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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Ki Tisa 101
Posted March, 2001 by Reb Yosef
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Ki Tisa

Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Lamed (30)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Yud Alef (11)

Concluding Perek:

Lamed Daled(34)

Concluding Pasuk:

Lamed Hay (35)

Key Points of Parashat Ki Tisa
This Weeks Psukim
The Focus of the Week
Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash
Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
Commentary by Reb Yosef

Key Points of Parashat Ki Tisa:

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Parashat Ki Tisa has a number of points to it including:

  • the census and contribution for each person toward the Tent of Meeting

  • the laver for washing

  • the formula for creating the oil for anointing the Tent, Ark, Table, utensils, Menorah and Incense Altar

  • the formula for the incense

  • the people chosen to create the utensils

  • more detailed explanations concerning the Sabbath

  • the episode with the Golden Calf, what prompted that, and the consequences

  • how B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) felt and acted after God's reaction to their lack of faith in Him

  • the second set of Tablets

  • key points concerning forgiveness of transgressions

Most often, the focus tends to be on the egel (the calf) that was created as an idol. There are, however, some very significant other points in this Parashah that warrant discussion. For example, in the beginning of Ki Tisa, there is a point that each person should contribute one-half shekel to the construction of the Tent of Meeting. Moreover, there is a specific point that the poor and the wealthy should contribute the same amount, the poor no less, the wealthy no more - meaning that all are equal and shall be perceived as equal.

This Week's Psukim - Perek Chav-Gimel (23):

  1. Following the carving of the second set of Tablets that replaced those that were destroyed by Moshe (Moses) in his fury over the rebellion of B'nei Yisrael, the Torah says the following:

  2. Hashem descended in a cloud and stood with him there, and He called out with the Name Hashem:

  3. Hashem passed before him and proclaimed - Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth:

  4. Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses -- but does not cleanse completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generations:

  5. Moses hastened to bow his head toward the ground and prostrate himself:

  6. He said, "If I have now found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, let my Lord go among us -- for it is a stiff-necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and error, and make us Your heritage.":

  7. He said, "Behold! I seal a covenant - Before your entire people I shall make distinctions such as have never been created in the entire world and among all the nations; and the entire people among whom you are will see the work of Hashem -- which is awesome -- that I am about to do with you:

Translation by: Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash.

The Focus of this Week:
That God is forgiving in nature yet there is a particular transgression that passes from one generation to the next.

Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash:
(5) God reveals His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. When Moses went up the mountain to receive the Second Tablets, God first showed him how to prevent the sort of national catastrophe that had nearly provoked Him to wipe out the nation. He showed Moses the method and taught him the text of the prayer that would always invoke His mercy. This prayer, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, is recited in times of crisis when we beseech God to show us mercy: on Yom Kippur, fast days, in times of threatening calamity. It contains thirteen Names and descriptions of God, all of them referring to His compassion in various situations.

God forgives three categories of sin, and each forgiveness is reckoned as a separate Attribute:

    Iniquity, i.e., an intentional sin, which God forgives if the sinner repents.

    Willful Sin, i.e., a sin that is committed with the intention of angering God. Even so serious a transgression will be forgiven, with repentance.

    And Error, i.e., a sin committed out of apathy or carelessness. This, too, is a sin, because it would not have been done if the perpetrator had truly felt the gravity of defying God's will. For example, one may carelessly discard a match in his driveway, but he would never throw it into his child's crib, even if he thought the chances were very slight that it could start a fire.

And Who Cleanses. When someone repents, God cleanses his sin, so that the effect of the sin vanishes. However, if one does not repent, He does not cleanse. According to Sforno, God cleanses fully those who repent out of love. Those who repent only out of fear of retribution receive only partial cleansing.

To the third and fourth generations. See notes to 20:5.

But if God does not punish for sins more than four generations into the future, why did He say that He would inflict part of the punishment that was due for the sin of the Golden Calf even after the passage of many generations (see 32:34)? The sin of the Calf was so grievous that even after a delay of four generations, the punishment would have been very severe. To avoid this, God made an exception and spread it out over all of history (Kitzur Mizrachi).

According to R' Bachya, God does not punish for the Golden Calf; He only remembers it, so that the degree of His mercy is diminished from what it would otherwise have been.

Notes to 20:5. The sin of fathers upon children. In response to the question of how children can be punished for sins they did not commit, the Sages explain that children are punished only if they carry on the sinful legacy of their parents as their own, or if it was in their power to protest, but they acquiesced to the life-style that was shown them. If so, they show that they ratify the deeds of their parents and adopt them as their own (Sanhedrin 27b). History shows that when sins are repeated over the course of generations, they become legitimated as a "culture" or an independent "lifestyle," so that they become regarded as a way of life and a new set of values. Thus, children who consciously accept and continue the ways of their iniquitous parents are forging a pattern of behavior that has much more force than the deeds of only one errant generation. Thus, children who adopt the ways of their parents are, in a sense, committing more virulent sins than they would be if they acted only on their own. God refers to such people as My enemies.

In line with the Talmudic dictum that a child who had been kidnapped and raised by non-Jews is not responsible for sins that he never knew were wrong, a Jew educated in an assimilationist manner would also not fall under the category of this verse.

Even in such a case, the punishment for the sins of parents does not go beyond the fourth generation. However, the next verse states that God shows kindness for thousands of generations, meaning for at least two thousand generations into the future. Thus, the reward for good deeds is five hundred times as great as the punishment for sin (Tosefta, Sotah 3:4).

Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch:
I will take particular points from Rav Hirsch's commentaries on this section:

Chessed (kindness) is both the highest degree of doing good which human beings can accomplish, and the highest expression for the love that God shows to human beings. So that netzehr (buds of) chessed can equally well mean: (a) He allows the good that a man does, to become "buds" of blessings for all his descendants, rewards the highest good deeds of a man not to the doer himself but to his children and children's children, and just thereby give the selfless chassid (person doing kindness) what to him is the very highest blessing; or (b) He allows His greatest love which a good man has won, to become a "bud" of blessing for all his descendants; God exercises his greatest love in allowing a good man to become a source, a root and "bud" of salvation and happiness to his children and children's children down the ages.

Who does not free any man from even the smallest of his sins without his doing his part towards it. Who, without honest sincere repentance and determination henceforth to do better, leaves sinners over to the consequences of their deeds, and even the smallest departure from the right path brings unhappiness and misfortune in its wake; or family, Who as poked avon avot (remembers the sins of the fathers) thinks -- judges -- punishes -- remembers the defection of the parents on the children until the fourth generation, and just as goodness and good men under God's sway become a tree bearing the fruits of happiness and salvation for descendants right unto eternity, so does unatoned wrong-doing make life harder, and trials more difficult to overcome, for children, but only until the fourth generation; or: who allows the goodness of children to atone for the defections of parents; -- in whichever form of the diversity of this summary of the ways of the government of God, He may show Himself. Hashem is always Hashem, always the God of love, always the one same pure Goodness of God, which in all these various ways of manifestation is always working for the one goal, the education of humanity up to their salvation and happiness.

Commentary by Reb Yosef:
There are two points that are important to note in this section of Parashat Ki Tisa. The first is that God does pardon and forgive sin directly. No intermediary is required - this is something that is between each of us and God.

The second point concerns the sin that can be passed on from generation to generation - assimilation or denying one's Jewish heritage. It is said that, to those whose Jewish heritage has no meaning, within three generations the people will forget they were ever Jewish. It seems to me that, by the fourth generation of assimilation, God has let the family go completely.

From my own personal experience, I know this to be true. My great-grandmother assimilated. My grandmother and mother both intermarried and, with my generation (the fourth generation), we knew nothing of our Jewish heritage or of our families that came here from Europe. It is very interesting to count the generations and consider the effects in light of this particular perek (chapter). My great-grandmother was the first generation. She clearly knew that she was Jewish and had some sense of heritage that she walked away from. My grandmother (the second generation) knew of her Jewish heritage but it had no substance or meaning for her. My mother (the third generation) barely knew of her heritage and only from two family stories - being Jewish to her was the same thing as being Irish, Scottish, or anything else. The fourth generation (myself) knew less than my mother but eventually learned. However, to be able to bring myself back to a completely Jewish life required greater effort and commitment than it would have taken had I been able to convert to Judaism from a completely non-Jewish perspective, or to choose to become more observant from a known Jewish heritage. For one who is Jewish, the road is clear. For one who wishes to convert, the road is clear. For one who does not know whether she or he is Jewish, the road is most difficult. Not only is there a great deal to learn, at the same time it is necessary to make every effort to clarify the point of the heritage and attempt to answer the question, "Am I Jewish or not?" My children are the fifth generation. They have no such problems. They are Jewish and the heritage has been restored. In any event, when thinking about this point of the fourth generation, with my own history, the Torah proves its validity.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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