|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
כִּי תִשָּׂא ● Ki Sisa
● Is there a theme in the collection of Mitzvos which precede the Cheit HaEigel? ●
“Secularizing the Sacred”
The undoubted focal point of the lengthy Parshas Ki Sisa is the infamous, national tragedy which we’ve alluded to plenty, the Cheit HaEigel.1 However, accompanying this extensive narrative, both preceding and following, is a series of seemingly miscellaneous laws that appear to have merely latched themselves onto the coattails of the Golden Calf story. Among them, there are some commandments which appear to be the “leftovers” of the laws pertaining to the Mishkan which one may argue would have better been included in either Parshas Tetzaveh (the previous Sidrah) or in Parshas Vayak’heil (the subsequent Sidrah), both which more prominently revolve around the Mishkan. There are also a couple of passages which are devoted to the rehashing of the familiar laws of firstborns and those of the various festivals.
The obvious difficulty in these peripheral passages of Ki Sisa is deciphering how some of these seeming “wildcard” Mitzvos ended up as the opening and closing credits for the larger and more central affair of the Cheit HaEigel. Was Ki Sisa not a long enough section without them? Couldn’t these laws have been placed elsewhere, perhaps where they might be given closer attention? Why not maintain all of the Mishkan related laws in the Mishkan-centered Parshiyos instead of leaving some as the forgotten residue of Ki Sisa? Indeed, when studying a Sidrah containing the intense scene of the Golden Calf, the shattering of the Luchos of the covenant, and Moshe’s dramatic confrontation with Hashem on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael, one is much less likely to give thought to the recipe for the anointing oil of the Mishkan, for example. What place do such laws have here and now?
While there are simply too many fine details to be discussed entirely in a single sitting, perhaps a closer look at just a few of these passages can bring some insight as to whether there is some sort of theme or pattern, any rhyme or reason among the “tagalong” laws of Ki Sisa.
The Mishkan “Leftovers”
Now, among the larger topics we described above, we identified a collection of commandments pertaining to the Mishkan which were not included with the others. Why should any of them be left to be taught here of all places? However, if one looks even within the miniseries of Mishkan-commandments related here, there’s an internal difficulty.
Among these leftover Mishkan commandments, as was mentioned earlier in passing, was the commandment to concoct the Shemen HaMishchah or the anointing oil which was meant to be applied on the Mishkan, its vessels, and the Kohanim to sanctify them and prepare them all for service.2 Afterwards, the Torah describes a different concoction, the one of the Ketores, the incense which was to be burned by the Kohein daily on the Mizbei’ach HaZahav as a holy service before Hashem.3
It is immediately after this passage that the Torah tells us that Hashem informed Moshe that He had chosen the right men for the task of leading the artisans and building the Mishkan, Betzaleil and Oholiav.4
The Finishing Touches
There are no glaring problems with these instructions intrinsically. Yet, something is off. If the Torah wanted to first present all of the commandments related to the vessels—their construction, their appearance, etc.—and then designate the appointees to make them, that is perfectly fine. But why would the Torah present the laws of the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketores before getting to the practical construction of the Mishkan and its vessels? Before we even have the tangible vessels to work with, what could be the use in presenting the commandment to produce special oil with which to anoint the vessels that didn’t yet exist? As long as the physical objects for the Mishkan were still “unborn,” this command should mean nothing to us.
The same problem is present concerning the Ketores. Hashem had commanded Moshe to make sure spices are ground up for the incense to be brought on the Golden Altar—but this Golden Altar was still a foreign concept as it has not yet been built. Nothing had been built yet. Telling us about the Ketores before we have a Mizbei’ach HaZahav is like trying to teach a child to write sentences before he has seen the alphabet. Why couldn’t the Torah reserve the formula for the Ketores for after the actual building of the Mizbei’ach HaZahav?
Two Sacred Formulas
Earlier, we asked if any theme can be pinpointed within the different groupings of laws that appear in Ki Sisa. Perhaps it’s time to speculate deeper.
If one looks at some of these topics, one will notice unavoidably clear evidence of some internal relationship between at least a couple of them. For example, the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketores are partnering laws. In both of these back-to-back passages, Hashem commands Moshe to take some natural materials, “Bisamim”-“spices” for the oil and “Samim”-“aromatics” for the incense (which are already phonetically similar) and to “make” (“V’Asisa”) some mixture for some holy, Mishkan-related purpose. As was said, the Shemen HaMishchah was used to sanctify the Mishkan, the Keilim and the Kohanim, while the Ketores was brought on the Golden Altar for a sacred daily service.
But there’s more that connects them. In each topic, G-d warns that the holy concoction may not be used for secular purposes; regarding the oil, the command is not to anoint a non-Priest followed by: “…U’V’Maskunto Lo Sa’asu Kamohu Kodesh Hu Yihiyeh Lachem”-“…and in its formula you shall not make like it, it is holy, [thus] holy shall it be to you.” Regarding the incense as well, we have a parallel prohibition against duplicating the procedure to make a similar mixture for secular purposes: “…B’Maskuntah Lo Sa’asu Lachem Kodesh Tihiyeh Lecha…”-“…in its formula you shall not make for you, holy it shall be for you…”
And what happens to anyone who does violate these commands? Concerning, both the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketores, the Torah says, “V’Nichras MeiAmav”-“And he will be cut off from his people” (the meaning of this sentence is subject to debate, but will be taken here simply to refer to some form of spiritual excision). Now, there’s certainly some theme threading these laws together, but what is that theme?
Between Sacred & Secular
Both subjects relate to sensitivity to sanctity. If one simply uses the oil to anoint himself or duplicates the exact mixture for some purpose other than anointing the Mishkan, the oil of the Mishkan becomes meaningless; the sacred is then secularized, devoid of its sanctity. This mixture, when not designated strictly for a unique purpose, is just a mundane mixture of oil. The same idea applies to the Ketores. The aromatics used for the incense are meant for one purpose only, the holy service on the Golden Altar. When one simply recreates this once-sacred mixture for his own personal purposes, he secularizes the original incense, sapping it of its meaning and sacred status.
Now, why are these laws presented before the actual building of the vessels? It could be that the Torah is using these laws and their lessons as a backdrop for the creation process of the Mishkan. The Torah is setting a precedent for the construction of the Mishkan by demonstrating the sensitivity and gravity of sanctity, that there must be a differentiation between the sacred and the secular. The Torah thereby intimates that when building the Mishkan, it has to be a work designated purely for holiness.
Shabbos – The Mishkan Modifier
Now, one may dismiss this suggestion as a stretch of sorts. And if, indeed, one is skeptical, let us return to the source to investigate this matter further. After appointing the leading craftsmen for the work of the Mishkan, the Torah did not simply leave the Mishkan to rest. Hashem commanded Moshe to be sure to mention an important caveat regarding the construction of the Mishkan: Keep Shabbos. Thus, He commanded as follows: “Ach Es Shabsosai Tishmoru Ki Os Hi Beini U’Veineichem…”-“However [only] My Shabbasos shall you guard for it is a sign between Me and you…”5
Why is Shabbos mentioned again and what does Shabbos have to do with the Mishkan? Rashi explains here as well as other times in the Torah where Shabbos is juxtaposed to the Mishkan6, that although the B’nei Yisrael were commanded to be involved in the work of building the Mishkan, that work is limited to six days a week. Shabbos, though, supersedes even the construction of the Mishkan.
What does one make of this connection between the Mishkan and Shabbos? There are many possibilities which have been entertained throughout our tradition, one of the most famous among them being the idea that the Melachos (forms of “productive” or “creative” activity) which are forbidden on Shabbos are derived from the work of the Mishkan. Another related and perhaps as well-known connection is that the creation of the Mishkan resembles Creation of the world, and just as G-d refrained from further creation on Shabbos, we do the same each Shabbos and stop creating—be it a Mishkan or any other Melachah.
But if one looks closer at the text, one will see that perhaps the implications go even deeper. The relationship between Shabbos and the Mishkan is concretized when looked at through the lenses of the preceding topics, the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketores.
WARNING: DO NOT SECULARIZE!
Just as the Torah commands the “making” of the oil and incense, regarding the Mishkan, Hashem instructs, “V’Asu”-“and they shall make,”5 and similarly regarding Shabbos, the Torah states here, “Sheishes Yomim Ya’aseh Melachah…”-“Six days one shall do [perform] activity…”5 And yet, like the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketores, when it comes to the Mishkan and other daily Melachos, Hashem makes a stipulation: Don’t secularize it! With regard to the holy mixtures, Hashem warned them not to duplicate the oil and incense for their own mundane purposes and thereby drain them of their sacredness. Likewise and almost conversely, Hashem effectively cautions that when we are engaged in the building the Mishkan or any Melachah throughout the week for that matter, we are forbidden to recreate that exact formula on Shabbos.
Thus, Hashem commanded, “Ach Es Shabsosai Tishmoru…”-“However, My Shabbasos you shall guard…”5—as if to say, “Yes, engage in the Mishkan project; however, don’t lose yourself in the project and neglect My Shabbos.” And, if you do, like one who secularizes the oil and the incense, Hashem warns here, “…M’chalelehah Mos Yumas Ki Kal HaOseh Vah Melachah V’Nichresah HaNefesh HaHi Mikerev Amehah”-“…he who desecrates [secularizes] it shall surely die, [indeed] for all do on it [‘productive’] activity, then that being shall be cut off from the midst of its people.”7
We might add that by secularizing the holy Shabbos, one also essentially secularizes the entire Mishkan project, duplicating its process in the wrong context, demonstrating that he builds, not for Hashem, but for his own personal agenda. Thus, like using the Ketores formula for one’s own perfume or the Shemen HaMishchah formula for one’s personal moisturizer, engaging in the Mishkan procedure on Shabbos is a misuse of the holy building process for one’s “own house.”
Looking at the Mishkan and Shabbos in this light, it is clear that Shabbos is not merely a break from activity, a stoppage of the work for the Mishkan, but it is a stamp of approval on one’s daily Melachah that justifies and sanctifies that work. Just as refraining from duplicating the oil or incense maintains the oil and incense’s intrinsic sanctity, and just as recreating it in a personal, secular setting forfeits its sanctity, refraining from working on Shabbos maintains the sanctity of our day to day Avodah, and working on Shabbos forfeits the sanctity, not just of Shabbos itself, but of our work of the six preceding days. Indeed, Shabbos is not just a holy day in its own right, but the observance of Shabbos, the cessation from work, is the statement that the work one engages in during the week is, like the oil and the incense, meaningful, designated for a higher, sacred purpose. In turn, the desecration of Shabbos—engaging in the same exact day to day Avodah and duplicating the procedure in the wrong context—is a statement that the work one engages in during the week is really just secular, for personal reasons, devoid of sacred meaning.
The definite theme in this series, namely the Shemen HaMishchah, the Ketores and the Mishkan overall with Shabbos, is the separation between sacred and secular.
The Lines Blurred
Now, coming full circle, why is this series given to us just before the narrative of the Cheit HaEigel? Perhaps this very relationship which the Shemen HaMishchah and the Ketores share with the Mishkan and Shabbos provides a crucial backdrop for the main topic of Ki Sisa, the creation and worship of the Golden Calf. The theme, as was mentioned, is the sensitivity of the sanctity which requires one to separate between the sacred and secular. Because our Avodah and our actions are not merely for our own personal purposes and rather reflect divine instruction and the holy will of G-d, we may not secularize the sacred by using it in the wrong context.
If one analyzes the sin at its roots, the Cheit HaEigel reflects a blurring of these lines, a failure to separate between the holy and mundane. By attempting to duplicate and recreate a sacred service of G-d in their own context—to fit their own personal purposes, the B’nei Yisrael corrupted it and made a secularization of the sacred. G-d commanded them to serve Him, but, as He did with the Shemen HaMishchah, the Ketores and the Mishkan overall, He commanded them with a caveat! He said not to recreate and duplicate the images they saw at Sinai—No molten gods in His stead! He told them not to recreate or reconstruct gods in another context!8 But, what implication is made by the peoples’ attempt to reconstruct G-d? That G-d, Chas V’Shalom, can be secularized, that He can be artificially tailored for man’s own purposes. What statement does one make when he duplicates his service to G-d in other contexts? As one who performs Melachah on Shabbos, he is admitting that his own Avodah is really not designated for sacred purposes—it’s not for G-d, but it’s for one’s own secular purposes.
It could be that by inserting this particular series of commandments, the Torah is providing this deeper context for understanding the national misdeed underlying the Sin of the Golden Calf.
Although, today, we have neither a Mishkan, nor the lures of ancient idolatry, we have Shabbos and certainly the day to day activities in which we engage constantly. The B’nei Yisrael slipped when they made it clear that their Avodah was not purely a sacred endeavor, but a secularized, personal one. The undeniable goal for us is to take these exact lessons and decide what context both our religious observance and our worldly pursuits have. Are they in a context of holiness? Do they reflect the will of G-d? Are they designated specially for sanctity? Or are they purely secular, for our own selves alone, and devoid of meaning? We can answer that question as we may, but it is through our actions that the statement is ultimately made most clearly. Through our individual actions, through our respective devotion to the will of G-d, we each may properly be “Mavdil Bein Kodesh L’Chol”-“[one who] separates between the sacred and the secular.”9
May we all be Zocheh to appreciate the sensitivity of that which is holy in our lives, lead both our religious observance and our worldly involvement in a context of Ratzon Hashem, successfully be “Mavdil Bein Kodesh L’Chol,” and Hashem should separate us, His holy nation, from the mundane with coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Shemos 32
- See Rashi to 35:2 citing Mechilta, and similarly, Rashi to Vayikra 19:30.
- Perhaps these ideas would explain why the Torah later juxtaposes Shabbos with the prohibition of making molten gods. See Vayikra 19:3-4.
- Vayikra 10:10