Parshat Ki Tisa
Moshe conducts a census by counting each silver half-shekel donated by all men age twenty and over. Moshe is commanded to make a copper laver for the Mishkan. The women donate the necessary metal. The formula of the anointing oil is specified, and G-d instructs Moshe to use this oil only for dedicating the Mishkan, its vessels, Aharon and his sons. G-d selects Bezalel and Oholiav as master craftsmen for the Mishkan and its vessels. The Jewish People are commanded to keep the Sabbath as an eternal sign that G-d made the world. Moshe receives the two Tablets of Testimony on which are written the Ten Commandments. The mixed multitude who left Egypt with the Jewish People panic when Moshe's descent seems delayed, and force Aharon to make a golden calf for them to worship. Aharon stalls, trying to delay them. G-d tells Moshe to return to the people immediately, threatening to destroy everyone and build a new nation from Moshe. When Moshe sees the camp of idol-worship he smashes the tablets and destroys the golden calf. The sons of Levi volunteer to punish the transgressors, executing 3,000 men. Moshe ascends the mountain to pray for forgiveness for the people, and G-d accepts his prayer. Moshe sets up the Mishkan and G-d's cloud of glory returns. Moshe asks G-d to show him the rules by which he conducts the world, but is granted only a small portion of this request. G-d tells Moshe to hew new tablets and reveals to him the text of the prayer that will invoke Divine mercy. Idol worship, intermarriage and the combination of milk and meat are prohibited. The laws of Pesach, the first-born, the first-fruits, Shabbat, Shavuot and Succot are taught. When Moshe descends with the second set of tablets, his face is luminous as a result of contact with the Divine.
One Step Beyond
“…he will give Teruma of G-d.” (30:14)
The entire Oral Torah begins with the question, “When do we read the Shema prayer in the evening?” The Mishna answers, “When the kohanim go in to eat their Teruma (the priestly gifts).”
What is the connection between saying the Shema and the mitzvah of Teruma? Why didn’t the Mishna just say, “The time to say Shema in the evening is when it gets dark”?
The Torah obligation to give Teruma is as little as a single grain. The Rabbinic obligation, however mandates between one-sixtieth, which is considered miserly, and one-fortieth, which is generous. The median amount is one-fiftieth. The word “Teruma” is an allusion to this median amount, for Teruma stands for trei mi-me’ah, two out of one hundred — one-fiftieth.
If the Torah was hinting through the word Teruma to the median gift of one-fiftieth, why did it express that fraction as two parts out of a hundred? Why didn’t it coin instead a word that used the words for ‘one’ and ‘fifty — Chad and Chamishim? Why wasn’t Teruma called “Chadshim” or something like that? And why specifically the proportion of two out of a hundred? Why not four parts out of two hundred, or eight out of four hundred?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the core of Shema lies in the first verse, Shema Yisrael, and in the next phraseBaruch Shem Kevod Malchuto le’olam va’ed, “Blessed is Hashem’s name of the Honor of His Kingdom for ever and ever,” which we say immediately afterward. The essence of Shema is to affirm our belief that everything in existence is One and the smallest aspect of creation ultimately leads to Him alone.
The Gaon of Vilna observed that the twenty-five letters in the first verseof Shema and the twenty-four letters in Baruch Shem together equal forty-nine.
The number fifty connotes something beyond this world. We count forty-nine days of the Omer from Pesach till Shavuot, but we do not count the final day, the day of Shavuot itself, because Shavuot represents something beyond this world — the supernal moment of the closest encounter between G-d and man.
In this world, we can approach fifty, but we cannot count it; we cannot define or delineate it.
When I say the Shema I surrender the ineffable, indisputable knowledge of my own existence and proclaim that there is only One Existence, and that I am no more than just one expression of that Ultimate Existence. That is the ‘one’ that I give to make the fifty complete.
My recitation of the Shema – my own closest encounter with G-d — represents the “one” that raises the forty-nine to fifty. And as I say the Shema twice daily, it represents the trei mi-me’ah – the two out of a hundred.
Trei mi me’ah– twice a day, the Teruma that I give is the forty-nine letters that make up my declaration of G-d’s total and absolute Unity, together with the ‘one’ — the surrender and elevation of my own existence that joins me to ‘fifty’ — the Ultimate Existence.