Parashat Ki Tissa begins “when you take a census…” referred to the counting of the men, 20 years and older, who would serve in the Israeli army, demonstrating the confidence that we had in our own strength. The Creator asked Israel “not” to take a census unless He specifically called for one, to show us that we were to trust in Him, not in our numbers. Every male subject to the census and had to bring ½ shekel first to avoid the plague hitting our people. Secondly, whether they were rich or poor, all had to bring the same amount to show that every one of us has the same value in the eyes of the Creator and how important it is to belong to a community. Those who isolate themselves slowly start dying.
The Creator wants those who live in community to be in unity. That doesn’t mean that we have uniformity. We don’t need to dress the same, eat the same or even think alike. We are to help each other and work together for the sake of the community. That is “unity in diversity”. Each one of us has something special to give. Those who faithfully attend the congregation every Shabbat are very special. I enjoy seeing both the elderly and the young who are both necessary for our community. No one is better than the other. A mosaic, when seen from far, portrays a beautiful picture that is lost as we get too close. This shows us that we can lose perspective when we focus too closely upon ourselves. United we form a beautiful mosaic. When each of us is present and participates in the community, we each form a piece of this mosaic and are counted, but when we separate ourselves, we are not counted. We may say that we have no gifts, talents or money to offer to the community but that is just a mere excuse. That is a selfish attitude created by those who think more about what is for me, than what I can bring to the whole. The Creator didn’t create beggars. We all have something to give.
Every element in the Mishkan had a purpose. The Creator said, “do not mix what is sacred with the mundane”. What did He mean? There is an expression, “familiarity breeds contempt”. This means that we can lose respect for our leaders and our elders when we are too close to them to the point of being rude. There are times that we need propriety and respect for those in positions of authority instead of tearing them down behind their backs. We are created in the likeness and image of the Creator and therefore, we are special. That is why mutual respect is so important. It is about who we are, not how much we do. This expression, “do not mix what is sacred with the mundane” refers to putting order in our lives, not chaos.
The Creator refers again to the Shabbat, a day on which He rested after creating the world and all that is in it. He speaks about the building of the Mishkan which was the first thing that the Creator has us actively do together. Up to that moment, He had done everything for us, from delivering us from Egypt (even against our will) to providing food and all that we needed to survive in the desert. In spite of all this, we constantly complained but He still never abandoned us.
On the last day of the 40 days, when Moshe was up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, Aaron was pushed against the wall by the people who insisted that he build them gods to take them back to Egypt. Instead of standing up to them, he conceded. Moshe and Aaron represent two types of people. Moshe represents the Administrator, the one who metes out justice, the Commander in Chief while Aaron represents the merciful peacemaker who wants to bring reconciliation to the people. The Midrashim say that Aaron never accused or convicted anyone of sin. He was the goody-goody while Moshe exercised authority. Before the eyes of God, we need both. We might ask why Aaron, not Moshe, was given the role of being the High Priest. There is no perfect man among our heroes in the Scriptures even though we expect perfection from our leaders and our parents. We demand more from them than from ourselves. Many of us judge our parents saying that we didn’t get what we needed from them.
Let us example these principles from the Torah for application to our lives instead of getting lost in the story. The Creator will give us responsibilities according to the gifts He has given us, but He doesn’t require us to be perfect. These responsibilities are not beyond our capabilities. He had called Betzalel and Oholiab in whom He had implanted wisdom and talents for their tasks at hand. He never asks us more than we can give. The problem is that we are self-defeating; we are our worst enemies thinking that we are good for nothing. That is false humility, in reality preferring to escape from our responsibly. It would be more honest to say that we simply don’t want to do it. We expect others to do for us what we don’t want to do. We are all responsible for what we have been called to do and when we say, “I can’t do this”, we are looking for excuses.
The Creator forgave the people for the sin of the Golden Calf and gave them a way of return, teshuva. There are always consequences for our misbehavior, even fatal ones but we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. Moshe finally realized that Israel was his people. Before then, he was a reluctant leader. Now he had his responsibility toward them. Many of us here are still visitors and have not appropriated this place as our own. It makes it easy to leave but the Creator is telling us that we are all responsible and perhaps we were called “for such a time as this”. This small community is bringing the light of truth to the world by asking people if they want religion or a relationship with the Creator. The Creator called Israel to be ohr l’goyim, light to the world and we need to continue shining within the darkness.