Parashah (portion) Ki Tissa – When You Lift Up The People
Exodus 30:11 – 34:35
The holy day of Purim is this Thursday. The main commandment that our tradition calls us to fulfill on Purim is that of reading the relatively short tale recounted in the Book of Esther. Purim is also known to be a day of great rejoicing; of carnival where people wear costumes and masks, and engage in raucous partying that includes a certain level of inebriation. But one of the more wholesome components of this unique holiday is that of gift giving. With the somewhat happy ending of the Book of Esther, we read: “Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the 14th day of the month of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, a holiday, and of sending portions (mishloach manot) to one another.” Excerpted from the text, this “mishloach manot,” this “sending of portions,” has been transformed by our rabbis into a holiday tradition which consists mainly of sending gifts of food to friends and members of the community, as well as to the poor. Our rabbis teach that the Jews of the Book of Esther, in their celebration and gift giving, were responding to the accusation leveled against them by Haman –the evil Jew-hating character in the story– when he castigated them for being “a scattered and divided nation.” Our sending each other gifts, in contradistinction, both demonstrates and reinforces how united we are as a community. It brings peace and harmony within our walls, as our gifts are an expression of our love and care for each other.
But there is another reason for giving during the holiday of Purim. In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa –which is often read the same week as Purim– God commands Moses to collect a half-shekel as part of a census: “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: When you take up the head-count of the Children of Israel… this is what everyone who is entered in the records shall give:… a half-shekel as an offering to the Eternal.” [Exod. 30:11-12] “Ki tissa,”translated here as “when you take up the head-count…,” literally means “when you lift up the people.” For the people, giving this half-shekel was an uplifting act, an exciting contribution which was eventually pooled together as a community fund “in the service of the Tent of Meeting.” [Exod: 30:16] It was uplifting because, as each person contributed, every individual felt part of creating together the Tent of Meeting. Everyone counted; everyone’s contribution mattered. Donations were to be used to benefit the entire community. Just like for the gift giving on Purim, by contributing together as one, the community was united in purpose; and in doing so, strove toward the common goal of building the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, a dwelling place for the Shechinah, the Divine Feminine Presence.
This is what all our congregations seek to recreate: a Mishkan, a Tabernacle, an authentic dwelling place for the Shechinah. With the teachings of Purim and following those of this week’s Torah portion, it has become a tradition for synagogues all over the world during this holiday week, to collect donations –recalling the half-shekel of Sinai– in support of our communities. This year, the Board of Bet Alef decided to follow this millennia old tradition and to ask all of us to contribute our half-shekel to the sustainability of our Tent of Meeting, to the continuation of our sacred community. Our members’ annual telethon fundraiser will be next weekend, Sunday March 11. However big your half-shekel contribution might be, it is critical that you participate, that all of us contribute to the sustainability of this synagogue to which we all belong, and to its future. Most importantly that, in giving your gift, you affirm the oneness of which you are a part, assert that you can be counted upon, and that you are just as dedicated as we are to this beautiful community. Your giving is a gift to yourself; to ensure that Bet Alef will continue to be here for you. Your giving is a gift to others; an expression of your love and care for all those who come to Bet Alef. And your giving is a gift to those who have yet to experience the gift you have received by being a member of this spiritual community, because it ensures that Bet Alef is still here for them the day they walk through our doors. How could giving not be uplifting? Our community is only as strong, as vibrant and as alive as we all make it. Please join us in co-creating just that, and thank you.