Ki Sisa (Exodus, 30:11-34:35) — “Hot Cash”

The Children of Israel sinned.  They sinned egregiously.  They melted their gold and formed it into a statue of a calf.  They danced around that statue, referring to it as their god who had taken them out of Egypt.  This was a terrible sin.  G-d almost wiped out the entire nation as a punishment. 

They needed to atone for their sin.  They needed to engage in an overwhelming Mitzvah that would serve as an atonement for their sin: 

G-d spoke to Moses saying: “When you take a census… each one shall be counted by giving an atonement offering for his life…This is what they must give …a half-shekel…a shekel is 20 gerahs (.8 ounces, according to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan) It is half of such a shekel that must be given as an offering to G-d…It is an offering to G-d to atone for your lives. (Exodus, 30:11-13, 15) 

There was to be an annual collection of .4 ounce silver coins.  The first year the silver was melted down into rings to hold the wooden beams of the tabernacle together.  In subsequent years this silver was used for the purchase of communal offerings to be brought in the Temple. 

Simply put, the Israelites sinned against G-d by melting their gold into an idol.  They atoned for this sin by melting their silver into a Temple for G-d. 

[I should point out that this is not so clear based upon a simple reading of the Torah Portion.  The Mitzvah of donating the Half Shekel appears in the opening verses of the Portion, in Chapter 30.  The Golden Calf is later on, in Chapter 32.  It is clear that not everything in the Torah is written in chronological order.  In the opinion of Rashi and some other commentaries, the Mitzvah in Chapter 30 was given after the sin in Chapter 32.]

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…This is what they must give …a half-shekel…  There were certain commandments that Moses didn’t fully understand.  The Half Shekel was one of them.  The Torah says …This is what they must give …a half shekel… The Talmud says that G-d showed Moses a fiery half-shekel coin, and said, “It should be like this.” 

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin asked why Moses was so confused.  Why did he need to see what a half-shekel looked like?  Had he never seen such a coin before?  And why did G-d show him a half-shekel of fire?  Wouldn’t a regular silver coin have sufficed to clarify the requirement? 

Rabbi Sorotzkin explains that Moses knew quite well what a silver coin looked like; that wasn’t his question.  Moses was wondering what the significance was of silver in achieving atonement for sin.  That’s why G-d showed him a coin made of fire.  Silver is like fire; it has two components. 

Fire can be extremely destructive.  When it gets out of control, it can destroy everything in its path.  When controlled, it can warm and illuminate.  The fiery heat of the sun causes fruits to grow and ripen.  It is up to us to decide whether we will use fire to build or to destroy. 

It is the same with silver/money — the so-called “root of all evil.”  Money corrupts.   The desire to amass wealth leads to theft and deceit.  It causes jealousy and murder.  It leads people to live lives of ostentatious opulence.  It can also be used for charity and kindness.  Money can be used to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Our money can be used to build temples of materialism or Temples of Torah. 

The fiery coin was there to answer Moses’ question.  Yes, Moses, silver coins are that powerful.  They can achieve atonement.  Yes, our People lost their perspective.  But then they regained their perspective.  They bowed down to a Golden Calf.  The men of Israel melted their rings and cuff links and Rolex watches and made them into an idol.  But the mothers of Israel (who, by the way, NEVER lost that perspective) melted their gold jewelry and made it into holy golden vessels for use in the Tabernacle. 

When you take the source of sin, and learn to turn it around in the service of G-d, you have learned how to “undo” the effects of that sin.  You have found “Atonement.”

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives 

“Fool’s Gold” (2010)

“The statistics linking smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and burn marks on furniture are inconclusive.”

“Seat belts are too restrictive. Many people have died because they couldn’t get out of their cars quickly enough.”

“I’m only going to taste one tiny sliver of this Double-Decadent Chocolate Cream Pie…”

“Honest, Mom, It’s only a date… ”

“Marijuana is NOT addictive! It’s not as if it will lead to taking something dangerous …”

“I don’t need to hire a Mohel. I can do it myself. I’ve watched it being done dozens of times…”

Do we really believe the lies we tell ourselves? …

Read more.

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 “Who WAS That Masked Man?” (2009)

 It was to be the very first Yom Kippur.   Moses was returning from the summit of Mount Sinai. He was carrying in his hands two blocks of sapphire.

 This was his second such journey. Last time Moses came down the mountain carrying stone blocks he was dismayed by what he saw… He discovered his People dancing around a Golden Calf…Moses smashed the Tablets; his People weren’t ready for them.

Now Moses was bringing a new set of Tablets. G-d had accepted Moses’ prayers for forgiveness for His People. Every year we commemorate that day as Yom Kippur, a day when G-d is prepared to forgive his People for their shortcomings.

 Yes, Moses was back. He had returned to his nation… But something was different… it was… his face!…

 Read more.

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“Hot Cash” (2008)

 The Children of Israel sinned.  They sinned egregiously.  They melted their gold and formed it into a statue of a calf.  They danced around that statue, referring to it as their god who had taken them out of Egypt.  This was a terrible sin.  G-d almost wiped out the entire nation as a punishment.

 They needed to atone for their sin…

 Simply put, the Israelites sinned against G-d by melting their gold into an idol.  They atoned for this sin by melting their silver into a Temple for G-d.

 …This is what they must give …a half-shekel… 

 There were certain commandments that Moses didn’t fully understand.  The Half Shekel was one of them.  The Torah says …This is what they must give …a half shekel… The Talmud says that G-d showed Moses a fiery half-shekel coin, and said, “It should be like this.”

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin asked why Moses was so confused.  Why did he need to see what a half-shekel looked like?  Had he never seen such a coin before?  And why did G-d show him a half-shekel of fire?  Wouldn’t a regular silver coin have sufficed to clarify the requirement?

 … Moses knew quite well what a silver coin looked like; that wasn’t his question… 

Read more.

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“‘Los ANGELES’ (‘City of ANGELS’) or San Francisco?” (2004)

 .. It is very important to defer to the protocols of the community you visit. Even angels do it for humans, and humans do it for the angels:

 “… He (Abraham) stood by them (three angels who appeared to be men) under the tree, and they ate.” (Genesis, 18:8)

 “… He (Moses) was there (Mt. Sinai/Heaven) with G-d for forty days and forty nights. He ate no bread and drank no water.” (Exodus, 34:28)

 Based upon the above two verses, the Talmud (Bava Metzia, 86b) advises us to respect local custom. Humans require food for sustenance. Angels, who are spiritual beings, do not. Yet, the angels, out of respect for Abraham, honored him by accepting his offer of food, while Moses had to adhere to the angelic way of life by engaging in a forty-day fast…

 We just read that one should follow the customs that are acceptable in the locale in which he finds himself. Does this mean that we should have one set of values in Jerusalem, Monsey and Boro Park, and a different set of values in San Francisco, New Paltz, and Massachusetts?!…

Read more.

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“How Do I Count Thee? …” (2003)

 … How did we get caught up in worshiping the Golden Calf? How could we have strayed so far from the Second Commandment …

Read more.

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“Cut Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning” (2002)

 G-d was angry… Moses said to the people, “… I will go back up to G-d and try to gain forgiveness for your crime.” …

Sounds pretty easy. Too easy. Is that all it takes to be forgiven for sinning? Did you worship idols and rebel against G-d today? Maybe a little murder and adultery while you’re at it? No Problem! Take two Tablets, say thirteen attributes and a few “Hail Moses-es” and call me in the morning! You’re all set! All is forgiven!… Is that what Judaism is all about?! Do whatever you want, and then say a few verses and then everything is okay?! Sounds like another religion!…

Read more.

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“Abs of Steel/Calves of Gold” (2001)

This week, it seems, is the “Week of the Cows.” …The Red Heifer is a Mitzvah that is, in all due respect, totally illogical…

Is there a link between the two colored cows in this week’s Torah Readings? Can we find a connection between the calf of gold and his crimson “mother?” … Is there any logical connection between the sin of bowing down to a calf-shaped molten image, and being sprinkled with a mix containing the ashes of a cow? …

 Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2015 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about

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Published in: on February 2, 2008 at 6:22 am  Leave a Comment  

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