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

“When God finished speaking on Mt. Sinai, He gave Moses the two Tablets of Testimony, stone tablets inscribed by God’s finger.  (Exodus 31:18)

Everything is going so nicely: God reveals the Torah on Mt. Sinai and follows up with specific instructions for building the mishkan, or Tabernacle.  Moses appoints artists and craftsmen to create the ritual objects.  The Israelites are so moved, spiritually, they donate more than is needed for the job.  There is just one problem: what if you don’t have money to contribute, or don’t have the ability or wisdom to participate creatively, or aren’t of a priestly dynasty to serve spiritually?  What can the average Israelite do?

Parashat Ki Tisa commands, “…Ach et shabtotai tishmoru, Still, observe my Sabbaths for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know I am Adonai Who makes you holy.” (Ex. 31:13)  This verse’s placement in the text clarifies the prohibition against labor on Shabbat: constructing the mishkan must halt on Shabbat.  Richard Elliot Friedman (1946-; Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia) says ach can also mean “as for you”, or “nevertheless.”  Now the verse offers a role to those without the means, talent, or lineage to participate in constructing the mishkan: “make Shabbos.”  Creating a time for God (Shabbat) is equivalent to making a space for God (the mishkan).  Shabbat is an egalitarian portal to spiritual uplift; everybody can participate in affirming God’s covenant.

Shabbat is a big Jewish idea: a protected zone within the tumult of the busy week for retreat, rest, reflection, and rejoicing.  Ki Tisa invites everyone to join the party.  So, to borrow the 92nSt Y’s line, “What are you doing for Shabbat this Friday night?”

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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