Commentary on Parashat Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11 - 34:35
God was with Moses on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. God had already commanded Moses how to build a Tent of Appointed Meeting for God. This Dwelling Place was a moveable holy sanctuary where the people can bring offerings to God. Priests were to wear special garments and wash before officiating in this sanctuary. Each person, rich and poor, was to donate half shekel to finance the service in the sanctuary.
“As for you, Moses,” God continued, “take the finest spices and the finest olive oil and make a holy anointment. You shall anoint the Tent of Appointed Meeting, the Ark of the Testimony and all within the sanctuary. Sanctify them so that they become holy and that all who touch them become holy.
“Tell the children of Israel to keep My Sabbaths so that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. For those who profane My Sabbath, their soul shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. This shall be a perpetual covenant, a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever, for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God ceased from work and rested.”
When God finished speaking, God gave Moses the two stone Tablets of Testimony written with the finger of God.
At this moment, the people were beginning to wonder if Moses would ever return. They gathered against Aaron saying, “Make us a god who shall go before us, for we do not know what happened to Moses.”
The Golden Calf
“Remove your gold earrings and bring them to me,” Aaron answered. And the people did. Aaron then melted the gold and molded it into a golden calf. The people exclaimed, “This is the god, O Israel, which brought us out of the land of Egypt.”
Aaron built an altar before the golden calf, proclaiming, “A festival to the Lord, tomorrow.” Early the next day, the people feasted and made offerings.
Back on Mount Sinai, the Lord said to Moses, “Go, descend, for the people brought from the land of Egypt have become corrupt. They strayed quickly. They made a molten calf and worshipped it as if it were Me. Now let Me alone so My anger may destroy them.”
But Moses pleaded with God, “Why destroy the people whom You saved? Why should the Egyptians say, God saved them with evil intent, to kill the people later? Reconsider. Remember your promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to multiply their offspring like stars of heaven and give them the promised land.”
And the Lord renounced the punishment planned for the people.
Moses left Mount Sinai with the two stone Tablets of Testimony in his hands. On these Tablets, written on both their sides, was the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God.
As soon as Moses saw the calf and the dancing, his anger flared. He cast the Tablets out of his hands and shattered them. Then Moses took the calf, burnt it with fire, ground it to powder, threw it upon the water and made the children of Israel drink it.
Moses confronted Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you permitted such a great sin?”
“Do not be angry,” Aaron answered. “You know the people are predisposed toward evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god, which shall go before us, for we know not what has become of Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt.’ So I told them to bring me their gold jewelry and I cast it in the fire and out came this calf.”
Moses saw the people were out of control, since Aaron had let them get out of control. So Moses stood outside the camp gate and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come here!” Inside the camp some three thousand people were then killed.
The next day, Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. Now I will go to God and try to make atonement.”
Moses went to God and said, “If you cannot give the people forgiveness, then blot me out from Your book which You have written.”
God responded, “Whoever has sinned against Me, him I will blot out from My book! But when I remember their sin, on that day, there will be a reckoning.” Then God sent a plague upon the people.
“Now go, Moses, and take the people to the land flowing with milk and honey, as I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I will send an Angel before you and drive out the native peoples. But I will not go in your midst, since you are a stiff-necked people, lest I destroy you on the way.”
When the people heard this harsh warning, they mourned and no one put on their fine jewelry.
Moses erected the Tent of Meeting outside the camp. Whoever sought God would go out to the Tent of Meeting.
Moses in the Tent
Whenever Moses went to the Tent, all the people would watch as a pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the Tent while the Lord spoke with Moses. When the people saw this pillar of cloud, all the people stood and worshipped God.
“Oh, God,” Moses said in the Tent of Meeting, “let me behold Your Presence.”
God answered, “I have singled you out by Name. I will make all My goodness pass before you. I will be gracious to those to whom I will be gracious and show compassion to those to whom I will show compassion. But you cannot see My face, for no human may see Me and live. But stand on the rock and when My glory passes by, you shall see My back, but My face may not be seen.”
God then said to Moses, “Now come back to the mountain and carve two tablets of stone like the first. I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets you broke.”
Moses did as God said and brought two new tablets of stone up to Mount Sinai. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with Moses. God proclaimed,
“The Lord, the Lord, God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness and truth, extending mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving Iniquity and transgression and sin, but Who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.”
Moses bowed his head, worshipping and asking God to pardon the sins of the people and take them as an inheritance.
God said, “Behold, I make a covenant, I make distinctions such as never have been created in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people shall see the work of the Lord. Observe what I am commanding this day. I will drive peoples off their land, lest you follow their ways or sacrifice unto their gods.
“Instead, you shall break down their altars and smash their pillars. For you shall bow down to no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. You shall make no molten gods. Passover shall you keep. The Sabbath you shall keep. Shavout you shall keep. You shall redeem your firstborn. You shall give the first of your produce to the Temple of God. Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Write these words of my covenant. According to these words have I sealed a covenant with you and Israel.”
Moses remained with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights and did not eat bread nor drink water. God wrote upon the Tablets, the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
When Moses came down from the Mount Sinai with the two Tablets of Testimony, Moses did not know that his face radiated because he had spoken with God. When Aaron and the people saw the way Moses’ face radiated, they were afraid to come toward him. Moses beckoned them forward. First he gave the Commandments to the priests and rulers and then to all the children of Israel. Moses gave them all that the Lord had spoken upon Mount Sinai.
When Moses was done speaking, he put a veil on his face. When Moses went to speak to God, he took the veil off. When the children of Israel saw Moses’ face radiating, Moses put the veil back upon his face until he went to speak again with God.
Parashat Ki Tisa Discussion Questions
1) Moses’ face radiated because he had spoken with God. What makes your face radiate?
2) When Moses is delayed in returning from Mount Sinai, the people ask Aaron to make another god for them to worship. Do you ever get impatient with God and consider worshipping a different god?
3) God is known here as a Jealous God. How do you feel when you are jealous? What does being a Jealous God mean?
4) Moses asks to see God’s face but God says no human can ever see God’s face, lest s/he die. Do you ever wish you could see God? Why? How does it make you feel to know that God doesn’t want you to physically see God?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!