Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tisa
To dedicate this lesson

Gotcha Covered!

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Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Adar I 16 5776
"And Moshe saw the nation, and it was exposed…"

Ki Tisa is a veritable cholent of a sedra, with so many seemingly diverse topics, including: The census; Shabbat, the 13 Midot; the Luchot; Bikurim (first fruits); Pidyon Haben &, of course, the epochal saga of the Golden Calf. Do they all somehow connect with each other?

The parsha begins with the commandment to hold a census. We are told, several times, that the giving of the ½ shekel by each individual
(via which the people were counted) was an "atonement for the soul." How, exactly, did this atonement work?

The Hebrew word usually used for atonement is "Kaper" or "Kapara," as in "Yom HaKipurim." But that same root, KPR, also can mean "covering," as in the word "kaporet," the ark-cover (also mentioned in our sedra). The connection: Any act which we perform, any Mitzva that we do, brings us closer to Hashem & provides our souls with a protective cover, just as body armor protects our physical bodies.

Prior to receiving the Torah & its 613 Mitzvot, the primary – if not the only – qualification of being a loyal Jew was a belief in One G-d. When we substituted for Hashem & worshipped the calf – interestingly called (32:8) an "Egel Masecha," a calf with a cover, or mask - we violated that all-important belief, & so our "cover" was removed. This is what Moshe meant when he said we were "exposed;" there are few worse fates than death by exposure.

To symbolize the removal of the cover, we were told (33:5) to remove our jewelry, the symbol of our status as Chosen People.

But all was not lost. Moshe argues strenuosly on our behalf & he receives new Luchot. He instructs us to "re-dress" ourselves through the performance of key, basic Mitzvot: Tzedaka (i.e. the half-shekel); Shabbat; Teshuva (whose code words are the 13 Midot) the Chagim; the offerings in the Mishkan. In this way, we can once again gain Divine protection & blessing. We can re-affirm that we are His firstborn, as symbolized by the Bikurim & the Pidyon ha-Ben ceremonies.

Consider: In Jewish life, many of the ritual objects we use have a cover. Tefilin, Mezuza, a Sefer Torah, the Aron are covered. Challa on Shabbat, Matza at the Seder, the Shofar on Rosh Hashana are covered. This is not just a coincidence. We are being subtly informed that holiness is not naked; it wears a protective cover & shield.

The holiest object of all is our soul, our neshama. It is constantly being exposed to danger: Greed, lust, envy, apathy, jealousy, anger, disillusionment swirl around us. Our only hope to avoid infection is to "cover up" by donning the Mitzvot. They’re the best way to stay warm - & safe.
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