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Ki Tisa 5766

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

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!   What is the most important question in life? Perhaps: "Is there a God?" If there is a God, then there is every possibility that God created the world with a purpose and our lives have meaning. If there isn't a God, then all was created randomly and meaninglessly and the only meaning in life is that which we choose to impose upon our lives.

If there is a God, then there very well may be consequences for our actions; God may have a standard of behavior He expects us to live up to and if we don't, then to use the colloquial "there is hell to pay." If there isn't a God, then it is only the justice of mankind we need to be concerned about. As one wit put it, "If there is no God, then there is only one commandment, not ten: "Thou shall not get caught."

There are at least four possibilities. We either:

  1. never think much about the question,
  2. espouse believing in God without thinking about the consequences,
  3. believe in God and think that how we decide to lead our lives is exactly how God wants us to live it, or
  4. believe in God and believe in a Revealed document of God's will.

There are reasons why people do not believe or do not want to believe in
God and resist investigating if there is a God:

  1. Because there is evil in the world; bad things happen to good people.
  2. They look at belief in God as a crutch for losers who can't make it on their own.
  3. If there is a God, it implies that there is purpose to creation, values to live by and ultimately restrictions. People do not like restrictions in their lives.

However, even if one has strong questions on how God runs the world or doesn't want restrictions in his life, it does not change the objective reality: Either there is a God or there isn't a God. Because one person believes there is a God or another person doesn't believe in God, does not make a difference as to whether God does indeed exist.

Does it make sense to pursue the question whether or not there is a God who is Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the Universe Who dispenses reward and punishment? Does it make sense to pursue the question whether the Torah is a revealed text from the Almighty instructing us how to lead our lives?

I once overheard a conversation with a person who proudly proclaimed, "I am an atheist!" The rabbi responded, "Fabulous! I have always wanted to meet a real atheist. Do you know that an atheist is a person who has evidence that there is no God. What is your evidence?" The young man responded, "Uh, I guess I am really an agnostic." The rabbi responded, "I am truly disappointed. I was really excited about meeting an atheist, but an agnostic is second best! Do you know an agnostic is a person who has evidence that one can't know whether there is a God? What is your evidence?" The fellow responded, "I guess I really just never looked into it that much."

Probably most of us have never looked into the questions that much or have thought out reasons why we believe, if we do. Actually, the first of the Ten Commandments is the source for the mitzvah "To Know There is a God." One is obligated to investigate the question and to clarify the evidence of God's existence. This is different than "faith." Faith is an emotional leap to a conclusion. Belief is a point on a continuum from "no knowledge" to "absolute knowledge." The more evidence we have of the existence of God, the stronger is our belief.

How would one go about investigating these 2 questions? For a book on "Is there a God?" I highly recommend Permission to Believe by Lawrence Kelemen.

For a book on "Did God give the Torah?" I highly recommend Permission to Receive by Lawrence Kelemen. Both are available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242. Also, on you can listen or buy Rabbi Noah Weinberg's lectures on "Evidence of the Existence of God" (4 part series that examines evidence for both questions) and "Can We Believe God Spoke at Sinai?" by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg.

For more on "Evidence of God's Existence" 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 Bezalel 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
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

After descending from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, Moses saw the people dancing around the Golden Calf. The Torah relates:

"And Moshe stood at the gate of the camp and he said, 'Whoever is for the Almighty come to me.' And all of the descendants of Levi gathered unto him." (Exodus 32:26)

Why does the Torah add the seemingly extra word "all"? It would have been sufficient to just write "and the descendants of Levi gathered unto him."

The Chasam Sofer, a renowned 18th century Hungarian rabbi, tells us that "all" comes to include even Korach and those Levites who later rebelled against Moshe. Though they were greatly displeased with Moshe, when it came to the honor of the Almighty, they joined him to fight for the Almighty.

Our lesson: We should put aside personal prejudice and philosophical differences if we are called upon to take action for the Almighty, for the Jewish people or any righteous cause!

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"The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire nor sword nor inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth, he who was the first to produce the oracles of God, he who has been for so long the guardian of prophecy, and who transmitted it to the rest of the world - such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as is eternity itself."

      --  Leo Nikolaievitch Tolstoy

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