Commentary on Parashat Ki Tisa


The Torah Portion (Parashah) this week is Ki Tisa from Exodus 30:11 – 34:35, it tells the story of the rebellion of the children of Israel at the very foot of Mount Sinai. Moses was up on the top of Mount Sinai talking to God and receiving the Torah. The children of Israel were down at the foot of the mountain – prepared to receive the Torah – cleansed, and impatient and they ask Aaron to give them a god that will walk before them and lead them to the promised land and out of the desert. Aaron buckles under the public opinion of the majority and makes some impossible demands. He asks the men to ask the women to take off their jewelry from their ears and neck and give their jewelry to make the golden calf. The golden calf is the mascot of the Egyptian goddess “Hathor”. Hathor was the most famous goddesses of Ancient Egypt. She was called “the Great One of Many Names” because she was the goddess of life and death, and prosperity. She was depicted as a female figure with a head or a cow, and sometimes only the ears of a cow. Her symbol in the temples was a golden cow, calf.

How did Aaron the brother of Moses (not yet the high priest) respond to the demand of the people and why? Aaron also did not know what happened to Moses his younger brother and why Moses did not come down the mountain for so long. He did not know if Moses had enough food, or water, up there in the barren desert heat. I am sure that Aaron was insecure and the people were demanding and he at that moment probably figured that if Moses is gone he, himself, will take the leadership of this mob of impatient ex-slaves. He must provide for them a god that will lead them through the wilderness. Aaron like any good politician knows that rule number one for a political leader is to please the people and give them what they want. After that the politician can do with the people what he wants. So, Aaron falls on what the people are familiar with. They are familiar with the gods of Egypt that they have been worshipping for a couple of hundred years in Egypt. (Josh. 24:14, “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!) From these words of Joshua in the very last part of his life and leadership of Israel during the conquest of the Land of Canaan we still hear that the Israelites even after entering the land of promise continued to worship the gods of the Egyptians that they were familiar with before the exodus. Bad habits die hard! It is interesting that this Shabbat is called “Shabbat Para” – “Shabbat of the Cow.” The reason for this is because the extra reading of this Shabbat is from Numbers 19:1-22. This is the story of what is commonly called “The Red Heifer.” The Red Heifer is one of these very mysterious ceremonies in the Torah. There must be a cow (heifer) that is red in color – all red. This cow is taken outside the camp to a special place prepared for it. The cow is offered as a sacrifice fully burned. The ashes of this red cow are used for purification of things like leprosy, impurity from touching the dead, and for the ordeal of a husband that suspects his wife of infidelity. All the ceremonies are very different (weird) but very necessary for a community like Israel in the days of the Tabernacle and after that during the time of the temple in Jerusalem. It is very interesting that the writer of the book of Hebrews likens the Red Heifer to Yeshua and Yeshua to the Red Heifer. See: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore, by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. 13:10-16) This text is talking about the Red Heifer because this is the only sacrifice that is offered outside the camp and not in the Tabernacle or the Temple in Jerusalem. (Dr. Wendel Jones who is the real character behind the “Indiana Jones” stories and was a Baptist Missionary in Jerusalem in the early 1970’s – actually found the place of the Red Heifer near Qumran on the shore of the Dead Sea. He was an amateur archaeologist and the real archaeologists really did not like him because he was a bit wild like in the stories of Indiana Jones.) As you can see the writer of the book of Hebrews who probably was an ex-member of the Qumran community connects the Red Heifer and Yeshua and invites the disciples of Yeshua to be willing to come outside the camp because only outside the camp there is purification and salvation. I suppose that this message is very important for the church today and the synagogue in the same way. The establishment and especially the religious establishments today are all trying their best to be P.C. and please the people to build bigger and richer churches and line their pockets with the ashes of the gold of the golden calf. The Hebrews writer is inviting you and me, “Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

This article originally appeared as a part of The Jerusalem Prayer List by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, March 16, 2017, and reposted with permission.