Parashat Ki Tisa (when you take)

Ki Tisa – “when you take” (Exodus 30:11 to 34:35) is the Parsha we read this week.

Each Israelite was counted by means of the half shekel tax that was levied in order to build the Tabernacle. As each man over the age of twenty paid his tax, he moved over to another group of people whose tax had already been taken. When everyone had paid, the number of people could be counted, based on the number of half shekels that were received. Everyone was to pay the same irrespective of their financial ability. The tax was to be a ransom for everyone’s life and God protected all who had paid the tax from any plague.

The furnishings of the Tabernacle are all already described but outside of the tent of meeting a washstand was to be placed between the tent and the altar so the priests could wash their hands and feet before entering the tent or making a sacrifice. It was to be made of bronze and its pedestal was also to be bronze.

The anointing oil was to be made from a mixture of myrrh, cinnamon, calamus (a type of sugar) and cassia (a spice similar to cinnamon). Five hundred shekels, equivalent to about twenty-five kilos or fifty pounds (or half that amount depending on the ingredient) together with about six litres (or one and a half gallons) of olive oil, were to be skilfully mixed by a perfumer.

This oil was to be used to anoint the tent of meeting and all the furnishings inside it, as well as anointing the priests. It was not to be used for any other purpose.

A quantity of different spices were also mixed to make the incense. As with the anointing oil, the incense was not to be used for any other purpose.

Two men – Bezalel from the tribe of Judah and Oholiab from the tribe of Dan – were specially gifted by the Holy Spirit with the skills to make the Tabernacle and all its furniture and utensils, including the anointing oil and incense exactly as prescribed.

The children of Israel were to keep the Sabbath. Here we derive the prayer that is a read in Synagogue each Friday as part of Kabbalat Shabbat – the Inauguration of the Sabbath

וְשָׁמְר֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֑ת לַעֲשׂ֧וֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֛ת לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃ בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־ שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ

Ve shamru bene Yisrael et ha Shabbat la asot et ha Shabbat le dorotom brit olam beni uvain benai Yisrael ot he le olam . kee sheshet yamim asa Adonai et ha shamayim ve et ha aretz uveyom hashv’i Shabbat ve yinofash

16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ ” (ESV)

Exodus 31, 16,17

All these instructions were given to Moses while he was still on the mountain. He also received the two tablets of stone while he was up there. He was with God for forty days and nights, and our ancestors wondered if he was ever coming back down.

In the absence of Moses, they had no way to worship God so Aaron instructed the people to donate all their gold earrings and put them all into a molten vat. He took the molten gold and fashioned it into a calf-shaped idol. Then he declared ‘These are your god,s O Israel” Exodus 32:4

The people proclaimed a feast to celebrate the arrival of their new deities and then got up to engage in revelry which (although not spelled out by the text) one would suspect included indulging in immorality.

Meanwhile up on the mountain God tells Moses that something is amiss. He tells him that he is going to destroy the people and raise up a new nation from Moses. However, Moses reminds God about His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and persuades God to change his mind.

On his way down from the mountain Moses, who was with Joshua, heard the tumult and when they got back to the camp their worst fears were realized.  When he saw the dancing, he was so angry that he broke the two tablets of stone in his hand. He then ground the golden calf to powder, mixed it with water and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses asks Aaron what happened, and Aaron innocently answered  “Oh, I just put all the people’s gold jewellery into this furnace and out popped a golden calf” Exodus 32:34

Moses asks the question “who is on the Lord’s side?” and all the Levites come over. Moses instructs them to strap on their swords. All the others stood at the entrance to their tents and the Levites killed their companions and neighbours who had taken part in the golden calf festivities. Three thousand men died that day.

Moses again intercedes for the people and asks God to forgive them. He asks God to blot him out of his book if he doesn’t do so. God replies that he would not blot Moses out of his book, but he would blot out those who had rebelled.

God promises that he will send his Angel ahead into the Promised Land but that they would not go unpunished for their sin. This took place by means of a plague.

Moses took his tent outside the camp and designated it the “tent of meeting”. The Tabernacle had not yet been erected even though its blueprint had been revealed on Sinai. Moses chose to move his tent away from the camp so as not to be influenced by their rebellion. Nevertheless, in his tent where he met God anyone was free to come and seek the LORD with Moses. God showed his presence over the tent by the pillar of cloud.

Moses questioned the presence of God in leading the people forward. To show His presence God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and His glory passes by. Moses sees God’s back but not His face for no one could see God’s face and live.

Moses is instructed to carve out two new tablets to take back up the mountain. Notice he must cut the tablets himself when the first time God cut them for him. Exodus 24:12 Anger has its downside

When he meets God on the mountain God declares his thirteen attributes of mercy from Exodus 34 6,7

1 יְהוָהAdonaiLord (Covenant Keeping)
2 יְהוָהAdonaiLord (Unchanging)
3 אֵלElGod (King)
4 רַחוּםRachumCompassionate
5 וְחַנּוּןVe ChanunAnd Gracious
6 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִםErech apayimSlow to anger
7 וְרַב-חֶסֶדRav ChesedAbounding in lovingkindness
8  וֶאֱמֶתve EmetAnd Truth
9 נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִיםNaseh Chesed le aluphimGiving lovingkindness to thousands
10 נֹשֵׂא עָוןNaveh AvonForgives Iniquity
11 וָפֶשַׁעvePeshaAnd transgression
12 וְחַטָּאָהVe ChatahAnd  sin
13 וְנַקֵּהVe NakehAnd Cleanses

God renews the Covenant with Israel to enter the promised land and to utterly destroy any vestiges of pagan worship that is practiced by the present occupants of the land.

Commands previously mentioned are repeated.

Don’t worship idols

Don’t intermarry with people who do  Exodus 34:19.17

Keep PesacExodus 34:18

Redeem the firstborn Exodus 34:19,20

Keep Shabbat Exodus 34:21

Keep Shavuot (weeks) and Sukkot (Tabernacles)  Exodus 34:22

Give God your first fruits and don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk. Exodus 34:26

When Moses had been with God his face shone so brightly that he had to put a veil over it when he came back down to talk to the people. He took the veil off when he went back to talk to God.

Haftarat Ki Tisa                      הפטרת כי תשא

The Haftarah reading associated with Ki Tissa is 1 Kings 18:1-39. It describes the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

There had been a drought and Ahab the king held Elijah responsible. Elijah arranges a meeting with Ahab through Obadiah one of the Lord’s prophets.

Elijah challenges Ahab to invite the prophets of Baal, four hundred and fifty all together with the prophets of Asherah another four hundred to see who could bring down fire from heaven and consume a sacrifice.

The prophets of Baal go out to bat first and spend from morning till noon calling on Baal to bring down fire. When evening came nothing has yet happened.

Elijah then arranges his sacrifice on the altar digs a trench around it fills the trench with water

Elijah prays ‘Oh Lord God of Abraham Isaac and Israel let it be known this day that you are God  in Israel’ 1 Kings 18:36

Fire comes down from heaven licking up both the water and the sacrifice.

The people cry out in our voice “The Lord he is God” 1 Kings .18 :39

Elijah orders of people to seize the prophets of Baal and execute them.

No sooner had this been done with a small cloud starts to appear the size of a man’s hand. Elijah tells Ahab to go home before the rain comes. In the strength of the Lord Elijah runs in front of  his chariot all the way back to Jezreel.

The connexion between the Torah and the Haftarah is the contest between the one true God and false ones. The true God was speaking to Moses while the people were celebrating the golden calf. Likewise, Elijah proves the power of the living God in the face of a challenge from those who believed in a false god who was not actually real.

Messianic Message

In many instances throughout the Bible, it appears that evil triumphs before good defeats it. After all God’s efforts to free his people from slavery and go to great lengths to reveal to Moses his plan to deal with sin and the separation between man and God, it all goes wrong. Moses had the blueprint and the commandments. He was ready to roll. Then he comes down from the presence of God to people revelling and dancing in front of a detestable idol.

Elijah suffered the same thing. His victory over the prophets of Baal came only after many years of living in fear of Jezebel. Her wickedness and weak Ahab’s compliance was in the ascendancy for a long time before her demise.

There is a similar pattern in the life of Yeshua. Just at the point when the disciples we’re convinced Messiah had come to usher in the Kingdom of God ruling from Jerusalem, it all went wrong. When they saw the man who was to fulfil the dream they and their ancestors had hoped for since the time of Abraham, the dream was shattered in a moment when he was led away to be cruelly executed.

A phrase frequently used in the Bible is ‘but God’.

Jacobs working conditions for his uncle Laban would have violated any modern employment law, but God protected his life Genesis 31:6,7

Saul tried to kill David every day, but God did not allow it 1 Samuel 23:14

Yeshua was executed in the most painful way the Romans could devise but God raised him from the dead. Acts 13:30

Following Messiah is not an easy ride. Obstacles and setbacks can face us at every turn, but God will bring us through. Despite golden calf worship the Tabernacle was built and the Torah was established.

In spite of Jezebel and Ahab’s persecution Elijah came through triumphant and will herald Messiah when he returns in glory.

In spite of Yeshua’s ignominious defeat there are probably more believers on this earth then at any time before in history

Above all many of our own Jewish people are beginning to recognise him for the first time in two thousand years.

Yeshua said

“In this world we will have tribulation but fear not because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33


“He that endures till the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13

Keep going

This article originally appeared on the BMJA’s website and is reposted with permission.