Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:11 – 34:35)

Outside, it’s chilly and windy.  But patches of blue sky are getting bigger, and I just had a nice, warm blueberry scone.  So I guess I can get through the final few days of February with reasonable equanimity.

The last two Torah portions contained instructions for the design, construction, and furnishing of the Tabernacle and the vestments and ordination of the priests.  Some people like designing their dream house and are really into interior decorating and fashion.  I’m not (stop giggling out there).  But I think one function of those two portions was to delay our having to read about the debacle of the golden calf.

This week, in Ki Tissa, we begin with the final touches concerning the Tabernacle.  A half-shekel head tax is to be imposed both as a mechanism for a census and to provide for the maintenance of the Tabernacle.  Instructions are presented for a copper laver and recipes for the sacred anointing oil and incense.  Bezalel is designated as chief artisan and Oholiab as his assistant.  Finally, Moses is told yet again how important it is for the people to observe the Sabbath.  Then the Lord gives Moses the tablets.

Unfortunately, the Israelites are still very insecure and don’t know the difference between “on the 40th day” and “after 40 complete days.”  Or maybe Moses meant “about 40 days” and hung around with the Lord another day or so.  In any event, the Israelites conclude that Moses is not coming back and demand that Aaron make them some tangible gods.  Aaron makes a statue of a calf (young bull) from their gold earrings.  Rashi is of the opinion that it was the rabble that came with the Israelites that presented the calf to the people as the god which brought them out of Egypt.  But it is Aaron who builds an altar and proclaims a festival for the next day, no doubt hoping Moses will be back before that happens.  He isn’t.

The Lord hears the noise of the “festival” (i.e., orgy) and threatens to destroy the people.  Moses prevents this by pointing out what bad PR would ensue.  Instead, Moses loses his temper and smashes the tablets at the foot of the mountain.  He grinds up the calf and strews the powder on water which he makes the people drink.  Then he turns to his brother, asking (32:21), “What did this people do to you that you have brought such great sin upon them?”  Aaron’s excuse: the people are “disposed toward evil” and demanded he make a god to lead them, so he collected their gold, threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.  Did he really think Moses would fall for that?  Punishment comes swiftly for the apostate Israelites.  The Levites, loyal to the Lord, kill 3000.  A plague follows (naturally). 

The relationship between the people and the Lord is thus a bit frayed.  That between Moses and the Lord, however, reaches a new level, as if the Lord takes solace in Moses as “the good child” in the family.  After being allowed to see the back of the Lord, Moses goes back up the mountain to carve two new tablets.  We also read what are called the Thirteen Attributes (34:6-7), which emphasize the Lord’s compassion and forgiveness and are part of our festival and Yom Kippur liturgy.

The portion concludes with a re-statement of the covenant and several laws.   The people are warned again not to worship other gods and not to assimilate with the current inhabitants of the Promised Land.  And then there are brief mentions of laws about observing the Sabbath and festivals, the dedication of the first born, and the basis for separation of dairy and meat in the practice of kashrut, “Do not cook a kid in its other’s milk.”   When Moses comes back down the mountain, his skin glowed, so much so that the people were afraid, necessitating his wearing a mask.  Again, I’m waiting for the sci-fi version of this.

The haftarah, 1 Kings 18:1-39 (Sephardim: 18:20-39), also deals with mass apostasy.   Priests of Baal call upon their god to take their sacrifice in vain (Elijah gets sarcastic in 18:27: Shout louder! He’s a god. Maybe he’s talking to someone, or chasing enemies, or relieving himself, or taking a nap.).  But heavenly fire strikes and consumes Elijah’s soaked offering resting on a sodden altar.  The people proclaim “The Lord is the God!”  Unfortunately, like the Israelites in the wilderness, these too have short memories.

Shabbat shalom,


The Chinese head tax imposed by Canada (excerpts)

According to Wikipedia:

The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged for each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first levied after the Canadian Government passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. It was meant to discourage Chinese from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The head tax was ended by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which stopped Chinese immigration except for business people, clergy, educators, students and other categories.

The Chinese were the only ethnic group that had to pay a Head Tax to enter Canada, although efforts to impose one on Americans during the colonial period were overruled by the Colonial Office in London.

The Movie (sent out in 2004)

For the classic orgy scene (around the golden calf) in Cecil B. De Mille’s biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1956), the director narrowly skirted the bounds of 1950s acceptability. Half-naked nymphs writhed in simulated ecstasy; men toted women off behind the rocks at the foot of Mount Sinai. During the filming, the festivities were interrupted by the appearance of Charlton Heston (Moses) with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments: “Who is on the Lord’s side?” he cried as scripted. An assistant director then called, “Lunch!” and turned to leave – and was amused to hear one of the girls in the orgy scene call out: “Party pooper!”


Tzipporah and Moses, post Sinai

tph moses-and tzipporah 2nd set newyorker10











tph Moses' shining face















School and Homework Excuses (just a few)

  1. Excuse me for not doing my homework, its cause you ASKED me to do it, you didn’t TELL me to do it so I thought it was optional.
  2. When I couldn’t be bothered to do an essay that was due the next day, I told my English teacher that my printer had run out of ink, hence the essay which was all completed on the computer couldn’t be printed until we got another cartridge ( If you’re a perfectionist liar like me, I actually wrote about eight lines of the essay and used Word art in Microsoft Word to color each line a lighter shade of gray to the last one, then printed that on my printer, which incidentally had loads of ink and handed it in with the excuse) PS: Any plausible excuse at all seems to work if you say it with a despondent face.
  3. THIS REALLY WORKS! (but only if it is raining in the morning) Say that you missed your train/tram/bus, and since you didn’t want to be late for school, you ran in the rain. Of course, you say, the downside is that you had to use your bag to cover your head, (not having an umbrella with you) which resulted in everything in it being drenched. Including your homework. Show the teacher the ‘homework’ (which can be anything really) that is completely sodden. You should probably soak the paper in the sink before leaving your house, since, unless your state is in the midst of a flash flood, there is no way your homework will be as soaked as you need it to be. Strangely, no teacher has ever asked me HOW my paper got so wet, and I’ve used this excuse around twenty times on various teachers!


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