Double Mitzvah – Ki Tissa

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Rabbi Neil Blumofe. Neil is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas. He holds Rabbinic Ordinations from both the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. Neil is active in the greater Austin music community — producing and performing in the monthly “Jazz and the Art of” series for the public radio station (KUT) “Views and Brews” series at the historic Cactus Café, in Austin.

For more writing by Rabbi Blumofe, check out Double Mitzvah – Shoftim, Double Mitzvah – Korach and Sex with the Rabbi #2.

Check out last week’s column, Double Mitzvah – Tetzaveh.

Rated PG
Ki Tissa – Careless Love


Our portion begins as God instructs Moshe on how to administer a census — a half shekel given to atone for one’s soul. A washing stand is described and a recipe for making anointing oil given — oil that was to be used to anoint Aharon and the priests and the Ohel Moed itself, including everything inside of it. Directions for making incense are also revealed — smells dedicated to God, not for regular use outside of the Temple. Bezalel and Oholiab are named by God to lead the fabrication of materials for the Mishkan. God reminds Moshe that Shabbat is holy and it makes the people holy — a sign between God and the people for generations.

As God finishes speaking to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, two stone Tablets of E’dut are given to Moshe, k’tuvim b’etzba Elokim (written with the finger of God). As they wait for Moshe, the people become impatient and ask Aharon to make gods for them. Aharon fashions their gold rings into an Egel Zahav and it is proclaimed to be the god which brought the Israelites out of the land of Mitzrayim. Aharon builds an altar and the people offer sacrifices and eat and drink. God seeks to destroy the people and in response, Moshe defends the people and stays God’s hand. Moshe descends down the mountain and sees the people in their carnival — he smashes the Tablets and grounds the Egel Zahav to powder, which he makes the people drink. He then gathers the Levites to him and orders them into the camp to slay the offenders — 3000 men were killed. Moshe complains to God, asking God to forgive the people — in response, God strikes the people with a plague.

God commands an angel to lead the people to the Promised Land for the people are stiff-necked (am k’she oref). Moshe set up the Ohel Moed outside of camp and speaks to God face to face. Moshe asks to see God — God instructs Moshe to carve a second set of stone Tablets like the first, and ascend Mt. Sinai, where God comes to stand with Moshe revealing Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. More commandments are now given to seal a renewed covenant and for forty days and nights Moshe remains with God, without food or drink. Our portion ends – from the mountain, Moshe returns to camp with his face radiant and aglow — henceforth, when Moshe would speak to the Children of Israel, he would wear a mask over his face and when he would speak with God, his face would be revealed.


In this week’s Torah portion, the curtain is pulled away to reveal a domestic dispute that quickly turns violent, between the people Israel and God. The people lose faith in Moses, who does not soon return, and they go on a bit of a bender – trying to cast off the commitment they have made to the elusive and invisible God. The people act as if they are the spurned lover – immersing themselves in diversion and bad choices to drive home the point that they are finished with God – and in their actions, they have set a line in the sand and declared their relationship with God over.

Yet God will have none of it – and jealous, God lashes out, casting blame on the crowd and bringing violence and casualty into the fray. Moses is put in a delicate position – trying to mediate the conflict between the alienated people and the bombastic God. Where is caring about the other and a calm reasoning about the different fault lines in the relationship? Why is there such extreme behavior on the part of the people and of God – a willingness to quit the relationship on one hand, and the menace of meting out punishment on the other? Who is implicated and what should be done to begin again? How does each party recover from what they think is a betrayal of the other? And where does Moses fit in – attempting to please both of his masters?

When we see relationships fraying around us, how do we act? Are we quickly accused of choosing sides, even as we try to assuage feelings and not assigning blame? When love goes belly up among our friends, how do we cope? Moses looks to get to the heart of the matter – to find a way to penetrate past the mask of God, and yet, when he comes down the mountain to ultimately encounter and lead the people, his face is concealed. At Sinai, there are no winners. Everyone present is a witness to an intimate moment gone awry – destined to die in exile from each other, not able to press a passport freshly-stamped into the Promised Land.

How do we live with such ominous threat around us – how do we decide to love again, and be friends, or at least cordial, again? How do we get what we need, while still living in the different worlds that we inhabit? How can we live well in the exile, recognizing that we may love deeply, yet, at its root, it is an imperfect and flawed love? Our Torah is teaching us that there is much at stake, and we do well to cultivate patience and equanimity for those in our lives who are acting badly. We realize that the motivation and reassurance that we need comes from within, and that we cannot live our lives as another’s mirror. Ultimately, we must take the mask off from our own souls and see what is important within. As we catch our own radiance, we can learn to tolerate a restless people and a possessive God – we can learn to call for help, to gain other allies, and trust our instincts for what can be repaired, what must be prosecuted, and what must be left, to fade away.

Leadbelly singing “Careless Love.”

Neil F. Blumofe is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas, (650+ families). He holds Rabbinic Ordinations from both the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. Neil is active in the greater Austin music community, where he is known for his accomplishments, creations and instruction in the jazz genre.