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THESE QUESTIONS FOCUS ON THE INTERPRETATIONS OF RASHI AND OTHER COMMENTATORS ON PARASHAT KI-TISA
1. The text states that the count of the Israelites was to be made using half-shekels. How come, according to the Ramban, that King David (Sam. II 24) erred when he counted the Israelites?
2. Why, according to the S'forno, is the command for making the laver placed later in the Torah than the command of making the other vessels in the Tabernacle?
3. The spices for the Ketoret did not only include sweet smelling herbs, but also substances with an evil odor - such as galbanum ('chelbena' 30:34). What, according to Rashi, may be learnt from having those unpleasant herbs in the ketoret?
4. G-d states the He filled Betzalel, the builder of the Mishkan, 'with wisdom, insight, and knowledge'. (31:3) What do those three terms mean according to Rashi?
5. How does the S'forno understand the Seventh Day being described as not merely 'shabbat', but as 'shabbat shabaton'? (31:16)
6. What, according to Rashi, was the nature of Moses' 'delay' (32:1) in returning to the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai?
7. What rationale did Moses use in smashing the Tablets, according to Rashi?
8. G-d states that He will pass 'all My goodness' (33:19) before Moses. What is the meaning of that goodness according to Rashi?
9. The section detailing the prohibition of idolatry is immediately followed with the agricultural laws of the Festivals. What is the connection between the two, according to the S'forno?
10. Following Rashi, what connection may be made between the way Moses taught the Torah after he received the Second Tablets, and the advice that Jethro gave to him, recorded in 18:17-23?
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON RASHI AND OTHER COMMENTATORS ON PARASHAT KI-TISA
1. The Ramban gives two explanations - one here, and one to Num. 1:3. The meaning of this passage is that whenever a count is made of the Israelites, it should be made using the half-shekel. King David erred in understanding that this law only applied to the counts made by Moses. However, in Num. 1:3 he gives a different explanation. There, he claims that David did actually use coins or some other method to avoid a direct count, but he was punished because he did not have a compelling reason to conduct a census in the first place.
[My own suggestion: The reason for the count to involve the half shekel is that when a nation is counted, it as though all the people are coming together. That is a hint that whenever people come together for any reason, it should include an element for the common good - such as raising money for a worthy cause.]
2. According to the S'forno, the command for making the laver is placed later in the Torah because its function was different from the other vessels in the Tabernacle. The other parts and vessels caused the Divine Presence to rest on the Tabernacle, whereas the laver enabled the Priests to carry out the Divine Service.
3. According to Rashi, unpleasant herbs are included in the ketoret to express the ideal of unity amongst the Israelites. That galbanum is included indicates that sinners should be included with the community in its prayers. Both the righteous and the sinner have a share in the service of G-d.
4. Following Rashi, wisdom is knowledge acquired from the experience of others, insight is the derivation of new ideas and deductions from one's wisdom, and knowledge [in the context of building the Tabernacle] is Divine inspiration.
5. The use of the words 'shabbat shabaton' indicate two sides of the Shabbat. One does not keep Shabbat by just abstaining from 'melacha', but through being involved in sacred activities in honor of the Almighty.
6. The delay of Moses' return was not a delay at all, but a miscalculation on the part of the Israelites. Following Rashi, Moses ascended Mt. Sinai on the seventh of Sivan, saying he would be there for forty days, and that he would return in the morning. The people erred in counting his day of ascent as one of those forty days, whereas the forty days were made up of complete days only. Therefore Moses' delay was of one day - he did not return on the sixteenth of Tammuz, as expected, but on the seventeenth of Tammuz. And the story of the building of the golden calf took place in that final twenty-four hour period.
7. According to Rashi, his decision to smash the Tablets was based on the following argument. If a heretic may not partake in the Passover offering (12:41), how much more so should a nation of heretics (namely those who took part, and those who did not protest in the making of the Golden Calf) be patently unworthy of receiving the entire Torah.
8. 'All G-d's goodness' refers to His Attribute of Mercy, and how Israel could invoke it through the Prayer of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (34:6-7) - which would be available and effective even were the merits of the Patriarchs to become depleted.
9. The S'forno makes the connection between the prohibition of the idolatry and the agricultural laws of the festivals in the following way. The putting together of those two sections is to teach that the road to material success is not through frantic search for omens and intermediaries, but through service to G-d.
10. Rashi, based on 34:31-32, contain the stages and sequence of Moses' teaching the Israelites. First, he taught Aaron what G-d commanded him. Then Aaron would be seated on his left, and Aaron's sons would enter. After Moses taught it to them, they would be seated flanking Moses and Aaron, and Moses would teach the elders. Then they would be seated at the sides and the people would come and hear the teachings. That the further up the hierarchy, the more times they would be taught would suggest that there should be a hierarchial system of judges, as Jethro had suggested.
Aaron's role in the Chet Ha-Egel is discussed at length in the Commentaries. Firstly, why didn't he use all within his power to prevent the building of the Golden Calf in the first place? Secondly, why wasn't G-d's anger explicitly directed at Aaron in this Parasha? This seems all the more surprising when this account is compared with Moses' recalling the story before his death. In that text it indeed says G-d was very angry with Aaron (intending) to destroy him and I… prayed for Aaron at that time (Devarim 9:20).
*Please note - My own attempts to deal with the issues related to the above may be found in the archives for 5760 in Shema Yisrael - on Parashat Ki Tisa
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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