Parashat Ki Tisa / פרשת כִּי תִשָּׂא
Read in the Diaspora on 6 March 2021 (22 Adar 5781).
Parashat Ki Tisa is the 21st weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.
Torah Portion: Exodus 30:11-34:35
Shabbat Parah / שַׁבָּת פּרה
Shabbat Parah (Shabbat of the Red Heifer) for Hebrew Year 5781 begins at sundown on Friday, 5 March 2021 and ends at nightfall on Saturday, 6 March 2021.
Our parashat opens up with Hashem commanding Moshe Rabbeinu to take a census of all the men 20 – 50 years old. We do not count heads in Judaism, but we “lift up the heads” (Hebrew idiom) by collecting a half shekel from all of them, regardless of their wealth. Since the Torah states this is for atonement, the rabbis interpret this contribution is for atonement for the lives these are men in battle will take if and when they have to go to war when necessary to protect their land.
Moses is then commanded to make a laver, a wash basin used by the Kohenim when they enter the Mishkan to perform their duties. There are spouts to wash their hands and their feet. Today, we wash our hands before prayer.
Moses has been gone for 40 days. The people think he should have come back but they count the day in which he went up to the top of Mount Sinai as the first day. They therefore believe he is dead and feel that they need a representative, a god, to be their intermediary with Hashem. The rabbis believe that the Eirev Rav, the mixed multitude of non-Israelites that used the chaos of the Exodus to escape from Egypt and were pagans, who instigated needing a god.
As this mob escalated, Aaron tried to make peace by buying time. He asked them to donate their gold, thinking they wouldn’t give up their riches. They did, and he fashioned a golden calf. The rabble proclaimed, “This is your god, Israel!”. Aaron proclaimed that tomorrow would be a feast to Hashem, knowing Moses would return.
Hashem knew what was going on and informed Moses. Moses took the tablets of the Ten Commandments, went down to the people. When he saw the golden calf, he threw the tablets on the groundbreaking them. The Levites came and eliminated the people who encouraged the golden calf. Moses then melted the golden calf, ground up the gold and made the remaining people drink it.
Moses then went back up Mount Sinai alone. Hashem said that he would destroy those people and make a new people from Moses’ lineage. Moses stated that then people would say that G-d brought the Israelites out of Egypt to kill them in the desert and He shouldn’t do that.
Hashem reveals his thirteen attributes to Moses. He reveals to Moses in a vision and the Thirteen Attributes are revealed. We recite these when we do a Torah service not on Shabbat and also on Yom Kippur, and when fasting for atonement. Hashem also showed Moses Himself. He told Moses to put himself in a cleft of rock and he would pass by, and Moses would see the “back of His head” or some believe the knot of His Head tefillin. This is because no human can see G-d’s “face” and live.
Moses then received a second set of tablets for the Ten Commandments. As Moses descended the mountain, his face was glowing so brightly that he needed a mask.
This is also Shabbat Parah ("Sabbath [of the] red heifer" שבת פרה), which takes place on the Shabbat before Shabbat HaChodesh, in preparation for Passover. Numbers 19:1-22 describes the parah adumah ("red heifer") in the Jewish temple as part of the manner in which the kohanim and the Jewish people purified themselves so that they would be ready ("pure") to sacrifice the korban Pesach.