Ki Tisa, (Exodus 30:11-34:35) is a great equalizer. According to the census taken of all of Bnei Israel, from age twenty and upwards, each individual had to pay a half shekel tax to the sanctuary. Why is this an equalizer? Aside from the fact that it was incumbent upon everyone, “The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel,” (Exodus 30:15).
The stated purpose of this offering was:
…when you give the LORD’s offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the LORD, so as to make atonement for your lives.” (Exodus 30”15b-16).
It was to remind all of Israel, young and old, that it was the LORD that provided the atonement and more importantly, that each individual was equal before the LORD in needing atonement. One’s place in society did not mean anything – everyone stands before the LORD equally. James affirms this idea when he writes, “do not hold the faith of our glorious Lord Yeshua the Messiah while showing favoritism,” (James 2:1). Likewise, in Parasha Kedoshim, that includes loving your neighbor as yourself, the LORD states, “You are not to be partial toward the poor nor show favoritism toward the great, but you are to judge your neighbor with fairness,” (Leviticus 19:5).
Moving to this week’s Haftarah, from 1Kings 18:20-39, we hear Elijah ask, while on the top of My Carmel, “עַד-מָתַי אַתֶּם פֹּסְחִים עַל-שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים”. This is the familiar narrative of Elijah’s confrontation not only with the priests of Ba’al but also with Bnei Israel. While literally, the question that begins our passage is “how long (or until when) will you keep limping between two opinions,” another English translation, while a bit liberal, sums up the issue quite well, “how long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision?” (NET) Following this line of thought, Rashi comments that the people did not answer Elijah because they were “mired in doubt.”[i]
How many times do we find ourselves in this same situation? I don’t mean we are actually worshipping other gods in place of ADONAI, but we often do allow other “things” or “life situations” to side-track our focus from He who created and holds all of our “things” together. Actually, if it were physical gods, it would be easier to address than the sins and transgressions that as the KJV says “so easily beset us,” (Hebrews 12:1). Here is another place where the poetry of KJV loses modern understanding. Other translations describe that which “besets” as “so easily entangles” (NASB), “clings so closely” (ESV) or “so easily entangles or ensnares” (NIV and HCSB).
The essential thing to note here is not the “things” that so easily ensnare or entangle or paralyze due to their perceived importance, but the fact that both Elijah as well as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts the freedom of choice upon the individual, upon the community.
“If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)
…let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, (Hebrew 12:1)
Both on Mt. Carmel as well as the varying instances imagined by the author of Hebrews, the choice is left in the hands of the people.
This returns us to the exhortation that I closed last week’s portion which was given to Israel by Moshe after he recounted to words of the Torah to them:
“I call the heavens and the earth to witness about you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving Adonai your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20a)
Earlier in the same chapter of Deuteronomy (and then echoed by Rav. Shaul in Romans 10) we read that the words given to Israel by the LORD via Moshe “are not too difficult” (30:11), and that “the word in very near you – in your mouth and in your heart, to do it,” (30:14). This sounds very much like Jeremiah 31:32 where the prophet describes the renewed covenant that ADONAI will make with Israel, “I will put My Torah within them. Yes, I will write it on their heart.”
The Torah, its mitzvoth and guidelines were always meant to be upon our hearts, so that the working out, the observance of the mitzvoth would be a natural outworking of what the LORD placed within us. Considering the encouragement to “get rid of every weight and entangling sin…” as well as the Toraic admonition that obedience to the word is “not too difficult,” affirms that we have the choice. This choice is asserted by the words of Joshua to Bnei Israel as he prepared for his own death “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15). In other words, we do not always have to wait for some special working of the LORD to to get the victory over a situation in our lives, sometimes we just need to make a choice, and do it!
[i] Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Rubin Edition of the Prophets: Kings I & II. Mesorah Publications Ltd., 2006. p 179