Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #21: Ki Tissa (When you take) Sh’mot (Exodus) 30:11-34:35
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 18:20-39
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:35-8:1
This week we are going to focus on four subjects from this week’s parashah: 1) Personal accountability; 2) Ascension to G-d; 3) Total separation for G-d’s service; 4) G-d’s festivals.
The first subject is found in the account of the golden calf. The narrative tells us that Moshe was communing with G-d at His instruction to receive all of the instructions concerning the incense for anointing the items to be used in the Tabernacle and for anointing Aharon and his sons exclusively. The prohibition for using it for any other reason including anointing a person’s body is found in Ex. 30:31-33. This is the reason the separate oils may be sold as a collection but not combined. Further instructions were given for the incense (Ex. 30:34-38) and the importance of observing Shabbat (Ex. 31:12-17). The Moshe is given the two tablets of the testimony written by the finger of G-d (Ex. 31:18), written in STONE. What a contrast to the humanistic secular philosophy that is promoted in higher education and taught to our children today.
During this time of Moshe’s absence, Aharon was in charge below. The old cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder” does not apply to the events that were about to take place. The once unified Israel became restless and decided Moshe was taking too long to come down from the mountain. This is a perfect illustration of human lack of patience and willingness to settle for less than the best. In this scenario, over a million people started moving in on Aharon and demanding a physical replacement to worship. Note in Ex. 32:1 the people wanted gods to go ahead of them. Oh how soon we revert to idolatrous ways! Instead of Aharon seeking guidance form G-d on this matter, he quickly succumbs to the pressure and has the people donate all of their gold. He throws it into a fire, melts it down, and makes it into the shape of a golden calf (Ex. 32:4). The people proclaim this calf as their god “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”(Ex. 32:4). Furthermore, Aharon built an altar in front of it and proclaimed a feast for Adonai. The people made offerings and then held a big festival. Now I want to share an Orthodox Jewish perspective on Aharon’s actions. In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, Aharon’s actions are rationalized, minimized, and justified thusly. Traditional Jewish teachers say that Aharon acted in much the same way as a physician. He perceived the deeper need for the people to remain unified, and by collecting their gold as a group, they were made to feel a communal cohesiveness. Similarly, a healthcare provider seeks to treat the root cause of the problem and prescribes accordingly. Orthodox Jews further justify Aharon’s behavior by using the fact that G-d chose Aharon and his sons to assume the priestly role as a reward for his insight! Let’s call it what it is! Aharon was not strong enough to stand up to the people; neither did he seek G-d’s guidance. He acted on his own fear and whatever other motives he had at that time and he sinned! He was as guilty if not more so than the people. Yes, it would have been difficult to stand firm against so many chanting voices. But G-d is bigger and Aharon did not trust in G-d as he should. Did we not study the great responsibility that comes with the position of Kohen? If that’s not bad enough, when Moshe confronted him about the incident (Ex. 32:21) Aharon did what we all do at times; we blame somebody else! Ex. 32:22 reads “My lord shouldn’t be so angry. You know what these people are like, that they are determined to do evil. So they said to me, ‘Make us gods to go ahead of us; because this Moshe, the man that brought us up from the land of Egypt- we don’t know what has become of him.’ I answered them, ‘Anyone with gold, strip it off!’ so they gave it to me. I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!” It’s hard to believe that Aharon really expected Moshe to believe such a story. The point is that G-d expects us to take personal responsibility for our actions. Could this be the reason G-d took two of Aharon’s sons later on (Lev.10:1) in addition to their own sin of choosing their own time and way to worship G-d? It is something worth thinking about. Remember he did the same thing to David for the sin of adultery and murder by taking his son Absalom (2 Sam 12:13; 2 Sam 19:1). Because of this rebellion G-d tells Moshe those who sinned against Him will be blotted out of “my book” (Ex. 32:33). The people were struck with a plague, and future punishment was on the way (Ex. 32:34-35). G-d also made it clear that he would send an angel to go ahead of the people and that He would not go with them (Ex. 32:34; 33:2). Note that in the midst of G-d’s extreme anger he still keeps His covenant with Abraham and provides protection for the people as they continue their wilderness experience. This brings us to the next main subject, ascension to G-d.
Chapter 33 addresses the continual process of ascending to G-d. Although G-d is so angry with the Israelites that He withdraws Himself and sends an angel to go ahead of them, at Moshe’s consistent pleading on behalf of the people G-d relents and agrees to send His presence (33:14) to accompany them. Take note of Moshe’s unselfishness. He pleads on behalf of the people. He cannot bear to be banished from fellowship with G-d to the point he asks G-d to blot his name from the Book if he will not forgive the people (Ex. 32:32). Moshe then beseeches G-d not to make the people go on without the fellowship with G-d (Ex. 33:12-16). This chapter addresses not only the ascension process of Israel, but the personal process of ascending to G-d demonstrated by Moshe’s actions. How easy it would be for Moshe to just agree with G-d that the people are a bunch of stiffnecked (rebellious) idolaters and allow G-d to destroy them as he was planning! Yet, he offered himself as a sacrifice if G-d would not forgive the people. I submit it may be in times such as this that we may be presented with a situation in which our choice may be the deciding action that either saves us or condemns us in the end. Again, we see the same humility and repentant behavior in David as he placed his hands upon the ark, knowing G-d could kill him in a moment. Kabbalah teaches that we must never underestimate the infinite results of our actions no matter how insignificant or grand they seem to our finite minds. G-d Himself addresses this in (Ex. 34:5-7) as we approach the third of our four subjects today, total separation to G-d.
First I want to call your attention to Ex. 34:5-6, “Adonai descended in the cloud, stood with him there and pronounced the name of Adonai. Adonai passed before him and proclaimed ‘Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh!!!” According to G-d’s economy and to the chagrin of Christians, there ARE ramifications associated with our actions. Ex. 34-6-7 reads “ …Adonai is G-d, merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in grace AND TRUTH (Law); showing grace to the thousandth generation, forgiving offenses, crimes and sins; yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects of the parents’ offenses to be experienced by their children and grandchildren, and even by the third and fourth generations.” This statement by G-d is tempered with Ex. 33:19 “…I show favor to whomever I will, and I display mercy to whomever I will.” The point is that G-d can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, to whomever He wants. He is outside time and He is the High Command. If we make the effort and pause to consider the ramifications of our words and actions BEFORE we execute them, our speech and actions will demonstrate our love for G-d and His Torah more consistently and exert an influence beyond our comprehension. Living our lives with careful thought can certainly enhance our ascent in our relationship to G-d and our commitment to total separation for His service as addressed in this parashah. G-d makes it very clear that He is a jealous G-d and that we are not to assimilate in any way with those who have no interest in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or His Torah( (Ex. 34:10-16).
A stunning example of accountability is found in Numbers 14 where the people of Israel are threatening to stone Moshe and Aharon based on the false report of the 10 spies. Even as G-d prepares to strike the people with sickness and destroy them, Moshe begs for their forgiveness. G-d agrees to forgive as Moshe asked (Num. 14:20) BUT goes on to say “none of those who treated me with contempt will see it [the Land]. “But my servant Kalev, because he had a different Spirit with him and has fully followed me- him I will bring into the land he entered, and it will belong to his descendants.” Don’t fall into the trap taught by Christian clergy that there is no longer any accountability or responsibility for sin since Yahshua died on the execution stake. That is NOT the purpose for which He died. Such teaching is just not consistent with G-d’s Torah. We are and will be held accountable for our actions.
Finally, we arrive at the fourth subject, the festivals. Their observance is a large part of our remaining separate from the world. If you doubt this, just observe what happens when you tell people who ask you what you are doing for Valentine’s day, Easter, Halloween, or Christmas, and you tell them you don’t celebrate these days. My experience has been that they think we are conceited and perceive ourselves as superior to them in some respect (if they only knew); or they think we are part of the “Christ- killer Jews (they have no idea what that was about). But G-d does not mince His words (Ex. 34:27) “Write these words down, because they are the terms of the covenant I have made with you and with Israel”. “Israel” applies to all who consider themselves true believers, NOT just the twelve tribes. In Ex. 34:18-26 G-d commands observance of Pesach, Shabbat (again), redemption of the first born, Shavuot and Sukkot (verse 22). He demands the best (first fruits) of our bounty to be brought into His house and He demands compassion (verse 26). It is enough for us to tell people the reason we celebrate the aforementioned festivals of G-d is because G-d mandates their observance. If we are given opportunity to expand our answers, we need to be armed with the truth of Torah and share it with compassion and constraint. People don’t need a dissertation! Remember, we cannot know what effects our words and actions will have on those with whom we come in contact in this world, even if only for a brief moment. But we need not despair whether those who give us grief are acquaintances, friends, or even family. Take heart. Yahshua clearly says in Matthew 10:34 “Don’t suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Land. It is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword! For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, so that a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Whoever loves his mother or father more than he loves me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than he loves me is not worthy of me. And anyone who does not take up his execution –stake and follow me is not worthy of me.” We may temper the temporary isolation we may feel by sharing our time with other believers in social activities, study, or just a simple walk in a park or on a beach. We are sojourners in a foreign land. This place is not our home and we will never “fit in” to secular society if we are following Yahshua.
Haftarah: 1 Kings 18:20-39
Eliyahu’s actions at Mount Karmel reflect those of Moshe in our parashah. Just as Moshe laid down the line and made the people choose between standing up for Adonai or worshipping the golden calf, so Eliyahu stood alone and challenged the people to decide between Adonai and Ba’al. Just as G-d required those who said they were for Him (Levites) to kill their friends, family and neighbors who chose to deny G-d as sign of their allegiance and consecration to His service, so the prophets of Ba’al were killed. People will have to make this choice in the future, either taking or rejecting the mark of the beast described in Revelation. “Everyone living on earth will worship it [the beast] except those whose names are written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb” (Rev. 13:8)… This is when G-d’s holy people must persevere and trust! (Rev. 13:10). The price of following G-d may require martyrdom. But physical death is temporary. We need to rise above the belief that this life is reality and focus on our purpose to glorify G-d and make His Name known. We have a race to run, a prize for which we must strive to win (1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:14), and a Father who wants us to spend eternity with Him and not the adversary. The race is hard, the gate is narrow (Matt. 7:14), but the choice is ours; Torah or torment.
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:35-8:1
The context of this scripture places Stephen, who was full of grace and power, in the midst of members of the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves (Acts 6:9) comprised of Greek-speaking Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and the province of Asia. The Greek syntax suggests that the two aforementioned groups accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moshe and G-d, the holy place and the Torah (6:11-13). This was a pure smear campaign. Our discussion picks up where Stephen strongly admonishes his accusers and defends Yahshua and his faith with such eloquence as he recounts the history of Israel and the constant rebellion throughout their sojourn through time. He rightly accuses them of idolatry and rebellion, of having the Torah but not following it; of rejecting Yahshua, His message and His talmidim, just as the Israelites in our parashah rebelled against and even rejected Moshe. Finally these rebellious, self-righteous accusers stone Stephen. True to his faith he calls on the Name of Yahshua to receive his spirit and forgive his accusers. This final act resounds that of Yahshua himself as He hung on the execution stake. This is the longest recorded speech in the book of Acts and testifies to the power of the Ruach HaKodesh in the lives of those who love YHVH/Yahshua and the Torah. Strength and power are given to those who carry the Testimony of Yahshua and guard the Commands of HaShem (Acts 1:8). G-d will never leave those who love Him (Heb.13:5).
Rabbi Tamah Davis