Ki Tisa 5771

February 13, 2011

7 min read


Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

GOOD MORNING! An atheist was visiting Scotland. While boating on the famed Loch Ness he sees a giant slithering eel-like creature undulating through the water. With a whack of its tail, the creature launches the man and the boat high into the air. What does the atheist yell out? "God, save me!" A miracle! The man is suspended 200 feet in the air. The Loch Ness monster is immediately below him, jaws wide open, ready to swallow. A booming voice comes from Heaven, "Give me one good reason why I should save you. You haven't believed in Me a day in your life!" The atheist replies, "God, please - cut me some slack. Until five minutes ago I didn't believe in the Loch Ness monster either!"

Many people consider themselves atheists or agnostics. Does it make any difference what a person believes as long as he is a good person? And... how does a person know or decide what is the right thing?

Many years ago a rabbi sat in an intercity taxi going from Jerusalem to Beersheva. Sitting next to him was a brilliant Jewish man who prided himself on being an atheist and touted his superior morality. The rabbi asked him, "Would you slap the man next to you (on the other side!) across the cheek?" "Of course not," replied the atheist. "Would you slap him if I gave you $10?" "Of course not," responded the atheist, "What do you think I am?" "How about for $100,000?" the rabbi asked. "Of course I would! Just think of the good I could do in the world!" Responded the rabbi, "That's not morality! Morality is having a bottom line of right and wrong. It is wrong to hit the man and it cannot be rationalized."

The problem with Atheism (besides the fact that it has no holidays) is that its morality is flexible. To be good one needs an absolute definition of what is good. If one does not believe in a God given morality, then his sense of morality is adjustable and influenced by society. A societal "morality" can lead to the decision that the greater good for society is "ethnic-cleansing" ... genocide - gas chambers and ovens.

The Torah sets an absolute standard for right and wrong. We uphold the standard because we believe that the Almighty gave us the Torah and that we are obligated to uphold its standards. (If you want to know the evidence for why we believe in God and why we believe that God gave us the same Torah, I suggest reading Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive by Lawrence Keleman - available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.)

A Jew who believes in God is additionally motivated by both love of God and fear of God. Everyone agrees that doing out of love is far superior to doing out of fear. However, we need both love and fear in life.

Love motivates us to do positive deeds while fear motivates us to refrain from negative actions. A parent will be motivated out of love to buy a birthday gift for his child; but it won't keep him from losing his temper and yelling at his child.

Fear will keep us from coming late to work or blowing up at our boss; it won't motivate us to do something extra to be nice for the boss. Every government recognizes that only by having severe consequences for not paying taxes, will people pay taxes. Fear of consequence is a strong motivator to do the right thing. Fearing God and fearing the consequences in this world and the Next World are important for acting morally.

There are many who scoff at the idea of an absolute morality. "There are no absolutes!" they maintain. Next time someone presents that opinion, ask, "Are you sure?" Likely they'll respond, "Yes!" Then ask, "Are you really sure?" Again, with even more vigor they'll reply, "YES!" And then ask... "Are you absolutely sure?"

We all want to be good. If asked, "Would you rather be good or rich?" a person will answer "good." If asked, "Would you rather be good or happy?" a person will answer "good." If we so much value being good and want to be good - doesn't it make sense to study what is good rather than just going according to our society or our gut feeling?

Where does one start to learn what is good? Start by learning the Torah - the Artscroll Stone Edition of the Five Books of Moses - it has a 3,000 year track record for setting the standard of morality!


Would a Torah observant Jew hit the man
in the taxi for $100,000?
It depends on the individual. Each of us has the capacity to rationalize our actions. One thing for sure, at least he knows that hitting someone for money is wrong and that the amount of money makes no difference whether his action is moral. So, what is the difference whether or not he knows his action is wrong if he will hit the man anyway? Once he has knowledge and awareness, then he can do something about it - have regret, apologize, make restitution, change his behavior in the future. That is a big difference!

For more on "Morality" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week
Ki Tisa

The Torah portion includes: instructions for taking a census (by each person donating a half shekel); instructions to make the Washstand, Anointing Oil, and The Incense for the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary; appointing Betzalel and Oholiab to head up the architects and craftsmen for the Mishkan; a special commandment forbidding the building of the Mishkan on Shabbat (people might have thought that they would be allowed to violate the Shabbat to do a mitzvah ...).

The Torah portion continues with the infamous story of the Golden Calf. The people wrongly calculated that Moses was late in coming down from Mt. Sinai and the people were already seeking a replacement for him by making the Golden Calf (there is a big lesson in patience for us here). Moses sees them dancing around the calf and in anger breaks the Two Tablets; he then punishes the 3,000 wrongdoers (less than .1% of the 3 million people), pleads to God not to wipe out the people, requests to see the Divine Glory, and receives the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments.

* * *

Dvar Torah
with attribution to the Artscroll Stone Torah

The Torah states:

"And when (Moshe) got close to the camp he saw the calf and the dancing; Moshe became angry and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them beneath the mountain" (Exodus 32:19).

What angered Moshe and caused him to break the tablets?

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky comments when Moshe heard that they had made the idol, he thought that they felt stranded in the wilderness without a leader and intermediary to the Almighty - and concluded that they had made the idol out of desperation. However, when he saw them dancing, he understood that they were not reluctant, but were enjoying their worship of the idol. That is why he became angry and broke the tablets.


(or go to

Jerusalem 4:52
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J'Burg 6:30 - London 5:02 - Los Angeles 5:21
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New York 5:16 - Singapore 7:03 - Toronto 5:33


Conscience is what hurts when
everything else feels good.


With Deep Appreciation to

Leo Sandau



With Special Thanks to

Sami Bilmen

Istanbul, Turkey


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