Ki Tisa 5780
Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )
GOOD MORNING! Do you have any idea what April 1st 2020 is called? No, not April Fool's Day; it's actually known as National Census Day. This week, households will receive the census forms that count the population in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories.
Every ten years, the Census Bureau counts every single person living in the United States; legally, illegally, conventionally, and unconventionally. The data collected from the census determines how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state has.
Interestingly enough, the United States was the first country that made participating in the census part of its constitution (Article 1, Section 2). It became law under George Washington and was referred to as the "enumeration of its inhabitants." The first census in 1790 sought the number of free, white males over the age of 16 to determine how many young men were eligible to be drafted for war.
Generally, a nation's interest in censuses is only natural as it provides a pretty good measure of a nation's strength and overall wellbeing. Over three thousand years ago, the Babylonians conducted an exhaustive census of their population, livestock, and food staples. The records of a Chinese population study, done during the Han Dynasty in the first century, are still extant.
Loyal readers of the Shabbat Shalom Weekly will probably not be surprised to learn that the Jewish nation's census precedes all of these. In fact, the type of census taken was materially different than most nations, yet eerily similar to the U.S. census taken in 1790.
Guess what we find in this week's Torah reading??? If you guessed that we find the Torah's account of the first Jewish census, you would be 100% correct!
"When you take the census of the people of Israel according to their number... from twenty years old and above..." (Exodus 31:12-14).
The commentaries (ad loc.) explain that this census wasn't really a population study, rather the only ones who were counted were the males above age twenty who were eligible for service in the army. (Unsurprisingly, the founding fathers, being both men of faith and well versed in the Bible, patterned the first U.S. Census similarly.)
Obviously, every leader wants to know the number of men eligible for service in the army because it is an indicator of potential military strength. But this hardly portrays the actual number of men, women, and children in the nation. Yet, the Jewish people conducted no other census. Why not?
The answer to this question defines the essence of the Jewish people and perhaps even reveals the secret to its longevity. Most nations are made up of a collection of individuals living in a certain geographic location with similar ideals and goals with, perhaps, some kind of common ancestry.
By contrast, the Jewish people perceive themselves as a unified whole. In other words, the Jewish nation is a living corporeal body that just changes cells over time. Meaning, we are a community of people, not merely a collection of individuals choosing to live in a specific geographic location. In such a community there is really very little value to knowing the number of individuals.
The real strength of the Jewish people stems from the cumulative effect of community. This is what has enabled us to survive for 3,000 years after being driven out of just about everywhere we have lived. If you ever ask a typical non-Jew, "How many Jews are there in the world?" You will invariably get answers ranging from 300 million and up. The fact that we number only 13 million or so not only comes as a shock to most people, but is also pretty irrelevant.
According to Jewish tradition the age of twenty is when a man begins to engage in communal activities (Ramban Bamidbar 1:2). Not surprisingly, the age of twenty was also the time when men were eligible for service in the army. Because a Jewish census was to gauge the strength of the community, the only ones that were counted were the ones who were ready to go to war and sacrifice themselves for the sake of the community.
This would also explain why in this week's Torah reading we find the recipe for the special incense mixture that was used in the Tabernacle and in King Solomon's Temple. The recipe contained a mixture of eleven spices in a very special formula.
Yet one of the spices was well known for having a putrid smell - "chelbona or galbanum." The commentaries explain this strange inclusion in to the incense mixture: "This comes to teach us that we should be vigilant in the law of including in our prayer gatherings even those people who have committed severe transgressions" (see Rashi Shemos 30:34).
On the surface, this seems rather illogical. If we are gathering to pray to God, wouldn't we want to pray only with those who have pure hearts and good deeds? Wouldn't God be more inclined to answer our prayers if everyone in the congregation was righteous?
The answer, of course, is no. The whole strength of the Jewish people comes from the strength of our community. Just as the special formula for sweet smelling incense is invalid without the putrid smelling galbanum, so too we must include everyone in our gatherings. It is only when we present ourselves to God as a unified community that He will truly respond to our prayers.
Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11 - 34:35
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 also known as the Tabernacle); 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.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Moses is on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. The Almighty relates to him all that has happened in the creating of the Golden Calf and with the worshipping of it. Then the Almighty concludes with this final verse in summation as to why He wants to annihilate the Jewish people, "[...] I have seen this people and they are a stiff-necked people" (Exodus 32:9). What is it that makes our stiff-neckedness the "final straw" for the Almighty?
Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm explains that the main fault of the Jewish people was that they were stiff-necked. That is, they lacked the flexibility to admit that they made a mistake. When someone is flexible, even if he makes many mistakes, he will regret them and will change. However, if a person is inflexible, when he makes a mistake he will not repent and improve.
It is important to be flexible to improve oneself. However, there is also a time to be inflexible: When upholding values and maintaining one's honesty and integrity.
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