Ki Tissa

Please note that service reminders aim to build a bridge between the last Saturday service two weeks before and the one being announced. They will therefore often focus on the previous parshah rather than on the one in the title.

Moses is not mentioned in Tetzaveh, nor God in the Megillah, which we read for Purim, and which, this year, fell immediately after Shabbat. Is this for the same reasons? In the former, Aaron, the older brother takes centre stage. In the latter, Ester does. Are Moses and God absent? In a way they are and in a way they aren’t. Moses listens to God’s instructions for making the priestly vestments so that Aaron and his sons will be sanctified, giving honour to them, to the tribes of Israel and, of course, to God. Had Moses been made of another mettle, he might have wanted to be the High Priest himself. Had God wanted humanity to be puppets, He might have arranged everything hands on. As it is, Moses is happy to stand back and allow others into the limelight,  but he is still there doing his job. Similarly, God allows courage and virtue to emerge in the human heart, but He is still there, weaving a delicate, living web of possibilities. For a more scholarly discussion of these themes, see Rabbi Jonathan Sachs: ‘Who is Honoured?’ – Covenant & Conversation: Tetzaveh 5777 and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis: ‘D’var Torah: Purim’.

Now Ki Tissa begins with instructions for a census, a ‘lifting of the heads’ and continues with more instructions for the building of the sacred space of the Tabernacle. Moses is absent from the camp, so the people, thinking themselves bereft of leader and of God, go to pieces. When discussing Terumah, Pat Lipert talked of the parallels between the creation of the sacred space and that of the just, social space. Both require order, direction and assumed responsibility. Without these disciplines, a people unused to organising itself creates that which is grotesque and absurd. Guided by God and Moses, they can craft the most beautiful Holy of Holies. Guided by nothing but fear and desire, they spew out a golden calf.

Fortunately, their sinful mistake is forgiven. They are given a second chance. More laws follow, and the divine glory rests on Moses, so that, when he descends, some of it is still visible to the people.

Come and be counted, lift up your heads this Shabbat at our nexr service, starting 10.30. Adam Feldman will forge insight and joyful song, and no golden calf will raise its hollow head.