Parshat Ki Tisa 5780: Hashem Calls an Audible! Instructions for Building the Mishkan Given Before or After the Egel Zahav?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Ki Tisa is being sponsored by Dov and Bracha Moses and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for refuah shlaima for Rachel bat Chaya Perel and Shmuel ben Rivka, and lilui nishmas both Chaya Perel bat Chaim Mordechai and Yehudit bat HaRav Me’ir Moshe. To the Moses family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Ki Tisa 5780: Hashem Calls an Audible! Instructions for Building the Mishkan Given Before or After the Egel Zahav?

by Moshe Burt

Imagine yourself as an American football quarterback.

Your team emerges out of the huddle (huddle: the eleven players on offense in a circle as the quarterback pronounces the next play) and the quarterback stands over the center, or in “shotgun” formation a few yards behind center, and calls signals.

Suddenly, the quarterback audibles: (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]. He changes up on the play called in the huddle. No, we’re not talkin’ about the “Philly Special.”

Now, think back to Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu atop Har Sinai. What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s summary of Parshat Ki Tisa in his sefer ““Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, page 257):

Hashem speaking to Moshe on the summit of Mount Sinai, issues commandments concerning:

An indirect census to be taken of Am Yisrael’s males, twenty years and over, through individual contributions of half shekels;

The creation of the laver [Liyor: wash basin], the anointment oil and the incense to be used in association with the Sanctuary [Mishkan];

The appointment of Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur and Oholaiv ben Achisamach to supervise the construction of the Mishkan;

Shabbos Observance.

At the conclusion of these directives, Hashem presents Moshe with the two Tablets of Testimony inscribed with the Asseret HaDivrot (the Ten Declarations).

Meanwhile, at the foot of Har Sinai, the Jews grow uneasy with Moshe’s prolonged absence. They turn to Aaron and demand: “Rise up, make for us gods who will go before us, for Moshe — this man who brought us out of the land of Mitzrayim — we do not know what has become of him!”

Aaron instructs the people to contribute their gold earings, which he fashions into a molten calf. He then declares, “A festival for the Lord tomorrow!” The Jews rise early the next morning to celebrate.

Suddenly, amidst Hashem’s teaching of Torah to Moshe, HaKadosh Borchu, in American football terms, calls an audible. Returning to the excerpt from the Parshat Ki Tisa summary, 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” (ibid, 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.

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in her sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos (pages 147-148) provides an insight as to Hashem’s “audible”:

Cheit HaEigel {the golden calf} was part of our destiny; it was part of Hashem’s plan [predestined] all along. Rabbi Chaim Halpern explains (Sefer Shaarei Chaim, page 263) that Hashem orchestrated the circumstances so that the sin would happen at that time. Rashi elaborates, “It was a decree of the King [for the yetzer hara]… in order to give an opening to ba’alei teshuvah. For if the sinner will say, ‘I will not do teshuvah because I will not be accepted,’ they will say to him, ‘Go out and learn from the act of the Calf, that they denied [Hashem] and they were accepted {back} with teshuvah.’” According to this interpretation, had it not been for this grave sin and B’nei Yisrael’s subsequent successful teshuvah, sinners in future generations would have despaired.

Hope is never lost. The teshuvah message from the Cheit HaEigel is alive in every generation…. We are never out of reach. Hashem will always receive our teshuvah and bring us back to Him.

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. (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Shemos, 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)

In compiling this Parshat HaShavua, this author flips to Parshat Vayakhel/Pekudei as Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides context and asks a question reflecting back on previous Parshiyot and regarding Parshat Ki Tisa, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, Parshat Vayakhel, page 309):

Almost all of Parshat Vayakhel and much of Parshat Pekudei consist of information already recorded in full in Parshiyot Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa [regarding indirect census, the construction of the Mishkan, its utensils and accoutrements, anointment of the Kohanim, the indirect census and the half shekel, etc.] when Hashem first issues detailed instructions to Moshe concerning the Mishkan.

Why does Torah engage in such seemingly unnecessary repetition?

It seems that Parshat Vayakhel will provide answers to this question in a different context regarding Moshe’s instructions relating to the order of construction.

But more precisely, why is it that we learn that commentators dispute whether Hashem’s giving over all of the laws concerning construction of the Mishkan, etc. occurs while Moshe is atop Har Sinai receiving the first Luchos, or only later, after the B’nei Yisrael achieves a level of atonement for the Egel Zahav, albeit, the Torah’s presentation of the instructions for construction in Parshiyot Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa?

On the one hand, we have the chronology of the Torah’s text which indicates that Hashem presented Moshe with the laws regarding the construction of the Mishkan and all of its objects. On the other hand, many commentators indicate that the Mishkan represented the atonement of the Jews and thus, instructions for its construction came only later, as Hashem’s response to the Egel Zahav.

This latter approach is explained by Rabbi Pinchas Winston:

“And they should build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them.”(Sefer Shemos, Perek 25, Posuk 8 as rendered to English by Rabbi Pinchas Winston)

From this verse it sounds as if to “dwell amongst them” meant that the Shechinah had always planned to take up residence in the Mishkan the Jewish people were being commanded to build. However, as the Midrash points out, the Mishkan was, in fact, God’s response to the golden calf:

Did not the episode of the golden calf occur after the mitzvah to construct the Mishkan was given? The Talmud answers:

Reish Lakish said: The Holy One, Blessed is He, does not inflict the Jewish people until He has first made their remedy. (Rabbi Winston citing Megillah 13b)

In other words the Torah speaks about the Mishkan before the episode of the calf to inform us that it existed, at least conceptually, prior to the sin of the calf. It had been “prepared” in advance by G’d, to be ready to cure the spiritual illness that would result from the sin.

Nevertheless, the building of the Mishkan was only a partial remedy for the golden calf, evident from what God told Moshe Rabbeinu:

“Behold! I send an angel before you to protect you on the way, and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” (Rabbi Winston citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 23, posuk 20)

Here they were informed that they were destined to sin [at the incident of the golden calf] and that the Shechinah would [then] say to them, “for I will not ascend in your midst” (Rabbi Winston citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos , Perek 33, posuk 3).

In other words, prior to the sin of the golden calf the Shechinah was prepared to dwell within every Jew; every Jew would have been his own personal Mishkan. As Rashi later explains, this changed as a result of the calf because it left the Jewish people vulnerable to sin, an intolerable situation for the Shechinah and a dangerous one for the Jewish nation.

A compromise was needed. To remain among the Jewish people, but not within them, the Shechinah commanded the construction of the Mishkan to act as a temporary sanctuary for the Divine Presence until an actual temple could be built in Eretz Yisroel. Though this greatly reduced the personal experience of Shechinah, it at least left room for sin and teshuvah.

This change in the spiritual reality was also reflected in the Mishkan itself:

There wasn’t any intrinsic Godliness even in those places where His Presence was said to have dwelled, God forbid, because it did not unify with them to become one with them as did [the light of] Ain Sof in Atzilus. [This is true] even for those things which are considered to be “holy of holies,” like the Aron, the Kapores, the Keruvim, and the Tablets of Testimony, upon which His Presence dwelled, may His Name be blessed. (Drushei Olam HaTohu, Chelek 1, Drush 5, Siman 7, Os 4)

Some terms require defining. Ain Sof means “without end,” a reference to God’s infinite light which preceded Creation, made Creation, and is the basis of all of existence. Atzilus is the fourth highest level of existence. Just like a single soul has five levels—Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah, andYechidah—likewise existence has five levels of reality: Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah, Atzilus, and Adam Kadmon. Our universe, as vast as it is, resides on the lowest level of Asiyah.

As holy as the Mishkan was and the service that occurred with it, its level of holiness was not intrinsic, being part of the world of Asiyah. The incident of the golden calf made sure that the separation between the physical and the spiritual remain, as it does to this very day:

This is also true of the entire Torah that we possess, on which His holy light dwells, may His Name be blessed . . . (Rabbi Winston citing Drushei Olam HaTohu, Chelek 1,Drush 5, Siman 7, Os 4)

Thus, even the Torah we possess which, is on the level of the Luchos Shnios, the second set of tablets, lacks intrinsic holiness. It must be treated in a holy manner, but it is still not on the same level of holiness associated with the Luchos Rishonos, the first set of tablets.

NOTE: This author is has concerns regarding the final two paragraphs (above) of Rabbi Winston’s explanation, but included them for context within the explanation.

Finally, thanks to Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson, there is a citing of Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 31, posuk 18 (as rendered to English in the Sapirstein Edition: The Torah: With Rashi Commentary:

The incident of the Golden Calf preceded the commandment of the work of the Mishkan by many days — for the Tablets were broken on the seventeenth of Tammuz, and on Yom Kippur the Holy One, Blessed be He, was placated toward Israel, and on the next day they began gathering the contribution toward the Mishkan, and it was erected on the first of Nissan. (Rashi citing Tanchuma 31)

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, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and, as a free man, carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half 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.