22 Adar 5781

You Matter to God

This portion Ki Tissa covers a variety of topics such as: The half-shekel for the sanctuary, the bronze wash basin, the anointing oil and the incense, Bezalel and Oholiab, the Shabbat, the two tablets of the covenant, the golden calf, the mandate to leave Sinai, the (Ohel Moed), the tent outside the camp, the intercession of Moshe, the rewriting of the new tablets by Moshe, the renewal of the covenant, thirteen attributes of His Divine mercy according to our sages, and Moshe’s shining face. I’d like to focus on the practical application of this portion which brings a lot of knowledge, but as Rabbi Shaul said, the letter alone doesn’t bring life (2 Corinthians 3: 6). I won’t delve into all the intricate and beautiful details, but as our Rabbi Percy used to say, we must step back to be able to see and appreciate the beauty of a mosaic.

In this portion, I see the goodness of God, His mercy, His love, and that each one of us matters to Him. How? Let’s see: At the beginning of the portion, the Creator asked that a census be taken of the men 20 years of age and older. How was the count done? By the counting of half shekels. Why? Because the count was not based upon who gave more or who gave less, but that both the rich and the poor gave equal amounts. In addition, the heads of the tribes were not counted, because each human soul is valuable to the Eternal, no matter the social, economic or any other background that we might wish to label. The purpose was to achieve unity in Israel, without elevating one person above another so that no one could say “I did it with my contribution”, but for all Israel to say, “we contributed to the building of the Mishkan”.

God asked us to build a wash basin made of copper so that the cohanim could purify themselves before entering His service. The service was focused upon two areas: one was the offering; we can compare it to the community service towards others, and the other was inside the sanctuary, directed towards God. Rabbi Kook indicates that the cohen would purify his hands (pointing to practical service through action and work) and his feet (that is intellectual service to God). How? Because God is Holy, and they could not “stand” before Him impure, otherwise there would be consequences, like the ones we read later concerning Nadav and Abihu.

The anointing oil was so that through the sense of smell we could perceive the properties of God; this is very comprehensive when the blind come to mind. Its formula was based upon very strong, healthy, and easily identifiable fragrances. The objects that would be used in the service in which people were anointed, was like “marking their territory”. From this, we see how important it is for God to make certain that we do not contaminate His property and that we guard the exclusivity of the people involved in Divine service.

Then we read about the giving of the two tablets written by the finger of God. It is said that very important things should always be done by yourself, never delegated. This happened with the tablets (Luchot) upon which God wrote His Ten Principles. These contain the most vital message for humanity, and they are our heritage for us to live well. Only a good father would leave a written message for his children in the future.

The Eternal reminds us that Shabbat is for our good; He wants us to be balanced, represented by the Ketoret (the incense offering), uniting the physical world with the spiritual. An unbalanced person falls ill, anxious, or depressed and Shabbat helps us to reconnect with God.

Then the grave mistake of the golden calf happened. Of course, not everyone was involved actively; there was also passive participation. They allowed the people worshiping the god Apis to be corrupted without trying to stop them thus betraying the Eternal by breaking the First Commandment which they had just heard. However, we see that Moses stopped the debauchery by breaking these tablets made by the Hand of God. And then he called for an action by which 3,000 would die at the hand of the Levites but that required great courage and mercy at the same time in order to stop the destruction of the Israelites. In all this, we see God’s divine mercy. How? Our sages speak of the 13 attributes of mercy that appear in chapter 34 verses 6-7; how do we know that God forgives His people? When He asked Moshe to rewrite the tablets (33: 4). God did not destroy Moshe for breaking the tablets, nor Aaron for allowing the corruption of the people, nor did He destroy Israel for the golden calf, although they deserved it. 

The thirteen attributes are briefly explained by Rashi: 1and 2) Adonai Adonai (יְהוָה יְהוָה): The repetition of the Eternal’s name means that He is merciful to anyone in regard to their sins, and to the repentant sinner. 3) El (אֵל): Mighty God who works through his wise dictates. 4) Rachum (רַחוּם): Merciful as a father towards his children, preventing them from falling. 5) Chanún (וְחַנּוּן): Benevolent, helping the fallen who cannot restore themselves. 6) Erech – Apayim (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם): Patient enough to wait for the sinner to repent. 7) (וְרַב-חֶסֶד):Rav – chesed – Full of mercy toward the righteous and unrighteous 8) Ve-Emet (וֶאֱמֶת): True and upright in His promises. 9) Notzer chesed laalafim (נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים); Kind and Merciful: Consider the merits of parents in children, to the thousandth generations. 10) Nosé Avon (נֹשֵׂא עָוֺן): Forgive premeditated sins. 11) Vafesha (וָפֶשַׁע): Forgive offenses and sins committed in a spirit of rebellion. 12) Vechata’ah (וְחַטָּאָה): Forget sins committed involuntarily. 13) Venakei (וְנַקֵּה): Absolve the penitent.

God does not destroy His relationship with the people but allows the Ohel Moed (אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד) to be built outside the camp so that He could continue to communicate with His people. Why outside? Because Israel was unclean and the Mishkan (מִשְׁכַּן) had not yet been completed. In this way, Moshe leaves the camp and his relationship with God as his prophet is maintained.

At Moshe’s request (33:18) to see God’s face, God answers that we cannot see His face and continue living (33:20) and has Moshe show us how to know God through His acts of goodness and mercy.

When Moshe finally grasped God’s attributes, he asked that “the Divine Presence of the Eternal dwell among us” (V 34: 9). God responds with the renewal of the covenant (34:10) and His promise to deliver the land of Israel to his people. We see that Moshe had God’s Presence within him as his face was radiant with Divine Light. Like Moses, our face radiates as we walk with our Creator and that can be seen by others. 

We see that God’s desire for His people has not changed. In Parashat Terumah (Shemot 25: 8) the Eternal revealed His desire to dwell among us. Do you think that if God didn’t care about us, He would tell us that He wants to live among us? Wouldn’t we have been destroyed? Would He have sealed us with His anointing oil? Would He have given us the instructions on how to have a full life or how to present ourselves before Him? 

Today life is so stressful; humanism and post-modern life sows so many doubts in us in regard to our values; the world says that “every human being has a price”, we are valued for what we possess, not for our innate qualities; we are being offered “gods” in disguise to take our eyes off the tablets that the Creator gave us, attacking our senses with debauchery and deceiving us with lies. However, God always extends His goodness and mercy to us, and even though there are consequences for our actions, He does not allow our destruction. This the message today for your week: REJOICE, GOD DOES CARE! The question is … do you care about God? 

Shabbat Shalom           by Mauricio Quintero read by Peggy Pardo