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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tisa


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I find our Sedra of Ki Tisa among the most compelling in all of the Torah. It "covers" so many different subjects: the census; Shabbat & the Chagim; the 13 Midot; the Luchot; Bikurim (first fruits); Pidyon Haben & of course, the sad
saga of the Golden Calf. How can we tie it all together?

Let’s look at the opening & closing of the Parsha. We begin with the census, conducted via the giving of the half-shekel. Over & over, the Torah says this act is a "kofer," referring to the money as "kesef ha-kippurim." The root of the word "kapara," I suggest, means "covering," as in Kaporet, the cover of the Aron Kodesh. This cover protected the Aseret Ha-Dibrot inside the Ark, Judaism’s most precious object. The clear implication is that by giving Tzedaka, particularly for the good of the Tzibur (the half-shekel was used for the Mishkan’s upkeep), we "cover" ourselves with merit & so are shielded from harm.

The other items mentioned in the Sedra also serve as a kapara, a protection for us: Observing Shabbat & Chag; bringing offerings, dedicating our children to the service of Hashem (represented here by the Pidyon Ha-Ben) & prayers
of supplication (i.e. the 13 Midot which Hashem teaches Moshe) all make up the spiritual "flak-jacket" we wear to get us through precarious daily life.

But when we remove that protective vest – if we discard our faith & turn away from Hashem, chas v’shalom – then we enter a mine-field that can prove dangerous, even fatal to our well-being. And that is exactly what happened in the tragic incident of the Egel Ha-Zahav.

When Moshe descends from Mt. Sinai, the pasuk records his reaction: "Moshe saw the nation, & it was paru’ah!" The word "paru’ah" means "uncovered, exposed." The sin of the nation was revealed in living (or dying!) color; they
had shed their protective wear by turning to a false god.

Fast-forward to the very end of the Sedra. After receiving the 2nd set of the Luchot, Moshe comes before the people – wearing a mask! Now, this is definitely NOT in honor of Chag Purim! Chazal say that Moshe's radiant glow, resulting
from coming "into contact" with G-d, scared the people to the point where they could not face him. ANd so he donned a mask, or veil.

But I suggest that Moshe’s mask conveyed a very crucial lesson that Moshe needed to teach – frontally! – to each & every Jew: This world is a tough place in which to survive. Everywhere we turn there is danger: physical, financial,
spiritual. Without Hashem’s constant protection, we expose ourselves to constant, serious threat. But every time we "cover up" with Mitzvot, we safeguard ourselves from harm.

This - then, and now - is the secret to surviving in the "Naked City."
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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