemos, Perek 30, posuk 12)

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four plus years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.