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Parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

“Thus you shall consecrate them so that they may be most holy;
whatever touches them shall be consecrated.” (Exodus 30:29)

Do you like Chanukkah’s miracle story of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights of candle lighting (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b)? Is so, you’ll love Parashat Ki Tisa.

Following the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and the instructions for constructing the mishkan, or Tabernacle, Ki Tisa describes the last of its ritual objects: the bronze washing laver and its stand. Then it introduces the anointing oil: “And speak to the Israelite people, as follows: ‘This shall be an anointing oil sacred to Me throughout the ages.’” (Ex. 3:31). The rabbis of the Talmud claim this means the sacred oil Moses makes will last until the coming of the Messiah (Babylonian Talmud Horayot 11b)! No matter how much was used, its volume remains constant.

Rabbi David Feinstein (1929-; one of the leading halachic, or Jewish legal, authorities in the US) derives an important lesson from this interpretation. If the oil’s volume is never diminished, it means the oil itself doesn’t convey the k’dusha, or sanctity (otherwise, it would get used up and then replenish itself). Rather, the oil’s function is to ignite the existing k’dusha already within the individual (or object) being anointed.

This view has implications extending beyond the concept of k’dusha and is a fundamental principle of learning. The Jewish Bible says, “Educate the child according to his way… (Prov. 22:6), meaning you can’t teach anybody anything; you can only uncover the wisdom already within them. K’dusha, knowledge, light, and love are not zero-sum games; mine is not diminished when I share it with you. It is just as true of leadership and authority.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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