Beit Midrash

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



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Adar I 16 5779
Our sedra of Ki Tisa is loaded with questions & confusion:

- Why take a new census via the half-shekel, as opposed to just counting the people?
- Why does Hashem choose a 13-year old, rather than an adult, to oversee construction of the Mishkan?
- And the sin of the Golden Calf – why did it happen, & what was the cure?

Let’s try to put the puzzle pieces together by starting with the strange phrase the Torah uses for "counting:" Tisa et rosh – literally, "lift the head" of the people. Why not use the more common, "lifkod?" I suggest the message being sent here is that if you really want to be counted in life, in society, raise your head up high, be proud – sometimes even "stick your neck out" for the things you believe in – & don’t be just another statistic.

But why – how – could the people sin with an idolatrous image so soon after leaving Egypt? They saw so many open manifestations of G-d, so many miracles – how could they possibly lose faith so fast?

Yet perhaps they did not lose faith so much in Hashem, as in themselves. When Moshe – per the people's miscount – appeared to delay in coming down from Mt. Sinai after 40 days away, the nation panicked. The pasuk uses the unusual word, "boshaysh" for delayed; its root is busha, shame, or embarrassment. The people had become so dependent on Moshe that they felt inadequate, ashamed to relate personally to G-d; they needed a medium, a go-between, like Moshe to represent them; & when they thought he wasn’t coming back, they frantically chose the "god" they had seen in Egypt, the calf.

Moshe’s response was anger, of course, but then he quickly turned to finding a cure for what ailed the people. He said, "Milu yedchem hayom l’Hashem – fill your hands today to Hashem." That is, do something tangible, something real and meaningful to serve G-d - do Mitzvot, pray, bless, occupy yourselves with things spiritual - & it will restore your sense of purpose & self-esteem. You will feel good about yourself and your place in the world, and then you won’t need a "middle-man" to reach G-d - you’ll do it all by yourself.

I suggest that Betzalel – a Bar Mitzva boy! – was given the awesome task of supervising the Mishkan, not in spite of his age, but davka because of it! He had not had decades of being coddled by Moshe or spoiled by the miraculous Mahn & the clouds of glory. He still had his independence and that youthful energy & belief that he could do anything in life – as we all had when we were kids & boasted that we would be astronauts or sports stars or firemen when we grew up. It was that boundless belief in himself, that optimistic outlook on the world that had not yet become jaded or jaundiced, that inspired Betzalel’s unique creativity & artistic passion.

The half-shekel was a clear message to everyone that said: "You have real value!" If you hold your head high, believe in yourself, do worthwhile things with your time & keep your youthful spirit, you will always count in this world& in the eyes of G-d.
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