Ki Tisa: Seeking Together

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ki Tisa

Post-Purim L’chaims to one and all!

OK, we’re back to more serious Torah study this week,
with Parshat Ki Tisa, which is the building of the
Mishkan, the Golden Calf, and Moshe’s treks up and
down Mt. Sinai. After Moshe breaks the first tablets,
he goes back up the mountain, talks with The Boss
again, and come down radiant from the experience. He
then teaches Torah to the Israelites, as we learn in
chapter 34:

” When Aharon and all the Israelites saw Moshe, and
beheld that the skin of his face had become radiant,
they were afraid to come close to him. Moshe called to
them and they returned to him— Aharon and all the
leaders of the congregation— and Moshe spoke to
them. After that, all the Israelites came close [to
him] and he commanded them [regarding] all that God
had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.” (Shmot/ Exodus
34:30-32)

In Rashi’s commentary, an implicit question is: why
mention Aharon and all the leaders and then mention
that Moshe taught the Torah to the rest of the
Israelites? Couldn’t Moshe just teach Torah to
everybody all at once?

As usual, Rashi finds a minor stylistic point in the
text and turns it into a profound moral lesson by
bringing an imaginative midrash from the Talmud. In
this midrash, these verses teach that Moshe taught the
Torah to Aharon first, then his sons, then the elders,
and then the community, as follows:

[Rashi]
“After he taught the elders he would again teach that
section or that law to all Yisrael. The Sages have
taught: What was the order of the teaching of the
Torah? Moshe would learn from the Almighty. Then
Aharon would enter and Moshe would teach him his
chapter. Aharon moved away and sat on Moshe’s left.
Whereupon his (Aharon’s) sons would enter and Moshe
would teach them their chapter. They then moved away
and Elazar sat on Moshe’s right and Itamar on Aharon’s
left. Whereupon the elders would enter and Moshe would
teach them their chapter. The elders moved away and
sat on the sides. Whereupon the entire people would
enter and Moshe taught them their chapter.
Consequently the lesson came into the possession of
the people once; into the possession of the elders,
twice; into the possession of Aharon’s sons, three
times; and into the hands of Aharon, four times.”

I love this midrash because it turns our stereotypes
of learning and leadership on their heads- maybe you’d
think that the “big shots” only had to learn the Torah
lesson once, or they could learn in private sessions,
but no, the biggest “macher” of them all, Aharon (the
High Priest) had to learn the same lesson four times.
Perhaps the idea is that the High Priest or the elders
get the must lesson exactly right (hence, the
repetition), but I also think this midrash is about
humility and being a role model. After all, when the
people came into get the teaching on the fourth time
around, they’d see all the assembled leaders already
learning- and even the High Priest could not be too
proud to be seen learning in front of his sons and the
other leaders and people.

I’m a rabbi, and my job is to inspire people to learn
Torah- therefore, I have to show that I’m a Torah
learner, too. The same thing goes for other Jewish
professionals, not to mention synagogue leaders,
parents and anybody else concerned about the spiritual
vitality of Jewish life. If we want people to learn,
then, like Aharon, we have to learn with them, side by
side, not just as role models, but as fellow seekers
of spiritual truth. Torah is best studied in community
because it is the inheritance of every Jew, and every
Jew has the right and responsibility to bring the
insights of his or her experience and life and soul to
the ongoing conversation, which is then infinitely
richer as a result.

Maybe that’s the real point of this midrash- that even
Moshe and Aharon studying Torah together is somehow
incomplete without the insights of all the people.
Moshe might have been radiant with the light of God,
but Torah is what brings the Jewish people together,
and gives us our purpose and our direction as a source
of light unto each other and the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

A summary and futher commentary can be found here:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Weekly_Torah_Commentary/kitissa_index.htm

and of course, the text itself is here:

http://www.jtsa.edu/community/parashah/index.shtml

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