Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:11 – 34:35)

Getting a new kitchen floor installed is more discombobulating than I’d expected.  Yes, it’s done and it’s lovely:

new kitchen floor

In fact, the kitchen looks so nice empty it’s a shame to put any furniture back.  I’ll start that today, but for now, the family, living, and dining rooms are even more cluttered than usual (some of the kitchen stuff must have reproduced) and the pantry closet door was taken off because it needed to be shaved down to fit over the new flooring (just had someone to do it this afternoon – I had to coordinate that with getting Rich’s car back from the shop), and the kitchen table legs have to be re-attached before I put it back.  So, I do not have a clear table top on which to write this and am doing so snuggling in bed while the wind howls outside (gusts expected to 50 mph) and the rain is now changing to snow.

Comments from 2012:

Ki Tissa is a portion of many moods: peaceful instruction, fear, orgiastic celebration, anger, repentance, and spiritual communion.  The beginning is the conclusion of the instructions to Moses on Mt. Sinai concerning the Tabernacle and its service: the census and 1/2-shekel head tax for maintenance we read about a few weeks ago on Shabbat Shekalim, a copper basin for washing priests’ hands and feet, the recipes for the incense and anointing oil, and the appointment of Bezalel as chief artisan, assisted by Oholiab.  And, once more, a reminder to keep the Sabbath. Then Moses comes down the mountain with the two inscribed tablets, sees the people joyfully worshipping a gold idol in the shape of a young bull.  Moses convinces the Lord to not wipe them all out (“only” about 3,000 die of a plague as punishment), but he himself smashes the tablets (that gets their attention), grinds up the idol, mixes it with water, and makes the people drink it.  Aaron tries to explain, but instead of saying simply, “Look, they were afraid you wouldn’t come back, I was trying to stall for time, and if I hadn’t made them that idol, they probably would have killed me,” he says, “I threw their gold into the fire and this calf came out.”  The people repent.  Moses is allowed to see, not the face, but the back of the Lord. Then he goes back up for another set of tablets and another opportunity to commune with the Lord. He comes back down literally glowing.   

How could the Israelites, so soon after the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, have blithely broken such fundamental commandments, commissioning and worshipping the Golden Calf?  Aaron’s idiotic excuse makes no sense unless he too felt that the Lord, or some other god, was made manifest in the idol.  The poet and philosopher Yehuda HaLevi (ca. 1080-1141) tried strenuously to explain and excuse the apostasy, writing that everyone back then worshipped images, and so the people needed something tangible to focus on in order to worship, not replace, the Lord.  Similarly, Nachmanides (1195-1270) suggests that the Israelites were asking Aaron for a substitute, not for the Lord, but for Moses.  Generally, though, the Israelites’ actions are regarded as genuine idol worship.   

Yet the question remains – didn’t the splitting of the Sea and the thunder and lightning and Divine voice of Revelation have any impact?  A similar question arises from the haftarah (Kings I, 18:1-39), that really dramatic one in which Elijah bests the priests of Baal and the people fall down crying, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” [Those of you fortunate enough (IMO) to have heard the Delaware ChoralArts performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah on 11/19/18 heard this part of the story then.] But then (after the haftarah’s events), they lapse right back into idolatry.  

Maimonides (1135-1204) understands that a single dramatic event is not likely to cause a lasting transformation in human character, but such transformation occurs only gradually in reality. (source for above citations: (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot, pp. 549-557).  For example, the medieval English were essentially all pagans in the year 600.  Then Christianity started to take root, gradually, without martyrs, with plenty of lapses and re-conversions, often incorporating local pagan practices (e.g., people continued to wear their little Thor’s hammer amulets).  The result: by 700, paganism had been replaced by Christianity.  It took a full century (Jennifer Paxton, Georgetown University).  Surely it was a little unrealistic to expect Israel to internalize all those Laws only after a matter of weeks? 

Shabbat shalom, 

Poor Aaron, as Moses’ substitute, was like a substitute teacher, and substitute teachers can rarely control the class like the regular teacher can.  I mean, even I usually joined in (somewhat) in tormenting substitutes, and I was “a good little girl.” 2018

My most memorable substitute teacher experience occurred when I was in third grade.  I had recently transferred into Longstreth Elementary School.  Our regular teacher had to take over some administrative duties in the office, so we had a sub.  Two tall girls were washing the blackboard (The tall girls [I don’t recall tall boys ever doing it.  We were very pigeonholed at the time.] always got to wash the blackboard.  I got to do things like water the plants.  My mother let me wash her blackboard in later years when she closed up a classroom at the end of the school year, for which I am still grateful.  But I digress.).  The substitute walked in, stepped into the bucket, and slid halfway across the room.  I looked up, startled, and said “That’s my mother!”  That bit of information rippled around the room and may be why the class didn’t give her a hard time.  I had fun calling her “Mrs. Greenwald” for the next two days.  IGP2004 


tph moses backed-up-data-w


Since Ki Tissa includes taxes and excuses, how about some tax excuses? By the way, these didn’t work, so don’t try them.

  1. We didn’t file our 1993, 1994 and 1995 Income Tax returns until December of 1996 because at the time those returns were due we were undergoing an IRS audit for our 1990, 1991 and 1992 Income Tax returns [Owens v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2001-143.].
  2. I led a double life; in my public life as barrister, community and family man I achieved the highest possible standards that I was capable of, but in my private persona I became increasingly burnt out and drawn towards deliberate ignorance and recklessness as to the risks and consequences of understating income on my tax returns [New South Wales Bar Assn. v. Hamman [1999] NSWCA 404.].
  3. We didn’t know that we were required to report the money we embezzled as income on our tax returns [Clark v. Iowa Dept. of Revenue & Finance, 2002 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 93 (8 May 2002).].
  4. I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having a tax phobia (petitioner served as a corporate vice president during the tax years at issue) [Kemmerer v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1993-394.].


tph golden yak


You can buy Biblical-type (cf. “kosher-style”) incense online, e.g., at,

but I think it would be more fun to make your own. Here’s one source of ingredients:

“Welcome to Scents of Earth: Your trusted source for high quality resins, herbs, botanicals, and oils. We are your Oman Frankincense specialists! Every day we’re adding more Certified Organic resins, botanicals and oils for your incense making needs.

We’ve gathered all of the incense, resins and botanicals mentioned in the Bible and created this easy-to-use page.

PLEASE NOTE! When looking for STYRAX OFFICALIS, it is no longer produced. The suggested replacement is BENZOIN*. Also, STACTE is actually BALSAM OF TOLU.”

*I remember my father using tincture of benzoin as an inhalant, like Vicks® VapoRub.  It smelled cinnamon-ish.
Red Sea Onycha goes for $10.50 for a half ounce, by the way.
How to make and burn the incense is here:






This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s