On Needing Certainty Now

On Needing Certainty Now

Feb 18, 2022 By Yitz Landes | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an Israelite at the foot of Har Sinai. Over the past few weeks, your life has been turned upside down: you have witnessed mind-boggling miracles, you have been freed from slavery, and you have been brought out into the wilderness, to the bottom of Har Sinai. Too scared to go up the mountain (Exod. 19:18, 23), you and your fellow Israelites remain camped out below as Moses goes up and down, eventually staying up on top as God teaches him and prepares the Tablets. You know that you are going somewhere that you should consider home—to be sure, a place that you have never seen—and you know that many of your practices must change.

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The Path to Justice

The Path to Justice

Mar 5, 2021 By Rachel Kahn-Troster | Commentary | Ki Tissa

I’ve been a human rights activist for more than a decade, beginning my work by organizing the Jewish community to speak out against torture. One of the first things I learned—a theme that resurfaces across many of the campaigns for human rights that I have been part of—is that when people act out of fear, when their sense of safety and security is challenged, they make unfortunate choices. 

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Does God Get Carried Away?: A Case of Inner-Biblical Midrash

Does God Get Carried Away?: A Case of Inner-Biblical Midrash

Mar 13, 2020 By Jeremy Tabick | Commentary | Ki Tissa

What does it mean to be El kana, “a jealous / zealous God”?

This phrase appears in the Second Commandment:

You shall not bow down to [other gods] and you shall not worship them, for I am YHVH your God, El Kana, one who takes note of the sin of parents upon children, upon third and fourth [generations], to those who hate Me. But I am one who does love to the thousandth [generation], to those who love me and to those who keep My commandments. (Exod. 20:5-6/Deut. 5:9-10)

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A Bearable Lightness

A Bearable Lightness

Feb 22, 2019 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Ki Tissa

In this week’s parashah, we encounter two iconic moments in the epic story of Benei Yisra’el and their reception of the Torah. The first is known as the sin of the golden calf, when the impatience of the people waiting for Moshe’s return leads to their worship of a gleaming physical form in place of God, their redeemer. This narrative event comes to be not only a climax in the biblical story, but also serves as the paradigmatic image of idolatry through two millennia of Jewish theology. The second iconic moment occurs upon Moshe’s descent from Mount Sinai, holding the two tablets of the covenant made with the finger of God. Encountering this ultimate violation, Moshe dramatically smashes the sacred tablets at the foot of Sinai.

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Kept by Shabbat

Kept by Shabbat

Mar 2, 2018 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Ahad Ha’am famously said: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Pretty remarkable coming from the founder of cultural Zionism!

Parashat Ki Tissa either supports or challenges Ha’am’s words. This week’s parashah relates one of the lowest moments in Israel’s story—the sin of the golden calf—in which Israel dances before a god of their own making. Coming down Mount Sinai with the stone tablets inscribed by God’s finger (Exod. 31:18), Moses sees Israel’s frenzy and smashes the tablets. Moses spends the rest of the parashah picking up the pieces and working to restore Israel’s relationship with God.

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Is It Right?

Is It Right?

Mar 17, 2017 By Yehudah Webster | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular—but one must take it simply because it is right.

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A Proper Sense of Priorities”

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Doing Shabbat, Together

Doing Shabbat, Together

Mar 17, 2017 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Following the instructions for preparing incense for future offerings, six verses speak of the Sabbath (Exod. 31: 13-18). Two of them appear in our siddur and are sung in most synagogues on Friday night and Shabbat morning (vv. 16-17). Probably because the words are so familiar, I have tended to overlook their precise meaning.

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Who Wrote The Ten Commandments?

Who Wrote The Ten Commandments?

Feb 26, 2016 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Where does our Torah come from? Did all the words of the Torah come from heaven, so that the Torah is a perfect divine work? If that is the case, then the tradition the Torah inaugurates is one that human beings should accept in its entirety without introducing any changes. Or is the Torah itself the result of human-divine collaboration? If that is the case, the tradition the Torah inaugurates may allow some change, at least by those Jews of each generation who accept the Torah and live by its commandments.

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Bronze Bull, Golden Calf

Bronze Bull, Golden Calf

Feb 26, 2016 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Ki Tissa

The metal bovine with a peculiar magnetism that is known as the Golden Calf (Exod. 32) brings to mind Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull (1989). A potent Financial District icon, it exerts a remarkable pull on passersby (on its webcam you can see the crowd so often around the statue). According to the artist’s website, it was designed as a “symbol of virility and courage” and “the perfect antidote to the Wall Street crash of 1986,” but it was also created without the invitation of the Wall Street community and was promptly removed from its original location in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

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Shattered Tablets

Shattered Tablets

Mar 6, 2015 By Daniel Heschel Silberbusch | Commentary | Ki Tissa

What fascinates me about this moment in the Torah (Ex. 32:15-19) is what we forget because we too well remember how the story ends.

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Moses As Prophetic Psychologist

Moses As Prophetic Psychologist

Feb 12, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tissa

The notorious centerpiece of Parashat Ki Tissa is the episode of the Golden Calf.

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Arts and Crafts: Commentary on Parashat Ki Tissa

Arts and Crafts: Commentary on Parashat Ki Tissa

Feb 11, 2014 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Ki Tissa

There are aspects of the Bible’s account of the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness that seem incredible; so much so that early critical commentators tended to reject its historical accuracy out of hand.

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The Art of Torah

The Art of Torah

Feb 27, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tissa

Too often, the arts are underappreciated in the Jewish community.

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When God Said “No” to Moses

When God Said “No” to Moses

Feb 26, 2013 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Ki Tissa

It must have been a great comfort to Moses—and not only a disappointment—that God turned down his request to see God’s glory. The wind was presence enough, on top of the mountain, much of the time—the wind, and the voice in the wind. Every visit of divine speech exhausted him now. Even the words that did not demand that he do battle, climb higher, challenge Pharaoh, rebuke the Israelites yet again, or simply—on some days the hardest—endure.

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The Voice From the Burning Bush

The Voice From the Burning Bush

Mar 10, 2012 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Ki Tissa

Moses heard God’s voice as his own; each of us hears God’s voice as our own, hearing what we need to hear from the thunderous words of revelation that are each of ours and yet so difficult to discern.

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Living with the Divine Spirit

Living with the Divine Spirit

Mar 10, 2012 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Ki Tissa

How to blame the Israelites for the Golden Calf episode, when it seems that all they want to do is create something holy? 

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Marketing Judaism

Marketing Judaism

Feb 19, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Ki Tissa

If the Torah you teach isn’t sexy, don’t teach it. An unassailable marketing message rooted in a play on words: “had finished” is kekaloto, which─especially written as it is, missing the letter vav toward the end─could be rendered instead “as his bride.”

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The Arab Spring and Ancient Israel

The Arab Spring and Ancient Israel

Feb 19, 2011 By Stephen P. Garfinkel | Commentary | Ki Tissa

What an amazing juxtaposition! The (near) miraculous events in Egypt that we witnessed on news broadcasts over the past week coincide with Parashat Ki Tissa, the Torah reading for this Shabbat. The circumstances of the two are wildly different, yet the fundamental human concerns in each setting overlap to an extraordinary degree.

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The Dangers of Sacred Space

The Dangers of Sacred Space

Mar 5, 2010 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Ki Tissa

For more than a month during this time of year, we read about the mishkan, the Tabernacle, also called the ohel mo’ed, or Tent of Meeting. Parashiyot T’rumah and T’tzavveh, which we read the past two weeks, contain what amount to blueprints in prose format. These readings describe exactly how the Children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai should construct the mishkan.

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Moments of Intimacy with God

Moments of Intimacy with God

Mar 14, 2009 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Ki Tissa | Purim

The unknown can be frightening. This week in particular, beyond the unknowns of the economic crisis that grips the world, we encounter insecurity in the Purim story, with God’s hand seemingly absent from directing the narrative. There is an uncertainty that the unknown breeds; we feel it deep within ourselves and struggle to overcome ambiguity through a search for assurance. What is and remains true is that the lesson of the day is consistent with the lesson of history—none of us is immune from the insecurity of the unknown. Even Moshe.

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