June 4, 2020 ~ Shabbat NASO. Maqam SABA.

Shabbat Ki Tisa - שבת כי תשא

Maqam HIJAZ

רודף צדק נשמת
אור הנעלם אדון עולם אל ההודאות
אל יצרת נקדישך

Being Counted

כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל - Hillel the Elder asks "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? (Abot 1:14)" He then follows that with "If I am only for myself, what am I?" While it is ideal to find a healthy balance between these two extremes, the Torah favors people who join the community rather than those who keep to themselves. When one is counted in a group, their status is "elevated" (כי תשא), and their potential is raised. In addition, by being part of the group, one avoids possible problems (ולא יהיה בהם נגף) that accumulate from being alone. The message of contributing the half sheqel (מחצית השקל) for the national census is that no person is considered complete on their own. While personal autonomy is not rejected, God instructs us "to be counted" as active members of society in order to lead better lives and ultimately in order to be remembered (לזכרון) and atoned (לכפר על נפשתיכם). Beth Torah Bulletin, 3/18/17.

Defending Aaron

ויקהל העם על אהרן - Is Aaron to blame for the Golden Calf episode? When Moses does not return from the mountain on time, the nation gathers "on" Aaron (Exodus 32:1). The word "on" (על) can also be translated as "against;" inferring that they were twisting his arm. Was this an opportune time for him to be a hero and educate the people about the true nature of God? Apparently, Aaron has no good options here. When Aaron senses the evil intentions of the people, he realizes that his own survival is at risk and therefore decides to cooperate. As much as he tries to delay, the nation's will is strong and the Golden Calf results immediately as the gold is thrown into the fire (ואשלכהו באש ויצא העגל הזה). When Aaron defends himself against Moses, who accuses him of "bringing great sin," Moses offers no response. This is because he knew that sometimes we find ourselves in unfortunate situations where there are simply no good options. Beth Torah Bulletin, 3/3/18.

Large Letters

נצר חסד לאלפים ... לא תשתחוה לאל אחר - Some traditions indicate that there is exactly one large and one small version of each letter throughout the entire Tanakh. The second and third instances of large letters are both found in Perashat Ki Tisa. There is a large Nun (נ) for the phrase נצר חסד לאלפים in Exodus 34:7, and only 7 verses later, there is a large Resh (ר) for the phrase לא תשתחוה לאל אחר in Exodus 34:14. One might suggest that the Nun of נצר חסד לאלפים (extend kindness for thousands) is large in order to emphasize the eternal message that God constantly repays acts of kindness for thousands of generations. Regarding the large Resh in אחר, many suggest that it is enlarged in order not to confuse it with the similar looking letter Daled (ד), which would change the entire meaning of the word. It is important to remember that at times, even making an error on one single letter, such as אחר and אחד, can lead to tremendous confusion. Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/23/19.

The Incense

קַח־לְךָ֣ סַמִּ֗ים נָטָ֤ף ׀ וּשְׁחֵ֙לֶת֙ וְחֶלְבְּנָ֔ה - In the preparation of the Qetoret, the holy incense, Exodus 30:34 instructs to blend together stacte (נטף), onycha (שחלת), and galbanum (חלבנה). This unique concoction of herbs, says God, is the combination worthy of His presence in the Tent of Meeting (אהל מועד). In reviewing these specific herbs, the biblical commentator Rashi is bothered by the inclusion of the herb galbanum (חלבנה). According to him, this spice is not like the others, because it has a very unpleasant odor. From the inclusion of this spice, Rashi learns an important lesson. The Qetoret represents the nation of Israel; a combination of many separate groups all united into one. When it comes to approaching God in fasting and in prayer, we have the responsibility to unite with even the lowest members of the nation, represented by the galbanum (חלבנה), and not consider them as outsiders. This unity, according to the analogy above, is what God wants from us and is what will bring His presence into our midst. Beth Torah Bulletin, March 14, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: HIJAZ

On Shabbat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11- 34:35), Maqam HIJAZ is applied according to all Aleppo sources (Damascus sources: Maqam SABA). This maqam gets its name from the 'HEJAZ' region, which is the western province of what today is Saudi Arabia. The melody of this maqam is associated with sad and tragic events, such as funerals. It is warranted here, because we read about the story of the Golden Calf and the deaths of many people associated with it. Sephardic Pizmonim Project, www.pizmonim.com.


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