I lost my notes for this parsha – so I’ve tried to recreate what I had below. It is a bit touch and go – sorry.
- The word for counting is ‘tisa.’ Yeshivat Har Etzion points out that tisa is a word that means, literally, to lift up. It is a word with multiple meanings – as best shown by the dreams Joseph interprets in prison. Both questioners have their heads ‘lifted.’ One is returned to service to Pharaoh, one has his head removed. Why? When your head is lifted, you are noticed. It is perhaps because of this risk that offerings are necessary. There are dangers to having one’s head lifted.
- Later, we see one of the two major connections of the activities involved with making the Mishkan and the prohibited activities of Shabbos. The concept of melacha is that the acts required to build the Mishkan are forbidden. But the Mishkan itself is holy. Likewise the acts required to build for Shabbos are prohibited, but Shabbos is holy.
- The sin of the golden calf is a very short one with very long consequences. But what was the sin? In Hebrew the word is Eigel Mesaicha. There was no prior prohibition against making something mesaicha prior to this. You can’t make yourself a pesel or temunah. But a mesaicha is different. Furthermore, the eigel seems to form itself (Aaron literally ‘desired it with magic/engraving and made a molten calf’) – there’s not a lot of making involved. Finally, how could the Jewish people ever think it brought them out of Egypt? It didn’t even exist. The key is the word mesaicha. It can literally mean amalgamation. It is my hypothesis that the egel was the amalgamated spirit of the nation. They attributed their exodus to the might of their own spirit, they worshipped their own collective power. This is a sin we return to again and again – and it represents a particular low. Hashem hadn’t even deigned to mention it prior to this sin.
- There is a phrase repeated three times in this short reading in various variations – matzati chain be-einecha, I find favor in your eyes. It is a common turn of phrase – but never this common. Christians might translate it as ‘grace’. But it is not exclusive to G-d. Jacob says it to Esav. It first comes up with Noach – Hashem finds favor in his eyes. Moshe distinguishes himself by taking this favor and sharing it with the undeserving people. This is the sign of a great leader.
- There is a weird concept of seeing G-d’s back, but not his front. When we read the text, Hashem seems to be saying ‘you’ll see all my goodness’ which is his back. If we go back to Bereshit, goodness follows Hashem’s acts of creation. Hashem hides himself with his hand – the body part of action. Perhaps Hashem’s actions actually hide him – but once the actions are removed, Moshe can see where Hashem has been and the goodness he has done. What Moshe can’t see – what no man can see – is where Hashem is going. There could be many many reasons for this. Not the least of these might be complexity – we can perceive one past. But with free will, there might be infinite futures (all within a divine plan) – and a man could be destroyed by that perception.
- Why does Moshe have to carve out the second set of tablets? Perhaps because he plays a new leadership role. Hashem made the first set to welcome the Jewish people. The second set required Moshe’s argument. It is a gift not just from Hashem, but from Moshe. Hashem puts the words there – he creates the content. But Moshe enables the context.
- Note that the commandment of Maseicha has (for the first time) been added to the list of inappropriate worships. This is perhaps a reaction to the egel. Not only shouldn’t you make other gods, but you shouldn’t worship your own peoplehood. As if you needed me to tell you that.
- This aliyah seems strangely technical. Why mention Moshe didn’t eat or drink? And why mention the procedure of the veil covering in such detail? In essence, we can now see that while he spent his own spiritual capital standing up for his people that actually made his spiritual capital grow. It enables him to see Hashem’s back. It enables him to participate in the luchot. But it also distances him from the people who are sinful enough Hashem wants to abandon him. Through his growth, Moshe has been insulated from all people (no eating or drinking) and specifically from the Jewish people who can’t even look at his spiritual greatness without fear for their own inadequacy.