Ki Tisa – Give It Up

‎   ב”ה     الحمد لله

The name of the parsha this week is “Ki Tisa” which means “when you lift up”.  The context is the “lifting of the head” which is an idiom for taking a census of the Jewish people.  Interestingly, the word “ki” can mean “when” or “if” or “because” depending on the context.  And because this week’s portion covers a census, the golden calf, the building of the tabernacle (mishkan) and a commandment to observe the Sabbath, you might say it’s about what you lift up, when you lift it up, whether you lift it up and why you’re lifting it up.

In an early portion, G-d instructed Moses regarding the tabernacle and, in the listing of the materials the Jews were to bring as an offering, famously declared that the Children of Israel would build the tabernacle, and then G-d would dwell “in them”.  The noteworthy use of the plural (“in them” instead of “in it”) has led commentators to suggest that G-d is saying that He will dwell in the Children of Israel (not in the tabernacle).

(I suggest that “in them” has a secondary connotation, set amidst the list of things to bring: G-d will dwell in the act of bringing the materials for the tabernacle.)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (and others) speak of the building of the tabernacle as a metaphor for refining ourselves, building our own “inner sanctuary” for G-d to dwell within us, as it were.  Taken in this way we see the dedication to building the tabernacle as our commitment to making our lives and our being more holy.

The parsha of Ki Tisa is interesting, for we have the commandment of resting on the Sabbath set right in the midst of the detailed instructions for constructing the tabernacle.  The sages derive from this placement that the creative work of building the tabernacle (39 categories of creative work which have been elucidated) are forbidden on the Sabbath.

And traditionally, the Sabbath is not a time for planting, reaping, dyeing, sewing, polishing or completing creative work (just to name a few categories).  On the Sabbath we refrain from construction and building and appreciate our blessings in the world (without trying to change the world).  We rest, as G-d did on the seventh day of creation, and we celebrate, we praise, we thank, we sing, we eat, we study the Torah and we take naps.

So if we view the building of the tabernacle and these 39 categories of creative work as a metaphor for the inner purification, for the work of the spiritual life, then we have an interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive instruction: don’t do spiritual work on the Sabbath!  Refrain from our “construction project” of building a better self, and instead appreciate all of our blessings.

This is also reflected in the wording of the commandment as it appears in the text.  G-d instructs us to observe the Sabbath “so that you will know that I am the One Who sanctifies you.”  Read in this context, we give up trying to make ourselves holier and remember that it is G-d that makes us holy.  We refrain from all kinds of work, even “holy” or spiritual work.

And since the phrasing “sanctifies you” is in the plural, we are commanded to remember that G-d sanctifies all of the Children of Israel.  This is important, since as we are working away on ourselves during the six days of the week, we may get so caught up in how we’re doing that we begin comparing ourselves to other Jews, and perhaps, G-d forbid, feel “holier than thou”, or, start feeling inadequate.

Comes the Sabbath and we are reminded by G-d, “I am the One Who sanctifies (all of) you.”  Yes, we do the work during the six days of the week, but ultimately G-d is the One Who makes us holy.

May G-d smile on the work you are doing on yourself, may He grant you great success, and may you remember to rest from your labors on the holy Sabbath and rejoice that G-d is the Source of all holiness, and He is the One Who sanctifies each and every one of us.