Truth or Consequences!

Parashah Ki Tissa begins with the LORD telling Moses: ‘When you take a census of the children of Israel… every man shall give ‘kaper nafsho l’YHVH’– a ransom (literally a cover) for his soul to the LORDso that there will be no plague among them…”  I wondered about this plague. Rashi referred me to 2 Samuel 24 which begins with, “And again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel” … so He moved the heart of David to take a census. Rashi said that David hadn’t asked for that required ½ shekel, (it was not a free-will offering). Perhaps his motives were to see his success as a king. David’s uncle Yoav, his military commander questioned it, but he complied. It took him over 9 months to bring the count to David. Then David realized that he had sinned and begged the LORD to remove his sin. Despite God’s forgiveness, David had to witness the consequence of his action – the plague that fell upon his people taking the lives of 70,000 men. There are consequences for our disobedience to God’s commands, even if they may not always make sense to us.  When we tell a child not to stick anything into an electrical outlet, he may not understand but it is for his good.

In Exodus 30: 20 and 21, before Aaron and his sons entered the Tent of Meeting, they had to wash their hands and feet so that they would not die. Like the ½ shekel, this is a חָק-עוֹלָם khoke[1] olam, a statute forever throughout the generations. This too doesn’t make sense, but let’s look at the consequences for future generations. We know how the Jews in the Middle Ages were accused of causing the Black Death since so few of our people died while the death rate kept climbing among the common people. The living conditions in medieval towns and overcrowding in housing encouraged the spread of disease. Poor sanitation in cities created breeding grounds for rats that carried it. From the Torah, Jews had learned the importance of washing their hands as well as other methods of sanitation, but would the people have listened to them?  Again consequences!

Both the ½ shekel given as a requirement at any census taking and the washing of hands saved us from the plagues. What plagues are hitting us today? Are they the same plagues that hit Egypt? Didn’t God tell us in Exodus 15:26, that if we obey His Commandments (מִצְוֺתָיו His Mitzvot) and keep all His Statutes (חֻקָּיו khukkim[2]) none of those diseases that He put upon the Egyptians would touch us. God has not changed His mind today. We demonstrate our trust in Him when we are obedient to His commandments, not out of fear because He’s a harsh taskmaster, like Pharaoh, but out of love because He’s a loving father who wants to protect His children from the evils of this world.

The Torah is a Book of LIFE not a book of death.

​The parashah continues in Exodus 30:15 with “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than a 1/2 shekel, when they give an offering to the Lord, (again) to make l’kaper a covering לְכַפֵּ֖רfor your souls נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶֽם nafshechem… for your souls.” This phrase sounds so mystical to me; it can be a picture of the physical body covering the soul both of which God created and at a deeper level, l’kaper means that He will cover our sin when we acknowledge our disobedience and come to Him, as even the cohanim had to do …in other words “He’s got us covered”. All He asks is that we obey His Commandments willingly. God knows our hearts, our intentions (kavanah).  Moses, later in this portion, would beg God to turn His burning anger away from destroying our people and He listened. Does He not listen to us today?

The rich and poor had to give the same amount, showing us that we are all equal in value.  God levelled the playing field so that no one could boast of their financial position or feel less because they were poor. Who gave us the shekels? … the Egyptians who wanted us gone.  We are never asked to give from what we don’t already have.

Our rabbi asked us: “Why only a ½ shekel and not a full one?  He said that it depicts that we are only ½ the person we are meant to be until God supplies the other half. This shekel can be understood as our role in life. For e.g., in chapter 31, God speaks of Betzalel: “I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship…” together with Oholiav and “in the hearts of all who are wise-hearted, I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you.” God chooses people in whom He infuses gifts and talents. The idea of giving is incorporated in this word gift. If we hide that gift within us, that talent, or use it just for ourselves, we will never have a sense of fulfillment. It is meant to be used for the betterment of the community in which we live. What are the consequences of that?  I believe more than we realize.

The Shabbat is the very next thing God speaks about. We can never understand the fullness of this, the Fourth Commandment which is why it is a khoke. It is not simply a day of rest because He introduces it as a sign “that you may know that I am the LORD who sets you apart”. Whoever doesn’t keep it is cut off from the community and dies.  If your hand is cut off from its source of life – the body, it will die, not the rest of the body. Being cut off from the community at that time in the desert meant sure death. Being cut off from God is far worse. Again, consequences!

Next comes Israel’s gravest sin that haunts us to this day… the Egel Zahav, the sin of the Golden Calf. How could they have done this after they had witnessed so many of God’s miracles? There are many conjectures.  One is that fear and abandonment overtook them because of their past.  Isn’t that true of us today?  We can be so excited about something that we know that God has done in our lives and the very next minute, we are weeping and wailing and not trusting the same God we just praised moments ago.  But look at what happened next. As soon as Moses saw what was happening to the people, he said to the Levites: “Every man shall put his sword on his thigh and go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay his brother, his companion, and his neighbour. And the sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand men fell there that day. ” (Ex: 32: 27, 28)  Again, consequences!

I said before that the Torah is a Book of LIFE and here in in Exodus 32: 32 another book is introduced.  God was about to destroy all the Israelites and make a new people like He did at the time of Noah, but Moses pleaded for his people “Now, if You will forgive their sin–; and if not, I beg You, blot me out of Your book which You have written.


I wondered about this book that Moses referred to. In Judaism, it’s called Hasefer HaChaim, the Book of Life.  David spoke of it in Psalm 68 when he was at a very dark place in his life. He wrote, “Let them (meaning his enemies) be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” It’s also in Daniel 12:1, “At that time, Michael the great prince, who stands beside the children of your people, will appear; and there shall be a time of trouble, the likes of which has never been since the nation came into being; at that time, your people shall be delivered, everyone who shall be found inscribed in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproach and everlasting abhorrence. And they who have knowledge (of God) shall shine as the bright expanse of the sky, and they who lead the many to righteousness shall be as the stars forever and ever.”


The key to righteousness is found in the wisest and most important words that mankind would ever hear, the Ten Commandments. Twice in this portion, we read that they were written in stone by the finger of God. Let’s not believe those who put Moses on a god-like pedestal saying that he was a wise man who wrote them himself. That opens the door for other men to be considered wiser than God.

In Exodus 32:33, we read a very important principle: “And the LORD said to Moses: ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book.” Let’s not be fooled into believing that anyone else can pay for our sins. The Torah repeats that we are responsible. We are living at a time when everyone is a victim, blaming parents, teachers, the government, or whatever, for their lot in life and instead of learning how to use their gift of free will and assume responsibility and the consequences for their actions, it is far easier to blame others. That’s usually when people look for a scapegoat and who is usually the most popular choice for that? – The Jews. We become the cause of all the problems in the world because people have to blame someone. Hitler understood that and today this ideology is spreading from the Middle East to the rest of the world.  Hating the Jews is a spiritual problem for which the consequences are immense.

The Torah tells us that the kings of Israel were responsible for having the Torah read to the people so they would know how to live. The kings of the world today, including Israel and most of the leaders are not interested in what God has to say; rather they have set themselves up to be demigods. You and I may not be responsible for leading multitudes, like Moses or King David, but we can be responsible for those in our circle of influence by keeping the principles that we learn from these stories. Perhaps this could be enough to turn away the anger of the LORD burning against the people of the world.


In the last chapter of this parashah, in Exodus 34:10, God said, ‘Behold, I make a covenant; I will do marvels in front of all Your people, such as have not been produced in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among you shall see the work of the LORD that I am about to do with you, that it is tremendous.” 


Moses saw the LORD do tremendous things for Israel in his day. In the same way that God parted the Sea of Reeds when Israel was being chased by Pharaoh’s army, could God not make a way for us in the toughest of situations? I see that in my life and am amazed!  Another army is chasing Israel right now, but we know that it will end like Pharaoh’s army, destroyed, like all the armies throughout the ages who have chased us.  It seems to be a double edge sword; our behavior causes the burning anger of God for which there are consequences and at the same time our loving Father in heaven will cover our souls, kaper nafshecheinu, protect us when we walk in His ways and are obedient to His commandments. So, let’s not live in fear but focus on how to live each day and how to bring a spirit of light to this beautiful world that is once again being bombarded by a dark spirit.

Shabbat Shalom

Peggy Pardo

[1] commandment with no known rationale, and perceived as a pure manifestation of the Divine Will

[2] Plural of Khoke