Parashat Ki Tissa

Up And Down The Mountain Of Life

The Israelites worshipped the Golden Calf because they lost an awareness of God; when we are aware of the presence of God, we become holy and make the right choices

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Moses takes a census of the Israelites and collects a half-shekel from each person (30:11-16).

  • God tells Moses to construct a water basin and to prepare anointing oil and incense for the ordination of the priests. Bezalel and Oholiab, skilled artisans, are assigned to make objects for the priests and the Tabernacle (30:17-31:11).

  • The Israelites are instructed to keep the Shabbat as a sign of the covenant. God gives Moses the two tablets of the Pact (31:12-18).

  • The Israelites ask Aaron to build them a Golden Calf. Moses implores God not to destroy the people and then breaks the two tablets of the Pact on which the Ten Commandments are written when he sees the idol. God punishes the Israelites by means of a plague (32:1-35).

  • Moses goes up the mountain with a blank set of tablets for another forty days so that God will again inscribe the Ten Commandments. Other laws, including the edict to observe the Pilgrimage Festivals, are also revealed (34:1-28).

  • Moses comes down from the mountain with a radiant face (34:29-35).

Focal Point

Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces: They were inscribed on the one side and on the other. The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing, incised upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the sound of the people in its boisterousness, he said to Moses, "There is a cry of war in the camp." But he answered, "It is not the sound of the tune of triumph. Or the sound of the tune of defeat: It is the sound of song that I hear" (Exodus 32:15-18).

Your Guide

What do you think the actual tablets looked like?

What do you imagine God's "writing" looked like?

Why does Joshua hear the sound of war while Moses does not?

What does Moses' going up and then down the mountain signify?

By the Way…

Where I wander--You./ Where I ponder--You./ Only You, You again, always You./ You! You! You!/ When I'm gladdened--You./ When I am saddened--You./ Only You, You again, always You./ You! You! You!/ Sky is You. Earth is You./ You above. You below./ In every trend, at every end/ Only You, You again, always You./ You! You! You! (part of a song that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev used to sing, cited in Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters by Martin Buber)

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Jennifer Werby is the cantor of Congregation B'nai Yisrael in Armonk, NY