The weekly portion of Ki Tisa begins with G-d telling Moses to take a census of the Israelites – not by directly counting each person, but rather by counting a 1/2 shekel contribution that each is required to give. The lesson we learn here is that by counting someone, we limit that person by imposing a cap or assigning a number to them. The Zohar explains that “to count”, lispor in Hebrew, from the word sephar, means to cut or border. Counting can therefore be considered a form of evil eye, cutting us off from the Light. While it is important to appreciate everything we have, we should not create a limit by counting it. We should constantly look to do more and achieve more – without specifically counting what we have. Commentators also suggest that counting turns a cohesive group into a gathering of individuals which are not as strong as the unified whole. In support of this concept, when people are counted for a Minyan they are typically counted as “not 1, not 2 not 3, etc”...or they are counted according to the 10-word Ha-Motzi blessing.
G-d tells Moses that each person is to give a 1/2 shekel as atonement, a contribution of money, and so long as it is given, then “no plague will come on them”. It is made clear that the rich are not to give more and the poor are not to give less, but they are all to give 1/2 shekel. We learn here that regardless of your financial position, the power of giving a contribution is equal for everyone and that it serves to create protection and blessings. The portion states that the shekel weighed 20 gerahs so a 1/2 shekel would be equal to 10 gerah. There are 10 levels of consciousnesses connected to the 10 Sephirot, so by giving a 1/2 shekel, the Israelites were also connecting to the tree of life consciousness represented by and through the Sephirot.
Immediately preceding G-d giving Moses the first set of Tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, G-d provided a detailed request to Moses regarding Shabbat. He instructed Moses to tell the Israelites, “Observe the Sabbath, because it is Holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.” Based on the fact that this directive took place immediately before the giving of the Tablets and the harsh decree issued for someone that violated the Sabbath, it is obviously extremely important. The message for us is to understand the importance of rest and the separation of something Holy from something mundane. The Torah states that creation happened over a 6-day period and on the 7th day G-d rested and the world became manifest. We are all busy throughout the week for 6 days. In order to materialize and get the most benefit from our efforts, we need to rest or separate a day (Shabbat) from the rest of the week. There is a unique energy available on Shabbat for us to access. The connection to Shabbat is so important that the rules of Shabbat always take precedence over other holidays. We have the opportunity to make this connection each and every week whereby we pause, separate from our on-going work and daily activity and connect to the infinite and Holy, becoming restored and complete.
One of the most famous, and often misinterpreted, stories in the Torah is the Sin of the Golden Calf. When the Israelites see that Moses is delayed on Mt. Sinai while getting the Tablets from G-d, they grow impatient and decide to create an idol with the help of Aaron and others in the camp. When Moses finally comes down the Mountain and sees the dancing idol (Golden Calf) and the debauchery, he drops and breaks the Tablets. Despite his disappointment, Moses did not withdraw from his leadership role and abandon the people. He did not berate himself for the Israelite’s serious sin and disconnection from the Light. Rather, he recognized that true triumph comes on the heels of failure and he kept moving forward. Moses understood that everything is from G-d and even the sin was a required part of the path towards ultimate growth. He continued to connect to G-d and pushed forward without giving up. We read how he challenged G-d and asked Him to find favor with him and the Israelites after the sin. As a result of his certainty and refusal to quit, G-d inscribed a second set of Tablets for Moses and provided him with the 13 Attributes of Mercy – a powerful prayer and connection to divine mercy and protection. The commentators share that the second set of Tablets included all of the Midrash, Halacha and other laws (in addition to the Ten Utterances) – a more complete and perfect gift from G-d and a tool to grow and connect to the infinite.
This week in Parsha Ki Tisa we have one of the greatest lessons found in the Torah and a key to our ultimate happiness and freedom. The ability to continue to move forward and maintain certainty in the Light and G-d, despite what appears to be a significant fall or setback. This is known as Emunah or complete faith. No matter how bad a situation appears, there is always a brighter future waiting. We often must fall or go down – as was the case with the Sin of the Golden Calf – in order to grow and reach our highest potential.