Ki Tisa

Ki Tisah – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Ki Tisah: Sunday: The Second Half

And this is what they shall give, all those that pass through the counters, half a shekel of the holy shekel”. Why give just half a shekel and not a whole shekel?

The half shekel alludes to the fact that each of us is only a half. What is the other half?

We can say that the second half is G-d. I am a created being and my existence is relative (only half). But I believe in G-d, Who is the absolute reality and the Creator of everything.

We can say that the first half is my ‘animal soul’, with which I identify from the beginning of my life, and the second half is the Divine soul concealed within me, an “actual part of G-d Above”.

We can say that the second half is the big world all around me, and that I pray that G-d will watch over me and safeguard me as I traverse it.

We can say that the second half is the other person that I must love, particularly my spouse, in whose merit I am transformed into a whole person.

Ultimately, however, there is something very important about feeling like just a half, disconnected form the other half. This is the feeling of “a broken and regretful heart” – the lowliness that finds favor in G-d’s eyes.

Ki Tisah: Monday: Who is Responsible for the Sin of the Golden Calf?

It seems that nobody emerges clean from the Sin of the Golden Calf. There is even a subliminal claim against Moses: “Go down, for your nation has become corrupt”. What is the criticism against  Moses?

One explanation that Moses is minimally responsible for the Sin of the Golden Calf, because he accepted the Erev-Rav, who incited Israel to sin.

Another explanation is that the Children of Israel erred in their understanding of Moses’ explanation about exactly when he would return to them. If Moses had been more sensitive to the Nation, his communication with them would have flowed easily and his intention would have been clear from the start (just as marital problems generally begin with a misunderstanding).

On a deeper level: If Moses would have been more connected to the Nation of Israel, then even when he was up on Mount Sinai, learning Torah straight from G-d, he would have felt that something was amiss with his beloved nation. What could he have done? He could have said to G-d, “Forgive me, I must leave in the middle of the lesson, I must return to the Nation of Israel and save them from sinning”. For the connection between G-d and the Nation of Israel is more important than the delights of the Torah.

Moses did, indeed, learn this lesson. The first thing that he did when he saw the Sin of the Golden Calf was to break the Tablets. It is better to break the wondrous Tablets given by G-d and to save the Nation of Israel.

 Ki Tisah: Tuesday: I Have Found Chen

And Moses said to G-d, See, You say to me, bring this Nation up, and You have not let me know who you will send with me, and You said, I know you by name and you have found grace (chen) in my eyes. And now if I have found grace (chen) in Your eyes, let me know Your ways and I will know You so that I will find grace (chen) in Your eyes and see that this People is Your Nation.”

Below are the verses in their original Hebrew:

 " וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה' רְאֵה אַתָּה אֹמֵר אֵלַי הַעַל אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה וְאַתָּה לֹא הוֹדַעְתַּנִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁלַח עִמִּי וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ יְדַעְתִּיךָ בְשֵׁם וְגַם מָצָאתָ חֵן בְּעֵינָי. וְעַתָּה אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת דְּרָכֶךָ וְאֵדָעֲךָ לְמַעַן אֶמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה כִּי עַמְּךָ הַגּוֹי הַזֶּה. וַיֹּאמַר פָּנַי יֵלֵכוּ וַהֲנִחֹתִי לָךְ. וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אִם אֵין פָּנֶיךָ הֹלְכִים אַל תַּעֲלֵנוּ מִזֶּה. וּבַמֶּה יִוָּדַע אֵפוֹא כִּי מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֲנִי וְעַמֶּךָ הֲלוֹא בְּלֶכְתְּךָ עִמָּנוּ וְנִפְלִינוּ אֲנִי וְעַמְּךָ מִכָּל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה".


 Please note that the word for grace, ‘chen’ is repeated in the  verses above at close intervals – four times in the five verses. This is the main content of this entire Torah portion. Moses begs to find chen, he and all of Israel with him.

Now we will count words, and you are invited to check this in the Hebrew version of the verses: The first time that chen appears in the Hebrew is at the 26th word. The second time, it appears at the 32nd word. 26 plus 32 equals chen, 58. Now let us count the next appearances of grace from the end to the beginning, as with any phenomenon of chen, which also means ‘symmetry’ and is symmetrical. The first appearance of chen from the end is at the 16th word from the end. The second chen from the end is at the 42nd word from the end. 16 plus 42 equals 58, chen.

This is a wondrous phenomenon of double chen in this portion of chen, as it says in Zechariah, “proclamations of chen, chen to it.”



Ki Tisah: Wednesday: Seeing with the Heart

And He said, You will not be able to see My Face, for no man can see me and live…and you will see My back and you will not see My face.”

We can explain this verse with three basic concepts in Chassidut: Hishtalshelut (Evolution), Hitlabshut (Enclothement ) and Hashra’ah (Omnipresence).

To see “G-d’s back” means to perceive the order of Evolution that stems from it. One thing is born from the next, like the links of a chain in which the head of the lowest link is wedged in the bottom of the next link, above. This also reflects the back in relation to the face.

But it is also possible for the upper level to become enclothed in the level below it, like a soul in a body, making it possible to actually see the side of the face in the side of the back. Moses did not merit this. Instead, his perception was “by way of negation.”

There is a wondrous conversation in the Zohar: Moses feels sorrow that he did not merit to see the face of G-d, but Rabbi Shimon Bar Yocahi says to him: “Although you cannot look with your eyes at the people of the World to Come, and not at the angels – and how much  more so not at the Holy One, Blessed Be He and His Shechinah- nevertheless, in the eye of the intellect in your heart, you can see everything; the people of the World to Come, and the angels and the Holy One, Blessed Be He and His Shechina that surrounds you.”

In other words, Moses really did merit the loftiest sight – inside his heart. This is Omnipresence: the loftiest level dwells upon the lowest reality. Moses was not aware of this until Rabbi Shimon revealed it to him.

In the future, this is the level that will be actually revealed in our consciousness, “For they will see eye to eye”.

Ki Tisah: Thursday: Stiff-Necked Nation

After G-d reveals the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy to Moses, Moses makes the following request of G-d: “If I have found favor in Your eyes, G-d, may G-d walk among us, for they are a stiff-necked people, and may You forgive our sins and iniquities and take us for Your inheritance.”

Previously, G-d wanted to punish the Jewish People for being stiff-necked, as He said to Moses, “I saw this nation and behold, they are a stiff-necked people. And now, leave Me be, and My wrath will pour out on them and I will destroy them”. Now, Moses is using this same characteristic and begging G-d to forgive us because we are stiff-necked?

This is a distinct example of the turnabout of the character trait of Rachamim, compassion. We see a person with a shortcoming, our character trait of judgement is aroused and we judge him severely. Afterwards, however, the character trait of compassion is aroused and says: It is specifically because of this shortcoming that he should be treated with compassion.

On a deeper level, the fact that we are a stiff-necked nation is not necessarily a shortcoming. We are stubborn in all directions. Mordechai was also very stubborn and that brought us the holiday of Purim!

In the merit of Jewish stubbornness we survive all the upheavals. This is alluded to in the verse in Jeremiah, “So said G-d, the Nation that is the remnant of the sword has found favor in the desert, He has gone to calm Israel.” The words להרגיעו ישראל / to calm Israel equal עם קשה ערף / a stiff-necked nation.


Ki Tisah: Friday: Three Covenants

And He said, behold I am making a covenant, before all your nation I shall perform wonders that were not created in all the earth and amongst all the nations, and all the Nation in whose midst you are will see the works of G-d, for it is awesome, that which I will do with you.”

G-d makes a covenant with three different figures in the Torah: Noah, Abraham and Moses. The covenant with Noah is on the foundational level of the existence of the world. The covenant with Abraham is the covenant of choosing the person and his descendants, who follow in his good footsteps (as is expressed in brit milah/circumcision). The covenant with Moses is that in any situation, even if Israel has sinned, the bond with G-d will never be abrogated.

Of the covenant with Noah, it is written, “Man is beloved, for he was created in the image (of G-d)”. Of the covenant with Abraham it is written, “(The People of) Israel are beloved, for they were called sons of G-d”. Of the covenant with Moses it is written, “(The People of) Israel are beloved, for a desired vessel was given to them”. The Torah of Moses manifests the essential bond between Israel and G-d.

The covenant of Moses is expressed by the wonders that G-d performed with Moses, himself: “I will do wonders… the works of G-d, for it is awesome, that which I will do with you.” This refers to the revelation that the Shechinah dwells literally in Moses’ body, as we see in the rays of splendor that Moses merited (which we will encounter in the seventh section of this Torah portion). This itself is the manifestation of the Divine soul, which is “an actual part of G-d”. This is alluded to in gematriah:

The works of G-d, for they are awesome/ מעשה ה' כי נורא הוא חלק /An actual part of G-d. אלוה ממעל ממש.

Ki Tisah: Shabbat: The Veil

And it was when Moses descended Mount Sinai and the two Tablets of the Covenant were in Moses’ hand when he descended the mountain, and Moses did not know that his face was shining when he spoke with him”…And Moses finished speaking with them and he put the veil on his face. And when Moses would come before G-d to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he exited and he would exit and speak to the Children of Israel what He would command. And the Children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of the face of Moses shone, and Moses returned the veil on his face until he would come to speak with Him”.

The Midrash says that in the Torah Scroll of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Hanes it was written "כתנות אור/ “garments of light” instead of "כתנות עור"/ “garments of skin”. Moses’ physical skin / עור turned back into light/ אור. But generally Moses’ light was too abstract, rendering it impossible to receive. Thus, the veil was necessary. It was not only a concealing garment, but also like a screen, through which it becomes possible to see the light of the sun.

This doevetails with what is explained in Kabbalah about G-d’s Infinite Light, an unlimited revelation that still cannot be the source of created worlds. Thus, in the first stage, the “World of Garments” was formed, as a veil for the abundant light. The first light is like the simple alef (as is emphasized in the difference between אור/or, light, spelled with an alef and עור/or ,skin, spelled with an ayin). It is the letter alef  from which everything else develops. The alef needs to be enclothed, to turn it into a complete letter (using the process known as milui/filling): אָלֶף. Amazingly, the numerical value of alef is 111, the same as  מסוה/veil.  This is the veil that enclothes the alef. The next stage after the World of Garments is the contraction of the light, which is the continuation of the process of enclothement.   If we write out alef with its filling as follows: אלף-למד-פא  / alef, lamed, fei, we receive the numerical value of the word צמצום/ contraction.

Let us return to our original verses and we will discover a wondrous allusion: In all the verses that relate to Moses’rays of splendor (from “And it was when Moses descended” until “to speak to him”) there are exactly 111 words, the numerical value of מסוה/screen!


The translations this week are l’ilui nishmat Alteh Necheh bat R’ Chaim Nuta and R’ Elimelech ben Moshe.


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