The Half-Shekel Tax

30:11Continuing the instructions for the Tabernacle, God spoke to Moses saying:

12 In addition to the silver you will collect as part of the donations the people will give voluntarily towards the construction of the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and the priestly vestments, you will collect an additional sum from them when you count them. You will count them when you descend Mt. Sinai after Yom Kippur,1 in order to know how many remain after the plague they suffered for making the Golden Calf,2 and again a month after the Tabernacle is erected.3 In both censuses, you shall count the people indirectly, by collecting a poll tax, because counting them directly may make My attribute of justice reconsider whether they deserve to be so numerous.” (Arousing God’s attribute of justice by deliberately drawing attention to someone’s prosperity is called “casting the evil eye” on him.) “You will use the silver collected at the first of these censuses to make the bases for the Tabernacle’s planks and the hooks for its pillars.4 You will use the silver collected at the second of these censuses to purchase all the offerings brought that year on the community’s behalf. Therefore, when you take a census of the Israelites by number, each man shall give God a monetary ransom for his soul when they are counted. This way, there will not be a plague among them caused by the ‘evil eye’ when they are counted.”

13God showed Moses a fiery coin weighing half a shekel, and said, “This is what everyone who passes through the line of those counted shall give: a half-shekel. This half-shekel is to be half of the sacred shekel, i.e., the shekel I have designated for use in all holy purposes—at twenty gerah to the shekel—a half-shekel as a contribution to God.

14 Whoever passes through the line of those counted for the purpose of conscription into the army—i.e., every male twenty years old and over up to age sixty5shall give the contribution for God.

15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when giving the contribution for God to atone for your souls through the communal offerings. There are no poor among you now, but there are still differences in everyone’s wealth. Furthermore, this contribution must be given every year, and in the future some of the people may well be poor.6

[16] You shall take the atonement money you collect from the Israelites at the first of these censuses and allocate it to the service of the Tent of Meeting, using it to make the bases for the Tabernacle’s planks and hooks for its pillars. It will thus serve the Israelites as a remembrance before God, to atone for your souls.”

The Laver

17 God spoke to Moses saying:

18 “You shall have the artisans make a copper Laver—a large pot with two spouts, and its copper base, for washing (see Figure 86). You shall place it between the Tent of Meeting and the outer Altar, i.e., east of the Tabernacle and west of the Altar. Place it south of the space opposite the entrance to the Tabernacle, so it does not interpose between the Tabernacle and the Altar (see Figure 87). You shall put water in it.

19 Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet from it. They shall wash their hands and feet at the same time, by placing the right hand on the right foot, the left hand on the left foot, and while in this position, rinsing the right hand and foot and then the left hand and foot in the water running from the spout.

20Entering the Tabernacle without having first washed in this manner is a capital offense.7 Therefore, they shall wash in this manner with water before they enter the Tent of Meeting, i.e., twice daily—before they enter to burn the morning and afternoon incense8 and perform their subsequent regular tasks9—and before they enter to perform other, occasional rites. Thus they will not die. Similarly, performing priestly functions on the outer Altar without having first washed this way is a capital offense, so whenever they approach the outer Altar to serve as priests, i.e., to burn a fire-offering to God,

21 they shall first wash their hands and feet in this manner, and thus they will not die. The difference between entering the Tent of Meeting and officiating on the Altar is that they must wash in order to enter the Tent of Meeting, no matter how many different services they perform there, while they must wash before each service they perform on the Altar.10 This shall be an everlasting statute for them, for Aaron and his descendants throughout their future generations.”

The Anointing Oil

22 God then spoke to Moses, instructing him how to make the anointing oil, saying:

23 “You shall take for yourself choice spices: 500 shekel-weights of pure myrrh; 500 shekel-weights of fragrant cinnamon in two half-portions, each amounting to 250 shekel-weights; 250 shekel-weights of aromatic cane;

24 and 500 shekel-weights of cassia, all of the sacred shekels; as well as a hin of olive oil. Take two half-portions of cinnamon instead of one full portion so that, when the spices are weighed and a small extra amount is added to tip the scales, this will be done twice for the cinnamon.

[25] You shall make it into sacred anointing oil in either of two ways: (a) by scalding the spices in the oil until they dissolve in it, or (b) by steeping the roots in water until they will be saturated with it and not absorb any oil, and then pouring the oil on the roots until it absorbs their scent, and draining it off the roots. The advantage of the first way is that the essence of the spices becomes part of the compound; the advantage of the second way is that the oil remains pure oil.11 In either case, the oil produced will be a blended compound as made by a perfumer. When thus compounded, it shall serve as oil for sacred anointment.

26 With it you shall anoint the Tent of Meeting; the Ark of the Tablets of the Testimony;

27 the Table and all its utensils; the Candelabrum and its utensils; the incense Altar;

28 the sacrificial, i.e., outerAltar and all its utensils;12 and the Laver and its base. You shall anoint all these by smearing anointing oil over them in the form of the Greek letter lambda (Λ).13

29 You shall sanctify them, making them become, relative to the ordinary facets of creation,14 holy of holies. By virtue of their holiness, anything that touches them, i.e., is placed inany sanctified container15 will itself become sanctified, i.e., it shall be liable to disqualification as a sacrifice in the same way that all sanctified objects are, and it may not be redeemed by money and thereby revert to its non-holy status. However, this sanctification-by-contact will occur only when an entity is placed in a vessel designed to contain it, e.g., when a liquid is placed in a vessel made to hold liquids and a dry good is placed in a vessel made to hold dry goods.

[30] You shall also anoint Aaron and his sons, and sanctify them to minister to Me as priests.16

31 You shall speak to the Israelites and say: ‘This shall be the sacred anointing oil for Me throughout your future generations. No matter how much of it is used, its quantity will miraculously remain the same. You shall also use it to anoint kings,17 but you shall anoint them by pouring the oil over them in the form of a crown.18

[32] Nonetheless, it may not be applied to the skin of any unauthorizedperson, nor may you make anything like it using the same proportions of spices to oil; this oil is sacred, and it shall remain restricted solely for sacred purposes for you.

33 Whoever makes an identical blend, or puts any of the oil Moses will make on an unauthorized person, will be cut off from his people by dying prematurely and childless.’ ”19

The Incense

34 God then said to Moses, instructing him how to make the incense: “Take for yourself two fragrant spices—myrrh and cassia; plus stacte, onycha, and galbanum; plus five more fragrant spices—spikenard, saffron, costus, aromatic bark, and cinnamon; and pure frankincense. There shall be an equal weight of the four main spices: stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense. Take 70 maneh each of these, plus 16 maneh of myrrh, cassia, spikenard, and saffron, 12 maneh of costus, 3 maneh of aromatic bark, and 9 maneh of cinnamon. These quantities shall suffice for a year’s use. The fact that galbanum is included even though it has a displeasing odor teaches you that you should not exclude wrongdoers from participating in public prayer.

[35] You shall make these ingredients into incense, a compound blended as by a perfumer, well mingled. Take care that the compound remainpure, i.e., undefiled, and purchase the ingredients from the treasury of the Tabernacle, so that it be holy.20

36 You shall grind some of it very finely, and place some of it twice daily on the incense Altar,21 which is situated in front of the Ark of Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you.22 It shall be holy of holies for you.

37 You shall not make incense for yourselves in the same proportions as you will make for Me; this formula shall be holy for you unto God, i.e., reserved for this purpose alone.

38 Whoever makes an identical compound for personal purposes, such as in order to smell its fragrance, will be cut off from his people by dying prematurely and childless.”23

God also instructed Moses to take from the people donations of oil for the Candelabrum24 and flour for the Showbread.25

Betzalel and Oholiav

31:1 God spoke to Moses, saying:

2 Regarding who should oversee the work of building the Tabernacle and its accoutrements, I have singled out by name Betzalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

3 I have endowed him with a Divine spirit, with wisdom, the ability to learn from others and on his own, with deductive understanding, with Divine inspiration, and with the talent forall types of craftsmanship—4 to devise woven designs and to work in gold, silver and copper—5 and with the art of setting gems and carving wood, and all kinds of crafts.

6 Moreover, I have assigned with him Oholiav son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and I have endowed every wise-hearted person with similar wisdom, so that they may make everything that I have commanded you:

7 the Tent of Meeting, the Ark for the Tablets of theTestimony and the Cover upon it, and all the implements for the Tent of Meeting;

8 the Table and its utensils, the pure goldCandelabrum and all its utensils, and the incense Altar;

9 the sacrificial, outer Altar and all its utensils, and the Laver and its base;

10 the netted packing cloths for the furnishings,26 the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, and the vestments of his sons for their service as priests;

11 and the anointing oil and the spice incense for burning in the Sanctuary. According to all that I have commanded you, so shall they do.”

The Sabbath

12 God said to Moses as follows:

13 When you descend from Mount Sinai, there are two ways in which you will convey My teachings to the people. In most cases, you will first explain the particular subject to Aaron by himself. Aaron will then sit at your left, his sons will enter, and you will repeat the same lesson for them. They will then sit to your right and Aaron’s left, the princes will enter, and you will repeat the same lesson for them. The princes will then sit at the sides, the rest of the people will enter, and you will repeat the same lesson for them. You will then leave, and Aaron will repeat the lesson for everyone else. Then Aaron will leave, and his sons will repeat the lesson for the princes and the people. Then his sons will leave, and the princes will repeat the lesson for the people. Thus, everyone will hear the lesson four times.27 However, you will not give the instructions for fashioning the Tabernacle and all its accoutrements in this way. Instead, you will gather all the people together at once, and teach them all at the same time. Now, because I am telling you to convey these teachings in an exceptional manner, you might think that working on the Tabernacle is so important that it overrides the prohibition of work on the Sabbath. Therefore, you shall speak to the Israelites in the same exceptional, public forum as you deliver the instructions for the Tabernacle and say to them: ‘Anxious as you may be to complete the Tabernacle—inasmuch as it expresses how God has forgiven you the sin of the Golden Calf28you shall nevertheless observe My Sabbaths carefully, and not let your enthusiasm for building the Tabernacle lead you to inadvertently desecrate the Sabbath.29 For the Sabbath is a sign for all other nations of the special relationship between Me and you, throughout your generations, in that I have appointed as your day of rest the same day that I rested on when I created the world. In this way, the other nations are to know that it is none other than I, God, who sanctifies you.

14 You shall thereforeobserve the Sabbath for it is holy for you. Those who desecrate it by treating it like any other day and doing any forbidden type of work must be put to death by the court, provided there are witnesses who saw the individuals desecrate it and warned them not to do so beforehand. For if no such witnesses exist, the soul of anyone who does work on that day will be cut off by Me from the midst of its people, i.e., he will die prematurely and childless.30

15 Work may be done for six days, but on the seventh day there shall be an absolute rest from work, i.e., not a rest due to fatigue or a rest due to boredom or idleness, but a rest that is holy—that is, dedicated—to God. This is why whoever does work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.

16 The Israelites shall observe the Sabbath, establishing the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant.

17 It is a sign between Me and the Israelites for all time, that in six days God made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested. Certainly I did not rest because I was tired or had nothing else to do, but rather because there was a positive purpose in resting. Similarly, you should rest on the Sabbath for the same reason.’ ”

The Tablets

Second Reading 18 Having concluded its description of both the contractual and covenantal sides of the relationship between God and the people that was established at the Giving of the Torah,31 the Torah now resumes the historical narrative from the end of Moses’ first 40 days on Mount Sinai, that is, from the end of parashat Mishpatim.32 When Godfinished speaking with Moses and teaching him the outline of all the Torah’s laws and the details of the laws found in parashat Mishpatim33 on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two Tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. The two tablets were square—six handbreadths long and six handbreadths wide—and three handbreadths thick.34 The first five commandments were engraved on the first tablet, and the second five on the second tablet. Miraculously, the two tablets were exactly equal in size,35 even though the first tablet had many more words engraved on it, and the writing, spacing, and margins were the same on both.36

The Golden Calf

32:1 But meanwhile, the people had miscalculated the 40 days. They counted the day Moses ascended the mountain as the first day, even though it was not a complete day, while Moses meant 40 full days. On the 16th of Tamuz, which they thought was the 40th day, they saw that Moses had delayed in coming down from the mountain. Furthermore, the accusing angel, Satan, made the weather unnaturally overcast and gloomy. The people feared that this unnatural gloom meant that Moses had died. Satan spoke to them and said, "Yes, he has died." At first they did not believe him, but he then showed them an image of Moses being carried to heaven on his deathbed. Seeing this, they believed him. Realizing the necessity for a leader or leadership body who can transmit God's intentions to them, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, "Arise, make us substitute leaders, who will channel God's messages to us and thereby lead us, because this man Moses, who led us up out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him." This was the eighth time the people challenged God's ability to come to their aid.37 The people knew that God was going to command them to build a Tabernacle,38 the central feature of which would be the Ark, and that He would communicate with Moses through the gold cherubim on the Ark's Cover.39 They imagined that if Aaron—the holiest person available to them in Moses' absence—were to make a similar, properly constructed gold figure, this would express their desire for Divine guidance, and God would indeed consent to communicate with them this way. Even though God had already told Moses that it is forbidden to make likenesses of the cherubim,40 the people had not yet heard this command from Moses (since he had not yet descended from Mount Sinai).41

2 Nonetheless, Aaron sensed that it was not a good idea to do this, so he said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me." He hoped that the women and children, who value their jewelry, would not consent—at least not immediately—and this would delay matters until Moses returned.

3 But instead of asking their wives and children for their jewelry, all of the people immediately stripped themselves of the gold rings that were on their own ears and brought them to Aaron. Thus, the women played no part in this affair.42

4 Aaron took the gold from their hands, bound it in a cloth and cast it into the fire. Then, either the magicians among the mixed multitude then came and magically made the melting gold into a molten calf or Micah threw the plate on which Moses had written a Divine Name and the words "Ascend, ox; ascend, ox"43 into the fire, and this transformed the melting gold into a molten calf. From another perspective, Aaron himself formed the gold into a calf, using a molding tool. In either case, when the calf was finished, it magically came alive. Seeing this, the mixed multitude said, "This, Israel, is your god, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." Instead of relating to the calf as a substitute for Moses, they treated it as a replacement for God Himself, and thus made it into an idol. Some of the Israelites were swept up in the fervor of the moment and committed this sin, as well. Miriam's son, Hur, started to point out to them that this was wrong, but the idolaters killed him. No one from the tribe of Levi participated in the idolatry.44

5 Aaron saw that the calf had come alive and that it would be difficult to convince the idolaters that it did not have supernatural powers. He also saw that the idolaters had killed his nephew Hur, and understood that he could not dissuade them; his best chances were to delay any actual worship so Moses could arrive in the meantime. Finally, he understood that it would be better for him to assume responsibility for the sin rather than let the responsibility rest with the sinners themselves. So, for all these reasons, he insisted they let him build the calf an altar by himself, rather than build it together. This way, he could tarry constructing it as long as possible and the onus would be mainly on him. They assented, and he built an altar before it. Aaron announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to God!" He hoped that Moses would arrive imminently and lead them the next day in worshipping God, using this altar. Thus, the actual idolatry was postponed until the next day.

6 Knowing that Moses would descend the mountain before noon, Satan woke the people up early. They rose early the next day, the 17th of Tamuz, and sacrificed ascent-offerings and brought peace-offerings to the calf. The people then sat down to eat and drink, and then got up to revel. They conducted a sexual orgy, indulging in forbidden relations, and this led to murder, as well. The incident with the Golden Calf was the eighth time the people challenged God's ability to care for them.

7 God then spoke to Moses: "Go down the mountain, and descend as well from your present spiritual level, for the mixed multitude, your people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt without consulting Me,45 have become corrupt and corrupted some of the Israelites. I elevated you to your present spiritual level only for the sake of the people; now that they have become corrupt, your spiritual status must drop as well.

8 They have been quick to turn away from the path that I commanded them to follow; they have made themselves a molten calf. They have prostrated themselves before it and have offered sacrifices to it, saying, 'This, Israel, is your god, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' They credited it with all the miracles I did for them!"

9 God further said to Moses, "I have observed this people, and it is indeed a stiff-necked people—they do not accept rebuke easily, if at all.

10 Therefore, now, I have only one option: Let Me be; My wrath will blaze forth against them. My wrath is so great that I will destroy them entirely, even those who are not guilty of idolatry. I will start over and make you and your descendents into a great nation in their stead." Moses had not yet attempted to argue with God, but God intimated to him that if he would pray on the people's behalf (and not "let Him be"), he could change His mind.

11 So Moses then pleaded with God, his God, and said, "O God, I understand that those who committed idolatry deserve the death penalty, but why should Your wrath blaze forth against Your people so impetuously, forcing you to execute the guilty without trial and wipe out the innocent, as well? Why are You so jealous of a powerless, molten calf?46 The people know full well that You brought them out of the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand, not this calf! They have only been temporarily overcome by the folly of the moment.

12 Furthermore, why should the Egyptians be allowed to say: 'He took them out of our country with evil intent: to kill them in the mountains and to utterly destroy them from the face of the earth'? And why should the Egyptians be allowed to say: 'He took them out of our country when the evil star Ra'ah was ascendant, so it is no surprise that they have come to this end'? Why give them continued cause to believe in their astrologers?47 Withdraw from Your blazing wrath, and renounce the thought of bringing evil upon Your people. Finally, they are technically innocent: when You gave them the commandment not to serve idols, You phrased it in the singular, as if referring to me alone.48

13 As for your idea of making my descendants into a new nation, remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom You swore by Your Self49—who is eternal—and told them, 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and they will inherit it forever.' If You wish to execute them for transgressing the Ten Commandments, let the merit of Abraham—who has not yet received his reward for passing his ten tests50—counterbalance their demerits. If You wish to execute them by burning, let the merit of Abraham—who submitted himself to fire for Your sake51—counterbalance this. If You wish to execute them by the sword, let the merit of Isaac—who offered his neck to his father's knife52—counterbalance this. If You wish to punish them by sending them into exile, let the merit of Jacob—who fled to Charan in order to secure the continuation of the patriarchal line53—counterbalance this. But if the combined merit of three patriarchs cannot redeem the people, why should I think that if you wipe them out and make a new nation out of my descendants that my merit alone will be able to redeem them at some future time?"

14 Because of Moses' entreaty, God renounced the thought of the evil that He had said He would do to His people. He agreed instead only to destroy the guilty, and, where possible, to ascertain their guilt by due process of law. God also determined how to prevent the Egyptians from bolstering their belief in their astrologers: He decreed that the blood omen foretold by the star Ra'ah would apply to the bleeding that would occur many years later, when Joshua circumcised the Jews as they were about to enter the Land of Israel. (The Jews were exempt from circumcising their newborn boys while in the desert, because they never knew when G‑d would require them to travel, and it is dangerous to take an infant on a trip immediately after his circumcision.)54

Breaking the Tablets; Punishing the Wrongdoers

15 Moses then turned and went down from the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hand. The tablets were inscribed on both sides; that is, the letters were hewn all the way from one side to the other. The middle of the samech and of the final mem were thus miraculously suspended in midair. Thus, the tablets were inscribed on one side and on the other.

16 The tablets were God's handiwork and the script was God's script, engraved by God Himself on the tablets. This fact indicates that the Torah is God's favorite "occupation," as it were.

17 Joshua had pitched his tent at the foot of the mountain55 and had been waiting for Moses during the forty days since the Giving of the Torah. Joshua heard the sound of the people jubilating, and when Moses met him on his way down the mountain, he said to Moses, "There is a sound of battle in the camp!"

18 He replied, "It is not the triumphant sound of the victor nor the weakly sound of the defeated. A painful sound—the sound of blasphemy and cursing—is what I hear."

19 Until now, Moses had been somewhat aloof from the gravity of the people's sin.56 But as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became enraged. He reasoned: "If serving idols disqualifies someone from offering the Passover sacrifice57—which is only a small part of the whole Torah—it should surely disqualify him from receiving the Torah in its entirety! And the entire Torah is alluded to in the Ten Commandments engraved on these tablets!"58 He further reasoned:59 "The people were 'wedded' to God at the Giving of the Torah, and the tablets are the 'wedding contract,' so to speak. This act of idolatry is thus analogous to a wife being unfaithful to her husband, and adultery is a capital offense.60 In order to save their lives, I will destroy the wedding contract!"61 So he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.

20 The people stopped their revelry, and Moses proceeded to try them for their offenses. Continuing the analogy of idolatry to adultery, a court can only execute an adulteress when the act is preceded by a legal warning and witnessed. If the husband only suspects that his wife has been unfaithful but has no proof, he can, under certain circumstances, administer a form of trial by ordeal.62

Based on this analogy, God told Moses to try the people for their unfaithfulness. But this analogy could, at this point, only be applied to born Israelites. The status of the mixed multitude, who Moses had converted on his own initiative, was still pending. They did not yet have the status of full converts, so they were not fully "wedded" to God; they were analogous to semi-Jewish handmaidens.63 This did not make a difference for those who had been both warned and witnessed committing idolatry, since idolatry is a capital crime for both Jews and non-Jews. God therefore told Moses to set up a court for those who had been both warned and witnessed committing idolatry—these individuals were to be executed by the sword by the court or its agents, as will be recounted presently. This, in effect, was an application of the law pertaining to a city that is collectively convicted of idolatry.64 But only the born Israelites could be tried by the ordeal administered to a suspected adulteress, since only they were God's full-fledged "wives." Furthermore, this ordeal can be administered only if the wife is merely suspect; if she has been witnessed in the act, the ordeal cannot be applied.65 Thus, a wife who has been witnessed committing adultery but not formally warned cannot be capitally tried (her husband's only legal recourse is to divorce her).

Thus, with regard to trial and punishment after the incident of the Golden Calf, there were four categories of people:

  1. All those who had been legally warned and witnessed. These were tried by the court and executed.
  2. The born Israelites who had been neither legally warned nor witnessed. These were subjected to the trial by ordeal.
  3. Those of the mixed multitude who had been neither legally warned nor witnessed.
  4. All those who had not been legally warned but had been witnessed in the act.

There was no legal way of trying or executing the second two categories, so God planned on punishing them Himself. As will be recounted presently, Moses tried to convince God to forgive them.

Moses first administered the trial by ordeal to the born Israelites who had been neither legally warned nor witnessed. He took the calf that they had made and burned it in fire, melting it down to unformed gold again. When it cooled, he ground it into fine powder and scattered it over the water of the river descending the mountain,66 mixing it into a solution, and made the Israelites drink it. The abdomens of those who were guilty swelled and exploded, killing them, just as occurs with the suspected adulteress who is found guilty.67

21 Moses then set up a court to try those who had been legally warned and witnessed. In the course of the legal proceedings, Moses became aware of Aaron's role in the affair. Moses then said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that forced you to accede to their demands, and thus you brought such a grave sin upon them?"

22 Aaron replied, "Let not my master be angry at the people; you know that the people are bent on evil. They are skeptical, always doubting God's ability to provide for them.68 When you failed to appear when they thought you should, they did not trust in God to provide them with a substitute.

23 Instead, they said to me, 'Make us a leader who will lead us, because this man Moses, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.'

24 I knew that as innocuous as this seemed, it could develop in the wrong direction, so I said to them, 'Who has gold? thinking they would hesitate to part with their gold, and thus I could delay matters.' But they stripped themselves of it unhesitatingly and gave it to me. I cast it into the fire and[—either by means of the magic of the magicians of the mixed multitude or by means of Micah's plate—] this live calf emerged." From the perspective that Aaron himself made the calf, he said here: "I cast it into the fire and fashioned it into a calf, intending this to serve as a channel for Divine instruction for the people, as they requested. I did not foresee that the mixed multitude would treat this calf as an idol, but that is what emerged."69

25 Moses saw that the people were now exposed to ridicule, for by making the calf, Aaron had exposed their latent shortcomings publicly, making them an object of disgrace among their adversaries. The whole world would soon know that the people had committed idolatry, and this would irrevocably lessen their ability to be respected as God's representatives in the world and be accorded the privileges necessary for them to fulfill their Divine mission.

26 Moses therefore had to punish the convicted wrongdoers publicly.70 He stood up at the entrance of the camp, in everyone's full view, and said, "Whoever is for God and is willing to act as the court's agents to execute the idolaters publicly, join me!" And all the Levites rallied around him, for none of them had participated in the crime.

27 He said to them, "This is what God, the God of Israel, has said: 'Idolatry is a capital offense.71 Therefore, let each of you place his sword by his thigh. Go back and forth from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let each man slay those that the court has found guilty, even if he be his half-brother, his friend, or his relative.' "

28 The Levites did as Moses had ordered, even though this meant in some cases killing their close relatives,72 and some three thousand of the people fell that day.

29 While the Levites were executing the guilty, Moses said to them, "Until now, the priestly rites have been carried out by the firstborn. But now, since some of the firstborn have committed the sin of idolatry, they have betrayed this honor and, as a group, are no longer worthy of this privilege.73 You, however, have proven yourselves worthy: you did not participate in the sin, and you did not hesitate to execute those guilty of it. Therefore, be inaugurated today for the service of God—for each of you has been true to God, even if this meant contending against your grandson and half-brother. Your acts now will serve to bring the blessing of priesthood upon you today."

The Second Forty Days

30 On the next day, the 18th of Tamuz,74 Moses said to the people, "You have committed a grave sin. We have executed those among you who were both legally warned and witnessed. We have tried by ordeal the born Israelites among you who were neither warned nor witnessed. As for those of you who have been witnessed but not legally warned and the mixed multitude who were neither warned nor witnessed, I will now go up the mountain again to God: perhaps I will be able to secure atonement for your sin."

31 So Moses returned to God and said, "I implore! This people has indeed committed a terrible sin. But it is Your fault: You lavished so much gold upon them, both when they left Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, they could not resist the temptation, and they made themselves a god of gold."

32 God did not accept this argument, so Moses tried coercion. "So, if You will forgive their sin, well and good. But if not, erase me from the Torah, Your book that You wrote before creation and that will be eventually be given in its entirety in this world.75 Let it not be recorded that my merit did not suffice to secure atonement for them."

33 God replied to Moses, "No. Whoever has sinned against Me, him will I erase from the rest of My Book, since he is the one who has forfeited his right to continue carrying out My mission. You did not sin, so I will not erase you from history. I will, as planned, execute all those who were witnessed committing idolatry but were not legally warned.

34 Therefore, now that all those who sinned among the born Israelites will soon have been executed, go, and lead the remainder of the people where I have told you, that is, to the Land of Israel. Nonetheless, even those who did not actually sin are not entirely guiltless: they could have done more to prevent their brothers from falling into this sin. The fact that they did not do so indicates that either they are not sufficiently bothered by the heinous sin of idolatry or they do not care enough about their fellow Jews. Therefore, I will punish them for this in two ways: From now on, I will not lead the people directly. Instead, it is My angel that will go before you. Secondly, although this shortcoming does not warrant their immediate death, I will add its demerit whenever I punish them for any other sin they may commit in the future. Thus, on the day of My reckoning of those sins, I will bring them to account for their sin in the matter of the calf, as well."

God also expressed His anger at Aaron to Moses, and told him that He planned to exterminate his line by killing his four sons (who did not yet have any children). Moses prayed on Aaron's behalf, and succeeded in commuting the sentence by half. Thus, when the Tabernacle was inaugurated, God killed Aaron's two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu—who in any case became guilty of the death penalty at that time for other reasons.76

35 Thus, while Moses was still on the mountain, God struck the people who had been witnessed committing idolatry but who had not been legally warned with a plague, which killed them all,77 because they had made and worshiped the calf that Aaron had made. With this, all those who committed idolatry were dead, except those of the mixed multitude who had sinned but had not been legally warned or witnessed.

33:1 God then said to Moses, "All those who committed the sin of idolatry have now been killed, except for those of the mixed multitude who were neither warned nor witnessed. These I will not kill, for I perceive that they have fully repented of their sin. They are, of course, as guilty as the born Israelites of not having prevented the others from sinning, but for this I shall punish them in the same way I will punish the born Israelites: by adding this demerit to whatever sin I punish them for in the future.78 Therefore, now that the people have been purified—by My having removed their unworthy elements, by their having accepted My gradual punishment, and by having repented—I can restore you to your former spiritual level. Therefore, go up from here, i.e., your present, lowered spiritual level, back to your former spiritual level.79 Go up as well, you and the people, the mixed multitude whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the Land of Israel. Their conversion is now complete and they have the legal status of full Israelites."80 (God told Moses to go up to the Land of Israel since it is considered the "top" of the world.) "You may take the mixed multitude there even though it is the land regarding which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants,' and they are not descendants of the patriarchs.

2 I will send an angel ahead of you and drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, while the Girgashites will flee of their own accord.

3 You will conduct the people to a land flowing with goats' milk and date- and fig-honey. Still, the angel will lead you, not Me, for I will not go up among you, lest I utterly destroy you on the way, since you are a stiff-necked people. You are too stubborn in your tolerance of evil and too resistant to admonishment. The full manifestation of My presence is too intense to be revealed openly among you."

At the Foot of the Mountain

4 Moses' second stay on Mount Sinai also lasted forty days. During this time, too, he neither ate nor drank,81 but this was not because God miraculously sustained him,82 for God had been angry these entire forty days.83 Rather, Moses had been so absorbed in his interactions with God that he did not notice the demands of his body.84 This period ended on Av 29, 2448.85 Moses had not succeeded in securing forgiveness for the offenders who had not been legally warned, and God had told him that He would henceforth lead the people by proxy. When the people heard the latter, this ominous declaration, they mourned, and no man put on his jewelry, i.e., the crowns they had received when they said "we will do and we will learn."86

5 God then said to Moses, "Explain to them why I can no longer manifest My presence in their midst. Say to the Israelites: 'You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go among you, I would utterly destroy you in a moment. Even if you lapsed for one moment in your behavior and suffer a concomitant fall in spiritual consciousness, the intensity of My presence would consume you instantly. Now, you have correctly refrained from putting on your crowns. Remove your jewelry permanently from yourselves. As for how to erase the remaining effects of the sin of the Golden Calf, I will know as history unfolds what to do with you—how and when to do this gradually.' "

6 The Israelites thus divested themselves of their jewelry from Mount Horeb.

7 Moses, seeing that God had removed His presence somewhat from the people, concluded that he should do likewise. Moses decided that he would thenceforth take his tent and pitch it outside the camp, as far from the camp as he could without making it inaccessible on the Sabbath.87 He therefore placed it at distance of 2000 cubits from the outer extremity of the camp, this being the maximum distance it is permitted to walk outside a settled area on the Sabbath. As will be recounted shortly, Moses ascended Mount Sinai for a third period of 40 days on the following day, Elul 1, 2448. During this time, he secured God's forgiveness for the people. But this forgiveness was not fully actualized until the Tabernacle was inaugurated. During the almost six-month period between Moses' final descent from the mountain88 on the 10th of Tishrei and the inauguration of the Tabernacle on the 1st of Nisan, God was still relatively distanced from the people. Moses therefore kept his tent where he had placed it earlier. He would call it the Meeting Tent, where God could be "met," because whoever sought God's instruction or an experience of His presence would go out to the Meeting Tent, which stood outside the camp, since the Divine presence is most palpable in the person and environment of the sages of the Torah. Even the ministering angels knew this and sought God's presence in Moses' tent.

8 Whenever Moses went out of the camp to go to his tent, all the people would rise, each man standing at the entrance of his own tent, and their admiring gaze would follow Moses until he entered the tent. They said, "How fortunate is he who is assured that God's presence will follow him into his tent!" They remained standing respectfully until Moses disappeared from their view.

9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and remain at the entrance of the tent, and God would speak with Moses.

10 Whenever all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise, and each man would prostrate himself to the Divine presence from the entrance of his tent.

11 Inside the tent, God would speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. Moses would then return to the camp to teach what God had taught him to the rest of the people. God insisted that Moses do this, for, He told him "If we both act angry with them, no one will work to reconcile them with Me." During this whole period, Moses' attendant, the young man, Joshua son of Nun, never left the tent.

Third Reading 12 Returning to the events of the 29th of Av, after God informed the people that He would no longer lead them directly, Moses said to God, "Look: You tell me, 'Take up this people,' but You have not told me whom You will send with me. You told me you will send an angel, but I do not accept this. You must lead them Yourself. If You ask on what grounds I am making this demand, it is because You also said to me, 'I have granted you recognition above all other men by allowing only me to approach Your presence on Mount Sinai,89 specifying you for this honor by name, and you have found favor in My eyes.'

13 So now, if You indeed regard me favorably, please let me know Your way of rewarding those whom you regard favorably. By granting my request, I will know You and find out what it means to be in Your favor. Consider, too, that this nation is Your people, so You cannot propose, as You did, to wipe them out and make a new nation out of my descendants."

14 He answered, "Very well; My Presence will go with you, and I will grant you rest from this concern."

15 Moses said to Him, "This is indeed what we desire, for if Your Presence does not accompany us, we would rather you not take us up from here to the Land of Israel at all.

16 How else can it be known that Your people and I have found favor in Your eyes, if You do not accompany us Yourself? And now, I would like to ask You something further: in this regard, let Your people and me be distinct from every nation on the face of the earth. Let Your presence be manifest among us alone."

Fourth Reading 17 God said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which You have spoken, since you have found favor in My eyes and I have granted you recognition above all other men, specifying you for this honor by name.90 My presence will no longer be revealed openly to other nations. Even the non-Jewish prophets will only perceive Me indirectly."

18 Since Moses saw that God was acceding to his requests, he made yet another one. He said, "Please let me behold Your Glory. Show me how You reveal Your presence in this world."

19 He replied, "As a matter of fact, it is indeed now time for Me to reveal to you partly how I manifest My presence in this world. When you prayed to me just now to forgive the people, you assumed that your last recourse is to invoke the merit of the patriarchs. However, I possess a higher goodness—mercy—that may be invoked when necessary. I will therefore make all My goodness—i.e., My attributes of mercy—pass before you, and will proclaim the Divine Name before you, showing you how to invoke these attributes in prayer. When the people proclaim that My mercy is always available, even when the merit of the patriarchs has been exhausted, I may still forgive their misdeeds. The prerogative to forgive, of course, still remains Mine: I will show favor when I choose to show favor, and I will show mercy when I choose to show mercy."

20 God further said, "In order to demonstrate how to invoke My attributes of mercy in prayer, I will show you an image of Myself as a person praying, cloaked in a prayer-blanket (talit) and tefilin, proclaiming these attributes. You will then teach the people to pray this way. They should invoke My mercy while wearing talit and tefilin because a person can sin only when he temporarily forgets Me, and both the talit and tefilin are means of remembering Me.91 Nonetheless, as this image passes before you, you will not be able to behold 'My' face, i.e., the face of this image, for no man can see Me directly—even in such a representative way—and still live. Understanding directly how I manifest My mercy in this world is beyond the capacity of human intellect or experience.

21 But," God said, "Although space is something I created, and thus, it is more proper to speak of space existing 'within' Me than Me existing 'within' space, I will nonetheless describe what I want you to do in the latter way: There is a place on the mountain near where you usually stand when you communicate with Me, and you can stand on the rock there.

22 When My glory passes by, that is, when My mercy is revealed and the order of strict justice is temporarily suspended, the destructive forces can also operate uninhibited, so I will have to protect you from them. I will therefore place you in a crevice in the rock, and I shall shield you with My hand, protecting you until I have passed.

23 But after My attributes of mercy have passed by and the danger is gone, I will remove My hand. You will be able to see My back as I continue to pass, and I will roll back the talit off My head so you can see the knot of the head-tefilin resting on My neck. The head-tefilin are placed on the head like a crown, so by showing you how the tefilin are tied on the head, I will be showing you something of My glory, as you requested.92 You will only see the back of My glory—i.e., of the way I manifest My presence mercifully in this world—for human intellect can only understand the workings of My mercy after the fact. Thus, even though I will let you see My back, My face may not be seen."

Fifth Reading 34:1 God said to Moses, "You shattered the original tablets because you assumed that the people were an unfaithful 'wife' and you wanted to destroy the 'marriage contract.' I commend you for doing this.93 But now that it has been found that the fault was with the mixed multitude—the 'handmaidens' rather than the 'wife'—it is time to restore the tablets that you broke. Since you destroyed them, hew yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you shattered. As it happens, you have pitched your tent over a lode of sapphire. Hew the two tablets from this material, and you may keep what is leftover for yourself." Although all the people became rich from the wealth they took with them when they left Egypt94 and when they plundered the Egyptian chariots at the Sea of Reeds,95 Moses became even wealthier from this lode of sapphire.96 God continued: "Make also an ark—a wooden chest—to hold the tablets.97

2 Be ready for the morning, and in the morning you shall ascend Mount Sinai for the third time and stand before Me there, on the top of the mountain.

3 No man may go up with you, and no man may be seen on the entire mountain; not even the flocks or the herds may graze before that mountain. I gave the first tablets amid great public fanfare; they were therefore subject to the 'evil eye.'98 I shall therefore give the second tablets privately."

The Third Forty Days

4 So Moses hewed two tablets of stone like the first ones, but before he ascended the mountain he made the wooden ark, so it would be ready when he would descend the mountain with the tablets.99 On the following day, Elul 1, 2448,100 Moses rose early in the morning and ascended Mount Sinai as God had commanded him, and he took the two stone tablets in his hand.

5 God descended in a cloud and stood with him there, and he invoked the Name of God.

6 God passed by before him as an image of a man cloaked in a talit and wearing tefilin, and proclaimed the thirteen attributes of Divine mercy: "God has mercy on the sinner before he sins, even though He knows he is going to sin; God has mercy on the sinner after he sins and has repented; He is a benevolent God; He is compassionate and gracious; He is slow to demonstrate His anger by inflicting punishment, waiting instead for the sinner to repent; He is abounding in undeserved kindness for those who do not have enough of their own merits; He abounds also in truth, faithfully rewarding those who obey Him.

7 He preserves the merit of acts of kindness a person does for two thousand generations, adding them to the merits of his descendants; He forgives premeditated sins, rebellious sins, and unintentional sins; He acquits sinners from immediate punishment but does not acquit them altogether, punishing them instead little by little—unless they repent, for He acquits those who repent properly and He does not acquit those who do not. He remembers the premeditated sins of the fathers, adding their demerits to those of the children and the children's children, but only if they follow in their fathers' misguided footsteps, and only up to the third and the fourth generation." Thus, God's attribute of rewards is 500 times greater than His attribute of punishment, since He preserves merit for 2000 generations but demerit only for four.

8 As soon as he saw the image of God's presence beginning to pass by and heard God beginning to speak—before God shielded him with His hand—Moses hastened to bow down low and, without any pause, prostrate himself before this direct revelation of God.101 When God shielded Moses with His hand, Moses' face became radiant.102

9 After God's presence had passed by, Moses prayed to God to forgive the people, invoking these attributes. God then asked Moses, "When you saw Me first writing these attributes down, did you not insist that I should only manifest them for the righteous?" Moses replied, "Yes, but You corrected me, telling me that they are meant also for the wicked!"103 Moses then reiterated the requests he had made before he ascended the mountain. He said, "If I have found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, may You, my Lord, go in our midst as You have promised.104 This is now possible because even though this is a stiff-necked people, You will pardon both our premeditated sins and our unintentional sins. There is therefore no concern that the intensity of Your presence will destroy us.105 And take us as Your own, unique possession. Let Your presence be manifest among us alone, and not to the other nations."106

Sixth Reading 10 To this, God replied, "I hereby make a covenant concerning these points: Before all your people I will perform wonders such as have not been performed on all the earth or for any nation: I will distinguish you from all people by manifesting My presence only among you. And all the people among whose midst you are shall see how awesome is the deed of God which I will perform for you: Although I said earlier that invoking the thirteen attributes of mercy would be effective only subject to My consent, I now declare that they shall always be effective.107

Renewing the Covenant

11 "In addition to restoring the tablets, I will renew the covenant I made with you before the sin of the Golden Calf, by repeating certain elements of it.108 By repeating these commands, I will make you doubly liable for infringing them; this will impress you with their importance.109 Mark well what I command you today. I am going to drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The Girgashites, however, will leave on their own,110 so the following instructions apply to them only theoretically.111

12 Beware, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land that you are entering, lest they become a snare in your midst.

13 Rather you shall shatter their altars, demolish their sacred pillars, and cut down their sacred trees.

14 For you must not prostrate yourself to the god of any other nation, because the very Name of God is 'Zealous': He is a zealous God.

15 Beware, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they stray after their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invite you and you eat of his sacrifice. Even though partaking of his feast may seem innocuous, I forbid it, for if you fraternize with him

16 you will eventually take wives from among his daughters for your sons, and his daughters will stray after their gods and will lead your sons who married them astray after their gods.

17 "You shall not make yourselves any molten idols.

18 "You shall observe Passover, the Festival of Matzos. For seven days you shall eat matzos as I have commanded you, at the appointed time in Nisan, the month of the beginning of the grain-ripening, for in the month of the beginning of the grain-ripening you left Egypt.

19 "Just as you must observe the holiday that occurs when the grain first ripens, so must you dedicate certain firstborn creatures to Me.112 Every firstborn son, the one who opens the womb, is Mine.113 So, too, all your livestock that issues from its mother as a male that opens the womb, whether of a cow or a sheep or goat,114 is Mine.

20 Of non-kosher animals, only the firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. You must give a lamb to a priest and then you may use the donkey as your own. The lamb remains the priest's private property and is not considered to have been sanctified in any way. If you do not redeem the donkey, you shall break its neck with an ax, for by not giving it to the priest you have caused him monetary loss, which must therefore be offset by your loss of the donkey. You shall redeem every firstborn among your sons by giving five shekels to a priest.115

"When you come to Jerusalem for the pilgrim festivals, you shall not appear before Me empty-handed. You must bring an animal and sacrifice it as an ascent-offering.

21 "The prohibitions against working the land in the Sabbatical year do not apply to the other six years of the Sabbatical cycle, and thus, during those years, you may work all six days of the workweek, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, you shall refrain from working. The exception to this is that during the last part of the sixth year of the Sabbatical cycle you shall refrain from plowing, since this influences the growth of the produce during the Sabbatical year, and during the first part of the first year of the Sabbatical cycle you shall refrain from reaping, since the produce in the fields then grew during the preceding, Sabbatical year.

"Furthermore, there is an exception to the prohibition of reaping on the Sabbath: The prohibition against working on the Sabbath applies only to instances of work I have not explicitly commanded you to do, and therefore you shall always refrain from plowing, since I have nowhere explicitly commanded you to plow on any specific day. However, there is one instance where I have explicitly commanded you to reap: you must harvest an omer of the barley crop on the second day of Passover.116 This reaping is obligatory, and therefore must be done even when this day falls on the Sabbath.

22 "Returning to the yearly cycle of pilgrim festivals: You shall observe Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, by offering two loaves of wheat bread.117 This is the first produce of the wheat harvest that may be offered in the Temple. (The omer offered on the second day of Passover is barley.)

"You shall also observe Sukot, the Festival of the Ingathering of your produce from the field to the barns, to protect it from the coming rains at the turn of the year.

23 Three times each year all your menfolk shall appear before Me, the Master of the World, God, who is also the God of Israel.

24 I am making it obligatory for you to make these pilgrimages because I will expel nations from before you and extend your boundaries, and you may therefore be living far away from the Temple in Jerusalem. Do not worry about leaving your homes unattended during the pilgrim festivals, for I promise you that no one will be envious of your land when you go up to appear before God, your God, three times each year.

25 You shall not slaughter My Passover blood-sacrifice in the presence of leavened bread, nor sprinkle its blood on the altar, or be a member of a group that has joined together to eat it. The fat portions of the Passover festive-offering (or any other offering, for that matter) that must be burned on the altar must at least have begun to be burned during the night following the day the sacrifice was offered. They may not be left off the altar overnight until morning, for if they are, they invalidate the sacrifice.

26 "You shall bring the first-ripened fruits and produce of your land to the House of God, your God. This applies only to the seven types of produce by which the Land of Israel is distinguished: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.118

"In addition to not eating any young animal cooked in milk,119 you shall not derive any other benefit120 from a young animal of the goats, sheep, or cows cooked in its mother's milk or in any other milk from an animal permitted to eat. This is an act of cruelty, and it is forbidden to be cruel to animals."121

Seventh Reading 27 God said to Moses, "Write down these words for yourself, for it is according to these words that I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. These words will later be incorporated into the written Torah scroll. But do not think that because I command you to write these words down that you may also formally write down the oral explanation I am teaching you. The oral explanation must be memorized and taught verbally."

Moses Descends the Mountain

28 Moses remained there with God on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water. This time, however, it was not because God sustained him miraculously122 or because he was so absorbed by his interactions with God that he did not notice his body's demands;123 rather, Moses did not eat because his physical body became purified, like an angel, and he therefore did not need to eat.124 Unlike the second forty days, God showed His good will and favor during these forty days.125 On the last day, Tishrei 10, 2449,126 God was fully reconciled with the people and wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

29 When Moses came down on that day from Mount Sinai for the third and final time, and the two Tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand as he descended from the mountain, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face had become radiant when God had spoken to him and sheltered him with His hand. Because Moses' physical body had become quasi-angelic while he was on the mountain the third time,127 beams of light shone from his face.

30 Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face was radiant. Because they had sinned and descended to a lower spiritual level, they were awed by Moses' shining face and they were afraid to approach him. In contrast, before they had sinned, they had been able to gaze on the glory of God Himself and not be afraid.128

31 From then on, whenever Moses came out of his tent to teach the people something he had heard from God, he would have to call them back. Aaron would come first, and he would stand before Moses and Moses would teach him the lesson by himself. Aaron would then sit down to Moses' left. Aaron's sons would come, stand before Moses as he taught them the lesson, and then sit at Moses' right and Aaron's left. The leaders of the community would then approach him, and Moses would speak to them, repeating the lesson for them. The leaders then took their seats on either side of Aaron's sons.

32 After that, all the Israelites would draw near, and Moses would command them all that God had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.

Maftir 33 Whenever Moses finished speaking with them, he would put a veil over his face to hide the rays of light—for it was only fitting that everyone see the rays of light when he was teaching them God's word—and withdraw back into his tent. Aaron would then repeat the lesson to all the assembled, after which he would also leave. Aaron's sons would then repeat the lesson to the leaders and the people, after which they would leave. The leaders then repeated the lesson before the people. Everyone thus heard every lesson four times.

34 And whenever Moses entered his tent before God to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he went out to teach the people. He would go out and tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, as has been described.

35 While he taught them, the Israelites would see Moses' face, and that the skin of Moses' face was radiant. Moses would then replace the veil over his face until he entered once again to speak with God.