Ki Tisa: Touched by holiness

half shekelKi Tissa – it’s all about the Calf, ‘bout the Calf. Though the Golden Calf story does take up a hefty piece of the parasha this week, something else caught my eye; two things, actually.

The beginning of the parasha talks about each person in the community bringing in a specific amount of money, to be taken as “expiation money”; that is, money given as a “reminder before Adonai, as expiation for your persons.” (Ex 30: 16) Everyone brings the same amount- a half-shekel – “the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less” (Ex 30:15) This isn’t a capital campaign, or a building fund, or to get your name on a wing of a building. This money is for “kaparah” to ward off plagues, specifically. After all, the Israelites had just seen how devastating plagues could be.  This is money that will remind everyone, poor and rich, what this Tent of Meeting is all about: God.

When the community pays in equally, they share in the results equally. This is a fundamental assumption of the community as it was developing. Everyone benefitted from the relationship with God. To use the rabbinic concept of “kal v’chomer”, or “how much more so”, how much more so are those benefits to be gleaned in our own time, for example, health care. The Affordable Care Act is being debated….again…in front of the Supreme Court….again. There’s an underlying truth in the ACA: It’s not right that a rich person can afford really, really good health care, but the poorer of us get poorer care, if at all. The entire Israelite community benefitted from God’s protection from misfortune. How much more so does our community today benefit from a healthy populace?

There’s another interesting, related passage in Ki Tissa, as the text describes how the Tent of Meeting is to be consecrated, made into a holy space. There are instructions for the table, the utensils, lampstand and fittings, and the laver. We read of the “recipes” – the herbs and spices to be used in consecrating the space: “Thus you shall consecrate them [the individual items] so that they may be most holy: whatever touches them shall be consecrated.” (Ex 30:29) One might think that holy things would be sullied by anyone who touched them, but it’s the other way around. The holiness is transferred, not the impurity. We read of other times when people or things become defiled by forbidden contact. Priests cannot touch a dead body, and if any non-Priests come into contact with the dead, they must go through a purification process. Yet here, the furniture and utensils of the Holy of Holies can spread its status, as they are used in service to God.

When you surround yourself with the holy things that remind you of the unique, holy, blessed purposes in a well-lived life, you become holy, too. Again, how much more so, when you surround yourself with people and ideas that are acting in service to a holy purpose. Having access to the blessing of good health, which l believe benefits the entire community, means having more and more people able to do the work of their lives, making it a better world, raising all who come into contact with the holiness therein.

And on another topic, and a real Torah-stretch, for those in the Chicago area. In Exodus 32:7, in the Golden Calf story, we read that Aaron says the next day would be a great big party, with food and dancing. The verb used is “l’tzachek” Rashi says the verb has sexual implications – it’s the same one used in Genesis, when Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of “dallying” with her when he visited. Well….I’m in a production of “All Shook Up”, an Elvis jukebox musical, playing the mayor who will NOT have that EVIL, SUGGESTIVE music in her town. If you think you can withstand the temptation of “l’tzachek”, come on and rock’n roll to some great music and dancing. March 6 – 15, weekends. Details:


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