Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parsha Notes Ki Tisah 5771

Before we start, a quick lunchtime poll [*]: how many of you refer to the parsha of the week as Ki Sisah? Follow up: How many of you snarl your faces into a wicked grimace and harumph audibly about the "modern Jews" when you hear someone say Ki Tisah? Just curious.

* Please get the reference.

External Parallels
(1) Robert Alter says that it was a common belief in Mesopotamian cultures that it was dangerous to be counted. This ancient fear survives today among the Orthodox. It also explain why, in Ex 30:11 ff each man had to give a half-shekel as a "ransom for his life" [=kofer nefesh] during the census that opens the parsha.

(2) Many Mesopotamian cultures used a golden icon as footstool or throne for an invisible diety. The golden calf is thought to have been something like this. (So, by the way, are the cherubim. See, e.g., Isaiah 37:16 "O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned upon the cherubim...")

(3) In the ANE smashing tablets upon which a binding agreement had been written was a legal way of abrogating the agreement. This is what Moshe does with the 10C. (Alter)

Internal Parallel
(1) In Exodus 11 we're told "That man Moshe had become very great", and the people are told to "borrow" gold and silver ornamentals. In Exodus 32, the people worry out loud about the fate of "That man Moshe" just before Aaron takes their golden earings.

(2)When the calf is ready, the people declare: "These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!" These words are precisely what Jeroboam says five centuries later when he establishes golden claves in Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12:2‑33)

(3) Aaron and Jeroboam both had sons who died under unusual circumstances. Aaron's sons are called Nadav and Avihu; Jereboam's sons are Nadav and Aviya. (Scholars say Avihu and Aviya are the same name.)

(4) The Israelites were forced to drink water into which the pulverized calf had been sprinkled. This corresponds to the Sota ritual, with Israel playing the role of the adulterous woman. The fact that the water was likely water Moshe had earlier provided for them miraculously only compounds the irony (Richard Elliot Friedman) Also, the verse later says that Aaron "let the people loose" using a verb (parau'a) that relates to letting loose long hair (as was done to the Sota.)

(5) When Aaron defends himself saying he "threw" the gold into the fire, he's employing the same verb the Torah used to describe how Moshe cast down the tablets.

(6) The tribe of Levi gathers for a massacre; their namesake did the same against the males of Shchem.

Forgotten Rambam
The 13 attributes start with a repetition, with God's name being said twice: וַיַּעֲבֹ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה עַל־ פָּנָיו֮ וַיִּקְרָא֒ יְהוָ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־ חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת׃ [= "And the LORD passed by before him and proclaimed The LORD The LORD God merciful and gracious longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth."] Rambam reads it And the LORD passed by before him and the Lord proclaimed "The LORD is a merciful God..." [See? No duplication.]

Erroneous Midrash
Exodus 32:15 says the Ten Commandments "were written on both their sides,” Rav Chisda [BT Shabbat 104a.] says that the writing of the tablets was cut completely through the tablets, so that it could be read from either side. Archeological discoveries of tablets indicate, however, that it was not unusual for stone tablets to have inscriptions on either side.

The low point of Aaron's career is when the great compromiser comprises once too often before the sin of the golden calf when he seeks to delay, and to find a kosher way of satisfying the demand. Moshe, otoh, is blunt and direct, the very opposite sort of man. The low point of his career comes when he angrily strikes a rock he should have spoken to. (Shmuel Goldin)

What does Moshe mean when he asks to be removed from Gods book?

Why did Moshe break the tablets? Rashbam says he grew weak, and lost control of them; Mesech Chachma says he did it deliberately to make a point.

The verse says Aaron saw something... but doesn't say what it was. The Peshitta solves the problem one way, and seems to take into account the midrash, too. 

What about the Golden Calf?
Midrashic Pun
The verse says Moshe "lagged" [in coming down the mountain] with the word boshesh; in the midrash this becomes "ba shesh" i.e the sixth hour of the deadline day had com; therefore the people had reason to wonder if Moshe would ever return.

Number games
During the discussion of shabbos in Ex 31:13-17 the word shabat appears 7 times (once as shabaton) and the verb "to keep" three times.

At the end of the parsha, the verb "spoke" is used 7 times. These are the passages describing Moshe's conversations his God, and how he delivered God's messages to the people.

Poetic structures
The whole short discussion of shabbos in Ex 31:13-17 is chiastically structured (Yitzchak Avishur)

Moshe's words upon returning from the mountain also have a poetic sense. They scan, and there is an intensification of the noun. אֵ֥ין קֹול֙ עֲנֹ֣ות גְּבוּרָ֔ה וְאֵ֥ין קֹ֖ול עֲנֹ֣ות חֲלוּשָׁ֑ה קֹ֣ול עַנֹּ֔ות אָנֹכִ֖י שֹׁמֵֽעַ׃ [=Not the sound of crying out in triumph / and not the sound of crying out in defeat. A sound of crying I hear.] (translation's is Alters. Others have it as a "sound of singing" that Moshe hears.

(1) The literal meaning of the last phrase in Exodus 31:17 is "and on the seventh day He ceased and caught his breath" [=וּבַיֹּום֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ]

(2) In Ki Tisah God also hulks out, angrily threatening to destroy the people and, per the Ibn Ezra, he cancels the Tabernacle construction project when he refuses to dwell in their midst (Moshe has to leave the camp to speak to him at the end of the sedra.)

(3) God also covers Moshe with his hand, shows him his backside, and speaks to him "face to face, as a man speaks to his fellow."

Great moments in Parshanut
In which the Rashbam calls Jerome a moron

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