Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Ki Tissa

Ki Tissa - When You Elevate Exodus/Shemot 30:12-34:35; 1 Kings 18:1-39

The Census

Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take the census of the Children of Yisrael, according to those that are numbered of them, then shall they each one give a ransom for his life to Yahweh, when you number them; that there will come no plague upon them, when you number them. This they shall give, every one that passes over to them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary; (the shekel is twenty gerahs;) half a shekel for an offering to Yahweh. Every one that passes over to them that are numbered, from twenty years of age and up shall give the offering of Yahweh. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than the half shekel, when they give the offering of Yahweh, to make atonement for your souls. And you shall take the atonement money from the Children of Yisrael and shall appoint it for the service of the Tent of Meeting; that it shall be a memorial for the Children of Yisrael before Yahweh, to make atonement for your souls.

The people were counted by the amount received of the redemption money for each soul (a half shekel per person), which was used for the support of the work of the Temple. Those committed to give the tax were twenty years old and upwards which was for the support of the Levites who had no inheritance in the land. Although the Levitical priesthood was an earthly type of the heavenly angels who served before Yahweh in the heavenly Ohel Moed, unlike the angels they lived in a physical world and therefore they had physical needs with no source of income to supply them. The money therefore had to come from somewhere. So Yahweh imposed a half-shekel tax on everyone over twenty years of age. Both rich and poor had to pay the same half-shekel, and because this census was not being taken for military purposes, everyone had to pay their half-shekel. Basically speaking, this was a head tax and was a ransom for each persons’ soul from the curse upon the earth. David erred in this regard by counting the men of war without paying the redemption money for their atonement. This gave Satan legal grounds to attack them and a plague resulted. When David realised his error he repented and the plague was stayed 2 Samuel 24: 1-15; 1 Chronicles 21: 1, 7, 8


A Historic Overview of the Half-Shekel

Half-Shekel introduced by Moses 1289 BCE Exodus 30:11-16
Reintroduced by King Yoash 800 BCE II Chronicles 24:6-11
Halted by Nebuchanezer 586 BCE
Reintroduced by Nehemiah 445 BCE Nehemiah 10:32-34
Halted by Titus 70 CE
Banned by Hadrian 135 CE
Reintroduced after 1,863 years 1998 CE

This is the temple tax which Yeshua directed Peter to pay two drachmas for them both. Matthew 17 verses 24-27. The circumstances surrounding this event with Yeshua enables us to fix an exact date of this event. It was annually, on the 1st of Adar (the month before Pesach/Passover before the Feast of Purim), a proclamation was made throughout the countryside by messengers sent from Jerusalem heralding the approaching Temple tribute. The moneychangers would have then opened stalls throughout the countryside for custom had it that nothing but the half-shekel of the sanctuary was to be received into the Temple’s treasury.

The half-shekel today weighs 7.8 grams and is made of .999 pure silver, with an approximate intrinsic market value of $1.50 U.S. dollars, but produced at a cost of approximately $3.40 U.S., with a retail sales value of $10 U.S., and with wholesale values ranging between $7-8 dollars U.S. This was the type of margin, which the moneychangers would have used in Yeshua’s day. It was this difference between retail values and wholesale values, as given above, of the half-shekel when it became a coin instead of the weight of silver in Exodus 30:11-16, which created a market for moneychangers.


Idolatry To understand how it is that Israel thought she might worship Yahweh via an idol we need to understand the concept behind idolatry. The prophets speak out that an idol is certainly not a god (rather, it is a piece of wood, metal or clay), idolatry is somewhat more subtle than simply the adoration of an object. Only a very simple idolater would have supposed that the idol he bowed before was actually the god he was worshipping. Instead the idol was a physical representation of the spiritual power of that god. The pagan deity’s power and essence were thought to be captured within the idolatrous image. The idea was that possessing the representation of a god(dess) would bring him or her to the aid of the worshipper.

Therefore it is not that the Israelites were worshipping a golden calf. Rather the golden calf was meant to represent Yahweh. They did not suppose that God was a golden calf, but they imagined that He could be worshipped through the medium of the idol. The calf was merely a physical token of Him, one that they could bring with them as they left Mount Sinai, one that could go before them as they ascended up to the land of promise.

Faith is not measured by our good intentions. If it was merely the thought that counted, the Israelites would not have been punished for constructing the image. Surely their hearts were in the right places. Surely they had in mind only the worship and honor of Yahweh. But it is not merely the thought that counts in faith and observance; it is the actions which arise out of those thoughts which results in sin.

Jewish tradition has it that this incident occurred just before the time Moshe was to return and was based on a miscalculation of the time that Moshe would be up in the mount with Yahweh. Their impatience with His timing and lack of faith, caused them to sin. How often also we fall short of the mark by our lack of faith and impatience with His timing of events.

According to the Midrash, the vast majority of Israel was not involved in this which was instigated by the mixed multitude that came up with them. Many others were carried along in the idolatry using the symbol of the Apis bull that was worshipped in Egypt. It seemed that they did not intend to forsake Yahweh, but to worship under this symbol with which they were familiar. This was very similar to the sin of Jeroboam later in their history. However it was idolatry, and it caused them to lose the inheritance of priesthood as a nation although Yahweh foreknew this and made provision for a fulfilment of priesthood to be established by Aaron and his sons. The tablets were destroyed on the seventeenth day of the fourth month. Many tragic events have taken place on that day in the history of Israel. It was on that day that the evil king, Antiochus Epiphanies, desecrated the temple by putting up an idol in it. When the Romans besieged Yerushalayim that day, the daily sacrifice, “korban tamid”, was interrupted. On the same day a breach was opened up in the wall of Yerushalayim, three weeks before the temple was destroyed on the ninth day of the fifth month of Av, year 70 CE.

Moshe grinds the gold of the golden calf into dust and makes them to drink it. Finely ground gold powder placed in water produces a suspension that is colloidal in nature and red in colour. This is symbolic of the blood that atones for sin. By drinking the red-coloured water they acknowledged their sin and received atonement. This water was the only source of drinking water, so they were not able to escape the test.

The sages also teach that in the drinking of this water there was a revelation of the idolatry in their heart and those who were guilty died from the resultant plague that afflicted them. This is similar to the test for adultery Nu. 5:24

The Midrash on this portion explains that Aaron tried to stall the people in their intentions expecting Moshe’s return to be soon. This ancient commentary explains that he thought the people would not so quickly give up their gold and jewellery. The Hebrew here gives the understanding that it was the people who declared this image that came out of the fire to be their ‘god’. He attempted further delays to attempt to unsuccessfully await for Moshe’s return.

It seems that he attempted to initiate a festival to Yahweh to direct them away from their intended idolatry. Aaron’s efforts were futile and involved him in compromise but he was not guilty of partaking in the idolatry, otherwise he, along with the others, would have been judged and destroyed by the plague. However Moshe laid the blame on Aaron for allowing things to get out of control and for them becoming exposed in their sin. The word ‘exposed’ carries the idea of a lack of restraint. (32:25)


Covenant Renewed Moshe pleads with Yahweh that He will not destroy them and sets up a Tent of Meeting wherein he can commune with Him and the Shekinah glory came and hovered over it whenever Moshe went in and Yahweh talked to Moshe ‘face to face’. This was not yet the Tabernacle, but a meeting place for Moshe with Yahweh.

The covenant is renewed with a promise that He will go with them and drive out the inhabitants of the land. He also gives them an admonition not to make alliances with them. They are to break down their altars and warned against participating in their worship or getting otherwise involved in their idolatry. (34:10-28) They are then instructed again on keeping the sabbath, being careful to offer the fruitfruits unto Him and keeping the other ordained feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Shavuot. These feasts form the basis of their gatherings for worship, and the keeping of them their safeguard against joining the practices of the Cacaanites.

The offering of the Firstfruits was for Yahweh’s blessing on their harvest. They were not to indulge in idolatrous practices thinking to obtain His favour. Once again the subject of idolatry comes up with the instructions regarding the Feast of Firstfruits. They are instructed not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk which the heathens round about them did. This has been interpreted in modern-day Judaism as part of the requirements for kosher food to keep separated milk and meat products. However, this is not what is taught in this scripture. It is a warning against the idolatrous practice of the Canaanites. The Artscroll Chumash says that the ancient heathens would cook meat in milk as a charm for success. (op. cit. p.487) and this is what the warning was about.


Knowing God Face to Face Boldly Moshe desires from the Almighty, “Show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight” (33:13). What no other human being ever had dared to ask, he requests from God, “Please, show me Your glory” (33:18). Yahweh does not reject his request, but says, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (33:20). He admits, however, to Moshe, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you” (33:19).

The Chumash says here, “33:18 ‘Please let me have a vision of Your Glory,’ begged [Moshe]. (Emunoth VeDeyoth 2:12). Or, ‘Let me comprehend Your unique nature’ (Yad, Yesodey HaTorah 1:10).

Like no person before him Moshe had the privilege to get to know the living God. While standing in a “cleft of the rock” Yahweh covers him with His hand and passes by (33:22–23). “Then Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. And Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, Yahweh God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation’” (34:5–7).

This is His thirteen attributes of compassion.

1. Yahweh - the Eternal, who is compassionate before man sins.

2. Yahweh - the Eternal, who is compassionate after man sins and has done teshuvah, repented.

3. El - the strong one.

4. Rachum - who has compassion.

5. Ve-chanun - and is merciful.

6. Erech apaim - slow to anger, tolerant. He waits for the wicked to repent, therefore does not punish immediately.

7. Ve-rav chesed - and great in goodness. He gives man more than he deserves.

8. Ve-emet - and truth, faithfulness, and trustworthiness. He is faithful in the same way toward everyone.

9. Notzer chesed la-alafim - he keeps His goodness for 2,000 generations who are descendants of a righteous one.

10. Noseh avon - endures rebellion.

11. Ve fesha - and purposeful transgression.

12. Ve-chata’ah - and mistakes, sins committed accidentally.

13. Ve-nakeh lo yenakeh - He who acquits those who repent, but punishing the sinner a little at a time.


Forty days and forty nights Moshe spent with Yahweh on Mount Sinai. “He neither ate bread nor drank water” (34:28). When he came down from the mountain “the skin of his face shone” and his fellow Israelites “were afraid to come near him” (34:29,30). In retrospect, the leaders of Israel said of him, “There has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Yahweh knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). This expression is understood to be the closest of relationships described, not as a literal face to face encounter but as the closest of friends with whom nothing is veiled.

“How will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious" “unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away (i.e the fading manifestation of the Shekinah glory)... ... “

“Nevertheless when one turns to Yahweh, the veil is taken away .. .. “ (from our minds darkened by the effects of sin)

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image (of the Lord) from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of Yahweh” 2 Corinthians 3: 8, 13, 16, 18

There is for the people of God in this new covenant era a revelation of the glory of Yahweh that transcends that of the old order. It is as we behold the mirror image of His likeness in the Word - that we are changed into that same image from one degree to another as we continue on to know Him.


The Contrast The contrasts are made in this portion between Moshe who comes into ‘face to face’ encounter with Yahweh and the people who withdraw in fear and prefer to relate to a tangible object as their ‘god’.

Man is created with the propensity to worship something, so if he fails to worship the true God and Creator of all, he will worship something in His creation in some form. The same principle holds good whether in a negative or in a positive outworking, that we will reflect the image of what we worship and that object of our worship will control us. There is no other alternative except to worship ourselves, the work of our hands, the physical creation and the creature or to worship in reality, the only One who is worthy of our adoration, praise and worship.

Worship involves submission, faith and obedience. All these things were lacking in Israel as a result of their forced submission to cruel taskmasters. The journey in the wilderness was a testing ground that they might know what was in their hearts and learn to love and obey Him. Yahweh often allows circumstances to test us to see if we will remain faithful to Him or turn to the tangible things to meet our needs and satisfy our souls. Our eyes need to be continually beholding the One who is unseen, so that we do not become pre-occupied with the things which are seen.

“Set your mind on things above, not on the things on the earth “ Colossians 3: 2


His Servant It was Moshe to whom Yahweh had revealed His plans and purposes with Israel. These former slaves He had chosen to be separate “from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (33:16). The Sabbath is an order the Creator instituted by His own example in the very beginning for the whole of creation (Genesis 2:1–3). But to Israel He had set the Sabbath as a special “sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies you” (31:13).

Through Moshe God entrusted His word to Israel (31:18; 32:15–16) and decreed, “Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (34:27). On Mount Sinai Yahweh showed Moshe in what way the people of Israel were to have communion with Him. He revealed the Tabernacle and all its furniture and identified the inspired artisans among them to build it (31:1–7). The Almighty not only gave explicit instructions about the appropriate manner and environment for the supplication and service of Him, but also about the proper seasons, “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before Yahweh, Yahweh God of Israel” (34:23).

To the people of Israel, Yahweh had given the promise, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (33:14).

To their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob He had sworn by Himself, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever” (32:13; 33:1). Nearly one and a half millenniums later the apostle Paul summed up the privileges and riches of Israel by stating that they “are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah came” (Romans 9:4–5).

But Moshe had abundant opportunity to get to know the Israelites and their ungodly intentions. They had hardly experienced His revelation on Mount Sinai, when they turned away and asked Aaron: “Come make us gods that shall go before us” (32:1).

When Moshe returned from his communion with God Aaron excuses himself saying, “You know the people, that they are set on evil” (32:22). Several times in our parasha the Israelites are characterized as “unrestrained” (32:25) and “stiff-necked” (32:9; 33:3,5). Rashi explains that they turned their back upon those who reproved them and refused to listen. And Moshe returning to the Lord’s presence on Mount Sinai had to admit, “Oh, these people have sinned a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold” (32:31).

Yahweh Himself wanted to unleash His wrath upon the Israelites; that it would “burn hot against them and consume them.” He suggested to Moshe, “I will make of you a great nation” (32:10) in their place. Moshe could have agreed with God. But he didn’t. In spite of his realistic view of the Israelites’ true nature, he started to plead with his Heavenly Father.

Moshe had come to know the living God like no other person before him. The Creator communicated with this former shepherd “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (33:11). Yahweh told Moshe, “I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight” (33:12,17). Rashi, the medieval Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaky, interpreted this as a distinction from other human beings.


Offering His Eternal Salvation Moshe appeals to Yahweh and reiterates all the effort He had invested liberating the Hebrews from Egypt (32:11). Having been educated at the royal court, he asserts that such an action would surely bring about a response of scornful glee and mockery from the Egyptians who might say of God, “He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth” (32:12). Further, he reminds Him of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13).

However, Moshe is aware of God’s holiness and the severity of the Israelites deep disgrace. He hardly sees a possibility of bridging this gap. As a final last resort, Moshe entreats Yahweh, “Yet now, if You will not forgive their sin, blot me out of Your book which You have written” (32:32). Israel’s leader offers his own eternal salvation for the well-being of his people. To many believers this prayer seems offensive. There are certain limits to love, they would argue, and they are certainly defined by one’s relationship with God!

This dilemma becomes clear, when later in the New Covenant, one of the greatest teachers prayed “that I myself were accursed from Messiah for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:3). Could it be that Rashi was right in his interpretation of Exodus 32:10, where God says, “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them”? Moshe had not entreated on Israel’s behalf before Yahweh told him “let Me alone…” With reference to the Midrash (Exodus Rabba 42) and the Talmud (Berakoth 32a), the Franco-German Rabbi suggested that “by saying this He opened the door to him, offered him a suggestion, intimating to him that if he prayed for them He would not destroy them.” (Johannes Gerloff)

By offering their own eternal salvation, Moshe and Paul (and likewise the prophet Jeremiah) prayed according to God’s own heart. This heart cry on behalf of His people is visible until the Messiah’s blood sacrifice, where the only One who was able to bridge the gap for His people and bear their guilt, hung as cursed. Absolutely forsaken by God, in spite of the hatred, scoffing and rejection which He experienced from the leaders of those for whom He suffered, the accursed did not curse. Rather, Messiah Yeshua prayed under unimaginable inner and external pain, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” before He breathed his last, crying out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:34,46).

Last modified on 23 August 2010, at 01:26