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Ki Tissa

Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

It often happens that the reading of Ki Tissa, this week’s Torah portion, and the festival of Purim fall in the same week, and there is a remarkable congruence in their themes. An important part of Purim festivities is the custom of gift giving, in accordance with the denouement of the story in the Book of Esther: “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 that 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.” Contrary to the libelous stereotype of greedy, selfish Jews, our sharing of gifts both demonstrates and reinforces our solidarity 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.


There is another reason to give generously during the holiday of Purim, and it is found in Ki Tissa. “Take a census,” God tells Moses, and “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 that was 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.


As in days of old, all congregations need contributions from all their members in order to create and maintain a Mishkan, a Tabernacle, an authentic dwelling place for the Shechinah. With the teachings of Purim and following the half-shekel head tax in this week’s Torah portion, it has become a tradition for synagogues all over the world during this holiday week to collect donations in support of our communities. However large or small our half-shekel contributions may be, it is critical that we participate, that all of us contribute to the sustainability of our faith communities and Mishkans in whatever way they manifest. It is critical not only for the community, but for our personal spiritual evolution. In giving our gifts, we affirm the oneness of which we are a part, assert that we can be counted upon, and show that we are dedicated to the health and well-being of our chosen community. Our giving is a gift to ourselves—it helps ensure that the community will be there for us—and to others as an expression of our love and care for all who share our Mishkan.

PS: If you heart, therefore, so moves you to “send gifts” in honor of the Mitzvah of Purim and this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa — that you may be counted — I am including here the link to our Bet Alef Mishkan’s donation page. Todah Rabbah!