Our Intimate Relationships
Parshat Ki Tissa 5781
Parshat Ki Tissa has many and varied themes:
· Census and the Half Shekel
· The Incense
· Final instructions on the Mishkan
· Giving the first tablets
· The Golden Calf
· The second tablets
· God passing before Moses
· The Holidays
· Moses’ radiance
Most of the sections of the parasha are very prosaic. They relate detailed laws and the story of our people’s most shameful act but the small middle sections on Shabbat and the giving of the first tablets is very poetic. The three final psukim of Shemot Chapter 31 form the center of the mystical relationship of G-d and the Jewish People. I want to concentrate of these few words for this davar Torah.
וְשָׁמְר֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֑ת לַעֲשׂ֧וֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֛ת לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃
בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ׃
The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time:
it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.
The first two verses are part of the Kiddush Rabba on Saturday morning and the Shabbat liturgy. Shabbat here is described as a sign forever א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם and an eternal covenant בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם.
Indeed metaphorically Shabbat is called a Kalah, a bride whom we welcome each week with Lecha Dodi.
This marital covenant between the Jewish People and the Shabbat is thus reinstated each week.
The last two words of the second pasuk both mean rest, as G-d rested and was refreshed on the seventh day. We learn from these two words that Jews receive an extra soul on Shabbat, a neshama yeteyra. Indeed, the word וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ means refreshed, but more literally “resouled”. The root נָּפַֽשׁ refers to a person’s life essence, conveying an invigoration of one’s whole being.
וַיִּתֵּ֣ן אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה כְּכַלֹּתוֹ֙ לְדַבֵּ֤ר אִתּוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר סִינַ֔י שְׁנֵ֖י לֻחֹ֣ת הָעֵדֻ֑ת לֻחֹ֣ת אֶ֔בֶן כְּתֻבִ֖ים בְּאֶצְבַּ֥ע אֱלֹהִֽים׃
When He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God.
The last pasuk also contains a hint at a marital covenant with the Torah. The word כְּכַלֹּתוֹ֙ literally “when G-d finished” could be vocalized as kalato, or His bride. This has been taken to mean that G-d took the Jewish People as G-d’s bride with the words of Torah, just spoken, as the ketubah.
The pasuk concludes with the giving of the two tablets written with G-d’s finger to Moses as the physical manifestation of the verbal covenant that G-d just finished speaking.
This physical manifestation of the covenant was soon broken in Moses’s angry reaction to the Golden Calf, but the Torah that G-d spoke remained. This oral Torah is understood in different ways by our tradition. Literally, oral Torah is Torah she b’al peh. This term is used for all Jewish Law passed on orally or written down after the Tanach, Torah she b’ketiv or written Torah. Though Rabbinic Judaism is very text based and much of the Talmud is devoted to finding the basis of Jewish law in the written Torah, many specific laws are cited in the Talmud as “Halacha le Moshe mi Sinai”. This pasuk in our parasha gives license to that citation.
In a larger sense, Torah means all of Jewish wisdom, metaphorically traced back to G-d’s revelation here. A midrash on לֻחֹ֣ת אֶ֔בֶן(tablets of stone) reads the letter bet as repeated, meaning Av-Ben, or passed from parent to child. This is another way of understanding of the way of the oral Torah.
The juxtaposition of the two relationships of the Jewish People to G-d through Shabbat and Torah are tied together in the sense of G-d finishing the revelation of Torah with the finishing of Creation and the rest and celebration of Shabbat.
Let us take the opportunity Shabbat gives us to reflect on the beauty and depth of our relationships with the Eternal.