Ki Tisa – Torah for Today

Original Broadcast Date: March 6, 2015

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Ki Tisa Broadcast Transcript

Beerman:

It is such an inspiration and insight to go through these passages in the Book of Exodus and to see how they applied in that day and how they apply now. This particular portion that we are going to look at today has the story of golden calf in it. Most people are familiar with that, and it is an interesting one. But there are other things in here that certainly, we want to explore. This section is Exodus 32 to 34.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, this actually starts from Exodus 30:11, and it runs until the end of an Exodus 34, this is called ‘Ki Tisa,’ and it is about counting. It starts, “When you count the people of Israel,” you take a certain tax, the silver shekel. That’s basically the offerings which they made for the construction of the temple.

Beerman:

You know that is something completely new to me—what that connection is there in the passage.

Bolotnikov:

Sometimes they do this in some churches who want to not go into debt and actually in the synagogue that is seen, too. Let’s say, when the community wants to build, they take a tally of the people who are the members of the community, and they say, “Alright, we have that many doctors; we have that many other people. Okay, let’s see how many of these people can donate.” That is how projects like these are done to this day.

Beerman:

So in this particular passage, ‘Ki Tisa,’ where is the specific term used? Or where is the connection with the numbering, or is it just called that?

Bolotnikov:

It is in Exodus right away. It is Exodus 30:11. It says here…

Beerman:

Okay, there it is—the census.

Bolotnikov:

That is taking a census.

Beerman:

For their number, “every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when you number them; that there be no plague among them.”

Bolotnikov:

This word ransom may be a little bit… not the best…

Beerman:

Translation…

Bolotnikov:

Yes, like, “Oh hey, I am like captive you know.” They are not kidnapped or any of these things, but it is more of a way to raise funds.

Beerman:

Okay, there is a lot here certainly that we can talk about. I notice there in the later part of chapter 30, it talks specifically about the laver, the holy anointing oil incense. We touched on these in our past discussion last week—again something about the artisans building the temple.

But then we come down the last part of chapter 31 here, and it begins to speak about the Sabbath, just prior to the issue with the golden calf. Verse 15, “Work shall be done for Six days; the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” So I assume this is a connection with Exodus 20; that this is a reference to that and the two tablets that were created there by God.

Bolotnikov:

Yes absolutely. What we have here is a very interesting structure, and there are many parallels here between the construction of the sanctuary and the creation of the world. If you really look and digress from the rabbinic Parashat structures, what you will see is that there are seven stages in which the sanctuary was to be constructed, if you look at the different sections. This is an interesting reminder.

So the ‘Ki Tisa’ Parsha ends with the instruction regarding the laver which seems to be the last section here, and then after talking of the people who are working on the construction, then right away the Sabbath.

Beerman:

Yes, it is just kind of an interesting, almost like an interruption. Suddenly here this is, so obviously there is some significance attached to this.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, absolutely. If you take the creation of the world, that’s exactly the same structure, you have Genesis 1, six days/six stages of the creation of the world and then the Sabbath. If you go from Exodus 25 to 31 and take out some of the Aarons and other interjections, you will find six distinct stages of the creation. Then it goes back and says, “Oh, the Sabbath.” So it can be understood in both ways. First of all, no matter how holy the sanctuary is (because the sanctuary is Mikdash—holiness) but the Sabbath is holier.

Beerman:

So Sabbath and sanctuary are inextricably connected, not only in holiness, but in terms of how this is spell out in covenant.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, that is a second part, the Sabbath is brought as a covenant. Sometimes, this is what confuses many Christians, because I do not know the etymology of the English word covenant exactly.

Beerman:

Agreement, contract essentially.

Bolotnikov:

Ah, see that’s how the people often understand the English term covenant. That is why I often hear, “Oh, this is like a legal binding agreement.”

Beerman:

Very much, this is the connotation in the English language and in our culture, Western culture.

Bolotnikov:

This is totally different in Hebrew. The word covenant is connected with marriage. In other words, the word covenant… It is interesting that the Middle Eastern and especially Israelite marriage and Jewish also, consists of two parts. One part is literally “sanctification”—the engagement. So when a future husband brings to his future wife a token of betrothal—a golden ring in most cases (Before it was probably just a piece of gold. They did not have rings back then)—it is about the golden ring today. It basically declares, “Behold you are holy or sanctified, consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel.”

Beerman:

So this is a very relational term in the Hebrew covenant as opposed to a purely legal term, a contractual term. I would say in the English language, there is no sense of commitment to covenant, the word commitment itself, but it is far more legal in its connotation.

Bolotnikov:

Well, it does have some legality in Hebrew, especially in the way the rabbis understand the holiness of the bride, but it is kind of kosher legal, I would say. Basically, they say if she takes the token of her betrothal, it means she is holy, i.e. she is forbidden to every man except the one from whom she took the tokens of betrothal.

Beerman:

Does that commitment in Hebrew language have any connotation of legality then?

Bolotnikov:

Some.

Beerman:

It is a little bit that is there, isn’t there? It seems to be there is little of that there.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, but it is more about the relationship, about faithfulness in that context. Any kind of intimate relation of a betrothed girl with somebody else carries the death penalty. It is a high-handed heinous form of adultery.

Beerman:

Sure, so there is a legal component, but the primary is the relational aspect of covenant.

I want to zero in here in verse 18, “We made an end of speaking with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” What is the significance of this writing on tablets of stone in relationship to covenant?

Bolotnikov:

Well, first of all it shows the connection as it says here, “The Sabbath is a sign of the covenant.” Basically the Sabbath is indeed a token of the betrothal. It is an engagement ring, and it is interesting how it plays in Jewish liturgy. We do this too in our little congregation, Beit Shalom Balevav. We sing this traditional Jewish song, which was developed in the medieval times. It goes like this. “Lekhah dodi likrat kallah p’nei Shabbat nekabelah,” which translates as “Come O beloved to greet the bride. Let us meet the Sabbath together.”

So the Sabbath is viewed as the bride, based on this particular text, knowing that the covenant is connected with the marriage. The Sabbath is the ring. It is the engagement ring.

Beerman:

Having read the Abraham Hechel’s treatment on the Sabbath, I picked up some of this same kind of theme, and the idea that you just shared. That is a useful read. I really feel that was a useful read.

Bolotnikov:

And if we talk about the two tablets of stone, that is basically a marriage license. So that is how it plays out here when he keeps talking, “Covenant… Covenant… Covenant…” If we understand that the covenant actually is—as the Book of Deuteronomy says—“It is a sacred oath of loyalty.”

Beerman:

Just like Christ is in relationship with His church in a sanctified relationship.

Bolotnikov:

The Christian theological idea, the New Testament idea of the church as a bride of Christ, has nothing new in it. It is the same old covenantal language.

Beerman:

I like to just turn back briefly to something we discussed before in connection with the Sabbath and these tablets on stone as opposed to some of the judgments and ceremonial kinds of things that we talked about before.

Bolotnikov:

Of course. As we say these ones, the Ten Commandments, form the constitution. If we go into a different perspective, as we said, before the Ten Commandment there is the heavenly constitution, the principles. Whereas the other judgments and commandments, these are actually the legislative documents governing the ethical, civil and criminal behavior of the people of Israel. So this is clearly their relations.

Beerman:

So God here has written a covenant, and He has written it in stone. He has engraved in with His own finger. What should be the significance to that for us today as Christians who think about the New Covenant, because we know there is a promise of the New Covenant in the Old Testament here, and it is reiterated in the New Testament.

Bolotnikov:

Well again, before we even go into the New Covenant, and I have to say this, people confuse the terms. People confuse Old Covenant, New Covenant with Old Testament and New Testament. They are not the same. In fact, we actually do not have the terms of Old Testament, the collection of the thirty-nine books of the Bible written in the Hebrew language, as opposed to the New Testament, the collection of the twenty-seven books, in the Bible. These terms did not exist. The first time these terms were introduced, as we know them today—Old Testament and New Testament—was when the Church father named Eusebius used them in the fourth century.

So when you look at how Jesus called the books of the Hebrew Bible, that is how I prefer to talk about this—the “Tanakh”—the Torah, the prophets and the writings.

Beerman:

Three sections there.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, three sections, or the Hebrew Bible. Jesus spoke about this in Luke 24:44, speaking, This has to be fulfilled about me, written in the Law of Moses, in the prophets and in the Psalms.

Beerman:

On the road to Emmaus there.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, that is exactly how Jesus sees the canon of scripture.

So going back to the covenant. That is totally different, and we have to go to the context of the book of Jeramiah 31:31. It says here, “Behold, I am making a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” This is very interesting to note that the New Covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It is not with the church.

Beerman:

That is what this is appears to say, doesn’t it?

Bolotnikov:

Yes, that is how this is appears. The new covenant is not made with the church. The new covenant is strictly with Israel and Judah, and if you look at the text, it says there is a reason why this is so—because they betrayed the first covenant, in spite of the fact that “I” (verse 32) “I remained their husband.” That is very powerful proof of the fact that the new covenant—the covenant here in the Bible—is definitely very relational not legal.

Beerman:

So how we do understand that, for instance in the context of Hebrews 8 and the reiteration of the new covenant that is given there, the affirmation of the new covenant there?

Bolotnikov:

Well first of all, the Book of Jeremiah is all about breaking the covenant and renewing it. In the book of Jeremiah 3, we have the covenant here which deals with… We have Israel called an adulterous wife.

Beerman:

She has broken the covenant.

Bolotnikov:

Yes, she has been unfaithful, and of course if you look at the Decalogue, you will see there are two commandments in a Decalogue that deal with faithfulness. Commandment #7 covers the faithfulness of two individuals, two people, man and woman in the marriage. Commandment #1, “Thou shall not have any other God.”

Beerman:

The connection.

Bolotnikov:

So basically, that is the connection here. So Israel when it goes into apostasy. He is like an unfaithful wife, that is how Jeremiah presents it on the pages of his book, but what is interesting in Jeremiah 3 says, “If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return to her again?” Based on the Book of Deuteronomy, the answer is, “No.” And He says, yet return to me.

So in other words, the way it is described with the new covenant is like renewing the marriage vow. In other words, there is forgiveness. That is what the new covenant is all about. It is about the forgiveness. “Yes, I could divorce you, and I actually divorced you, but I decided to remarry you.”

Beerman:

Again, a very relational kind of context here. Because of time, I just want to jump a little bit, so we understand the whole covenant concept and its connection particularly with the Sabbath. What becomes obsolete, or does anything become obsolete, when we talked about what the Christians would normally understand as the new covenant?

Bolotnikov:

Well, first of all, the Book of Jeremiah is very clear about how the new covenant is made. The new covenant is simply made by, it says in verse 33, “and I will put my law into their minds and write it on their hearts.” So the marriage license of the old covenant was written in the two tablets of stone that were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, which is inside the Most Holy, which is inaccessible to anyone except the high priest, and in particular, the Ark and what is inside of it is inaccessible to anyone. So that is the old covenant.

In the new covenant the laws are inside the hearts. We can see how it was done on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit dwelled inside the hearts of the believer, and that is why Paul says that, “We are the temple of God and the Holy spirits dwells inside us.” That is the essence of the new covenant.

Beerman:

So all this relational aspect that God has in the covenant relationship that was written on stone, now comes to the heart. It comes to the heart, and that is applicable to any Christian.

Bolotnikov:

Oh absolutely applicable, because the laws are in the heart. It is not in the stone, so what becomes obsolete in Hebrew 8 is very clear. Chapter 9 continues and explain that the first covenant had a service in the sanctuary.

Beerman:

Again, this Sabbath/sanctuary connection, a lot of people feel that there needs to be temple rebuild. Is that necessary?

Bolotnikov:

Well, again as we look at Hebrews, apparently that is the opposite to what Paul intends to say. Paul says there were these daily services, yearly services, weekly services with sacrifices that existed at the temple, however the main purpose of temple was to house the glory of God. Now since the glory of God is housed within us, the structure is not needed. That is what becomes obsolete. The structure, but not the element of faithfulness.

Beerman:

The structure was temporary in nature anyway. The other laws are moral…

Bolotnikov:

Yes, it is the structure. The temple was essentially the structure in which the marriage license was housed. Now, the same marriage license is housed in the heart.

So, we do not make a new license. It is the same.

Beerman:

It is the same commitment, same moral base, same goal—justice and equity.

Bolotnikov:

Yes. Just the shell is different. So that is why it is in the heart, not at the temple, and that is the only difference.

Beerman:

Thank you again, Dr. Bolotnikov, for these clarifications. God bless.