This week we study the section called “Parashah Ki-Tisah” (Ex. 30:11-34:35). If we look at two preceding and two following sections we quickly note that those preceding and following sections provide us with great amounts of detail. Only this week’s, the middle one, Ki-Tisah, reverts back to a theoretical or generalizable framework. This week’s section touches upon many specific and general issues. Within this text, we find: the national census, the use of incense, and the formalities of power. The section joins the tale of the (egel hamasechah (often translated as Golden Calf), with the listing of the Divine attributes. Throughout this diverse parashah, one word dominates the text. That word is “ot” (alef-vav-taf). For example, in Ex.31:13 we read: “…ach et shabbotai tishmaru ki ot Yisral beynee uveynechem l’dorotechem…./…nevertheless, you (plural) are to keep/guard my Sabbaths as a sign between all of you, Israel, and Me for all generations…”. In a similar manner, we see the issue of signs in the text that speaks of the history of the Golden Calf.
The Bible uses the word “ot” very sparingly. Although this word is often translated as a “sign” or “marker”, this word, in contrast to a host of other Hebrew words for a sign, has a very specific usage. For example, Scripture uses the word “ot” to describe the blood placed on the Israelites’ doors during the final plague, to describe the tefillin (phylacteries) with which one prays during the week, and to describe the lights of creation on the fourth day. What special usage does this world have and what might this word be teaching us?
A careful reading of this week’s parashah points to the ongoing psychological battle between the abstract and the physical, the theoretical and the applied. The text, in the subtlest of ways, teaches us that a good upbringing and good work habits require both principle and example, both the tangible and the intangible.
For this reason, humanity is challenged by the sin of the physical god (Golden Calf) contrasted with the benevolent and abstract G-d. In a like manner, despite the fact that we speak of the attributes of G-d, it is the Sabbath, the sanctuary of time, that becomes the physical transformation of the theoretical into the actions that mark our earthly lives.
It is as if the text is teaching us that words are cheap, but in the end, it is our actions that count, it is easy to accuse, to slander and much harder to correct and to apologize.
The word “ot” is a warning then, reminding us how easy it is to use words to seek to hurt another being or to destroy a reputation. Are words the tools by which we justify our selfishness? How often do we seek someone else’s “ot” when what we need is our own actions? How often do we fail to see these critical markers in our lives?
This is a must read by Alan Dershowitz: Why Such A Surge Of Worldwide Anti-Semitism
Youtubes of the week:
A journey through Jewish Music from around the world.
This week the music of Polish Jews.
A Polish Tango sung in Polish and Hebrew:
The Warsaw Jewish Music Festival:
The rebirth of Jewish life in Krakow Poland: