Metaphors in the Torah: “Ki Tisa” (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35)


Illustration: Elijah is Nourished by an Angel
By: Gustave Dor'e


Naturally, anyone reading the Torah has to notice sooner or later that many of the stories or instructions are given twice, but in slightly different versions. For our purposes here, what is good about this is that by analyzing the differences between the two versions we can get a better indication as to what was meant or intended by these commands or stories.

One of the commands repeated in Ki Tisa deals with resting on the Sabbath and here we are given two new pieces of information:

First: in addition to the circumcism, observance of the Sabbath is now described as a sign of acceptance of the covenant between God and Abraham.

In other words: the covenant between God and Abraham, basically, has only one condition: Abraham and his descendants shall teach God’s ways to their descendants and, in return, God shall allow them to inherit the Promised Land.

The circumcism is simply a symbol, or a physical mark, that the terms of the agreement have been accepted, it is not one of the conditions per se.

However, now in Ki Tisa we are given a second symbol or mark of acceptance: observance of the Sabbath. Thus, just to clarify, in order to receive the land as an inheritance one must teach God’s ways to your descendants, BUT !!! In order to show that one has accepted the terms of this agreement one must do two things: circumcise each male child and observe the Sabbath. In other words: one is a passive act performed on the individual before he really even understands what is being done and the other is a conscious action made by the person himself.

So, to my mind, it seems as if one does not observe the Sabbath, it is similar to Esau selling his birthright to Jacob. Esau knew that he was to inherit a double portion of the Promised Land, yet he felt it would not do him any good if he was dead (i.e. died before his father died). In the same way, many Jews in the United States sometimes feel it is not really necessary to circumcize their children (one of the most famous being Robert Moses: the man who supervised the construction of many of the bridges and tunnels in New York City).

This then brings us to another version of the inheritance promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We shall see when we study the fifth book of the Torah, that Moses will say that the inheritance of Jacob is, in fact, the words Moses received from God, and not the physical land itself (or, possibly, he means they shall inherit both).

For us, studying metaphors in the Torah, this is not all that strange because we have discussed again and again in various articles of this series the symbolism of the land representing a school, trees representing teachers and fruit representing knowledge. Hence, what Moses appears to be saying is that the land promised to Abraham is a school of thought which teaches God’s ways to Abraham’s descendants. Since this is the condition of the covenant itself, what it appears we are being told is that: If you want to inherit a teaching position in God’s school, then you must first demonstrate that you are worthy by teaching God’s ways to your own children.  

The second additional piece of information contained in Ki Tisa is that, basically, we are being told that there is a direct connection between resting and the soul. So, in the original version of the commandment we are told we shall work (In Hebrew the verb used here is closer to: “create a piece of art”) and then on the Sabbath we shall rest or stop walking along the way (In Modern Hebrew this word is close to the one used for:  "a sit down strike”).

In the version appearing in this week’s Torah portion we are told we shall work for six days, but on the Sabbath we shall “Ye ne phish”, which is a verb in the future tense using the root of the Hebrew word for: “soul”.

In a previous article in which we discussed: sin, we noted that the Torah told us that the soul has the ability to “cry out” and that the soul is located in the blood:

Our conclusion in that article was that the blood must be purified in the same way our religious beliefs must be purified of outside influences and teachings. Thus, we noted that Ezra was not really complaining about intermarriages, but rather foreign beliefs and ideas which had contaminated the ideas and beliefs of King Solomon.

If that conclusion is indeed correct, then what it appears that we are being told is that: “Working on the Sabbath” leads to impurities in our beliefs !!!

How is that possible?

Apparently, as my father used to say: “Too much ice cream is not a good thing”. So, although in my articles I am very critical of the teachers of the oral law, it is not because I believe, like the Karaites, that the rabbis have no place in Judaism. The Torah clearly, and unambiguously, says that Moses was to establish a network of Judges to help him administer God’s laws. What I believe has happened, however, is that as the years went by the teachers of the Oral law began to focus their attentions more and more on the Oral Law and less and less on the written law (i.e. the Torah). Hence, today in Modern Day Israel one can see “religious” Jews studying the Talmud, Mishna, Gemera or “whatever” on the Sabbath and "working" in the Torah is a metaphor for "studying".

What, in my opinion, we are being told is that there are: “the teachings of men” and the “teachings of God”. For six days we are permitted to study the teachings of men, but on the seventh day we must stop studying and allow the teachings of God to come to us of their own volition. Therefore, we noted that both Abraham and Jacob were described as “sitting at the doors of their tents”. Also, it should be recalled that Lot was sitting at the gates of the city when he first saw the angles.

In contrast to this: Esau was described as a hunter and as a man who searched for meat and we have already discussed many times that the Hebrew word for meat also means religious sermons.

Therefore my conclusion is: In order to teach God’s ways to your descendants, one must stop studying the ways of men on the Sabbath and allow God’s messengers to approach and explain to you God’s ways. Unfortunately, today in the synagogues they do not teach God’s ways, they teach men’s ways, thus a standard Torah commentary, in reality, has become a Talmud commentary and from beginning to end these sermons relate the opinions of “famous rabbinical personalities” like Rabbi Akiva, the Rashi, Rabbi Hillel, the Rambam etc., etc., etc.