Ki Tisa: A Path to Follow

Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v’chanun…” — Exodus/Shemot 34:6-7

The soul is part of God. And therefore when the soul calls out to God in prayer, part of God is, as it were, calling out to God’s own self. So, when our text says that God passed by Moses’ face, it means that Moses was overcome by reverence and filled with fear and love. And just this is the reason that the word “Adonai” is repeated. The first mentioning of “Adonai” is actually the aspect of God within Moses calling to its other, universal presence. Continue Reading

Ki Tisa: Something to Notice

Sections of this week’s portion figure prominently in Arguing with God: A Jewish Tradition, by Anson Laytner (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1990).

Anson explores rabbinic use of Moses’ arguments (p.49ff). He describes liturgical use of verse 32:12 — “turn from Your fierce wrath, and repent the evil against Your people” — in an 11th Century CE piyut (liturgical poem) recited on Mondays and Thursdays as part of Tachanun [supplication] (p.122ff). In addition, he outlines the “complete law-court argument prayer” which Moses offers immediately after the Golden Calf incident, Exodus/Shemot 32:9-14:

Here is manifest an example of complete law-court argument prayer: an opening address (verse 11), a defense argument (verses 12a, 13), a plea (or petition) (verse 12b), and a divine response (indirect) (verse 14). But the threat of destruction is not ended. Although God relents of His plan (verse 14), He still requires further appeasement…(Exodus 32:30-35)

The second argument should be considered as a continuation of the first, although structurally each can stand alone. First of all, it pursues the same line of argumentation as does the first. Second, it provides the real conclusion to the story (that is God’s actual sentence and its execution [verses 33-35]). Third, Moses’ ultimatum, “erase me,” seems to be a direct response to God’s offer in verse 10 to make of Moses a great nation. Fourth, Moses’ recounting of the event, in Deuteronomy 9:26-29, blends the two arguments of the Exodus story into a single unit. Finally, both arguments are needed to save the people fully.

— Anson, p.10-11

Continue Reading

Ki Tisa: Language and Translation

Exodus/Shemot 32:25, part of Moses’ confrontation with Aaron regarding the Golden Calf, contains two interesting words for which there are a range of translations. One is a hapax legomenon, a word that appears only once in the Tanakh; the other a common verb, with a root that encompasses three and half columns in my concordance:*

“Moses saw the people, that it was exposed [ki parua hu], for Aaron had exposed them [ki p’raoh aharon] to disgrace [l’shimtzah] among those who rise up against them.” — Stone*

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“Moses saw that the people were out of control [ki parua hu] — since Aaron had let them get out of control [ki p’raoh aharon] — so that they were a menace [l’shimtzah] to any who might oppose them.”

A menace. Others, “an object of derision.” — JPS/Plaut*

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“Now when Moses saw the people: that it had gotten-loose [ki parua hu],

for Aharon had let-it-loose [ki p’raoh aharon] for whispering among their foes [l’shimtzah].”

gotten-loose: The same verb (paro’a) was used in 5:4, where Pharoah complained about the Israelites. for whispering: A derisive kind of whispering. — Fox*

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“And Moses saw the people, that it was let loose [ki parua hu], for Aaron had let them loose [ki p’raoh aharon] as a shameful thing [l’shimtzah] to their adversaries.”

The basic meaning of the Hebew paru’a is “to unbind,” as in the unbinding or letting loose of long hair. The sense here is of loosing of all inhibitions in orgiastic frenzy.

The word translated as a “shameful thing,” shimtsah, appears only here and so its meaning is uncertain, though it seems to indicate something strongly negative. “To their adversaries” might conceivably be a euphanims for “themselves,” as the more common word for enemies is sometimes used as a euphemistic substitution in curses.– Alter*

Cassuto* notes use of the root pei-reish-ayin in Numbers/Bamidbar 6:5, e.g, which refers directly to hair, in this case of an individual who took Nazarite vows: “…he shall let the locks [pera’] of hair of his head grow long,’ that is to say, the Nazirite shall allow the hair of his to grow untended” (p.420).

None of the six translation/commentaries links pei-reish-ayin with the Sotah [suspected wife] (Numbers/Bamidbar 5) — in which the priest is to bare [para’] the wife’s head. All note similarities, however, between Moses’ actions regarding the Golden Calf and the priest’s instructions regarding the Sotah.

Cassuto also notes a comparison of this loose/exposed/out of control state with the stiff-necked characterization of verse 9, adding, “In these poetic expressions there is possibly to be heard an echo of the ancient epic poem to which we have alluded earlier” (p.421). Throughout his Exodus commentary, Cassuto refers to “an ancient heroic poem, an epos dating back to earliest times, that told at length of the story of the Egyptian bondage, of the liberation and of the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness” (p.2).

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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