Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parasha #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
There are four main themes in the week’s parashah we will address today;1) Personal accountability; 2) Ascension to G-d; 3) Total separation for G-d’s service; 4) G-d’s commanded festivals.
The first theme 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 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. There are those who believe no matter what we call Him, G-d is the same for everyone. If this were the case, everyone would believe the same rules apply to all and those who profess to love the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not be trying to annihilate those who follow Him. No, the god of other religions is not the same as the G-d of Israel.
During this time of Moshe’s absence, Aharon was in charge down 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 the animalistic human nature of self-gratification. It is a curiosity to wonder who started the fire of impatience. Although the Torah does not tell us, I predict it was someone who wanted a leadership position and was jealous of Moshe. The people, and I am talking about a little over a million, 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. How quickly we run back to Egypt. Instead of Aharon seeking guidance from G-d on this matter, he quickly succumbs to the pressure and has the people donate all of their gold. Our Orthodox brethren maintain that the women were not part of this, but I submit to you they were just as guilty. Aharon threw it into a fire, it melted down, then made it into the shape of a golden calf (Ex. 32:4). The people proclaimed this calf as their god “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 32:4). Adding fuel to the fire, Aharon built an altar in front of it and proclaimed a feast for Adonai. The people made offerings and then celebrated. In traditional Judaism, 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 holistic healthcare provider seeks to treat the root cause of the problem and prescribes accordingly. Traditional 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! We must be realistic and call sin as sin. Aharon was not strong enough to stand up to the people because he did not seek strength and wisdom from above in handling the situation. 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. Did we not learn in our last parashah the great responsibility that comes with the position of Kohen? 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. I submit this is one of the reasons 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. G-d‘s plan and instructions for our lives are perfect. We are commanded to neither add to nor subtract from His Torah. Because of this rebellion G-d tells Moshe that 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. We see a glimpse of Moshe’s unselfishness and concern for G-d’s people. He pleads on their behalf. 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 through the life of Moshe. How easy it would be for Moshe to just agree with G-d that the people are a bunch of stiff necked (rebellious) idolaters and allow G-d to destroy them as he was planning to do? Yet, he offered himself as a sacrifice if G-d would not forgive the people. 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 for his sin of murder and adultery. Yet, G-d chose to punish David by taking the life of his first son who is not named (2 Sam.11:26) with Bathsheba and by denying him the privilege of building the Temple. Kabbalah teaches that we must never underestimate the infinite results of our actions. G-d Himself addresses this in Exodus 34:5-7 as we approach the third of our four subjects today, total separation to G-d.
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!!!” This scripture clearly describes the correct Hebrew letters (tetragrammaton) of His Name, yet we do not know the correct pronunciation. We do know that there is no “w” or “j” in Hebrew so the often inserted “w” as in Yahweh or the pronounced Jehovah are not accurate.
Moving on, we get to the subject of the ramifications of our actions according to G-d’s economy. 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 and make it a habit, I believe as do the kabbalists, that 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 it is 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). G-d must come first, before wives, children, jobs, anything, or anyone who tries to distract us in other directions.
Finally, we arrive at the subject of the festivals. Their observance is a large part of our separateness from the world. If you doubt this, just observe what happens when you tell people who ask you what you are doing for Easter, Halloween, or Christmas, and you tell them you don’t celebrate these days. This is just another example that people who profess to love G-d, do not all love the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My experience indicates that they either think you are conceited and think you are better than they are in some respect, or they think you are one of the Christ- killer Jews and do not believe that the laws of G-d were nailed to the cross. 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”. 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 firstfruits of our bounty to be brought into His house. He demands compassion (verse 26). It is enough for us to tell people that the reason we do not celebrate the aforementioned holidays is because G-d forbids it. If you are afforded the opportunity to expand your answer, you need to be armed with the truth of Torah and share it with compassion and constraint. Remember, you may never know what far reaching effects your words and actions may have on those with whom you have contact; and you may never see these individuals again.
Haftarah: 1 Kings 18:20-39
Eliyahu’s actions at Mount Karmel reflect those taken by 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. We must make these choices daily in one situation or another. People will have to make this choice in the future, either taking or rejecting the mark of the beast described in Revelation. The price of following G-d may be 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, and a Father who wants us to spend eternity with Him and not the adversary. The race is hard, the gate is narrow, 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), and G-d will never leave those who love Him (Heb.13:5).
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart