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Parasha No. 21
Ki Thissa: “When thou takest the sum”

Shemot (Exodus) 30, 11 - 34, 35


Refer to the daily calendar

Plan

- Themes
- Mitzvot
- Study of a verse together with Rashi
- Method of studying Rashi
- What does this teach us?
- Torah study requires knowledge of Hebrew
- The need to follow the traditional Jewish method of study

Exercise

This parasha is based on Rashi's commentary. It therefore gives students a good opportunity of discovering through the links on this site other sections which offer
a unique way of studying Rashi.

The Hebrew verb nassa and associated expressions. Further vocabulary lessons.

Listen to the parasha (ORT link)

Listen to the haftara (ORT link)


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First Level

Themes

Following the description of the sanctuary itself in the preceding parashiot as the place of holiness and of meeting between the Creator and man, this parasha describes the duties linked to the sanctuary and the episode of the golden calf.
In the background is the ideal prototype of man, as represented by Aharon, the Cohen Gadol (the high priest), whose purity of nature is reflected in his radiant garments, as described in the preceding parasha.

Mitzvot

The parasha describes nine mitzvot (nos. 106 to 114), of which the main ones are:
the donation of a half-shekel to the sanctuary by every man aged 20 and over. This is the passage which we shall study in this commentary.
the commandment to High Pries to wash his hands and feet before entering the sanctuary in order to be holy.
the anointing of Aharon with an oil made up of the purest ingredients.
the prohibition against compounding the holy oil for any other purpose or making use of it for any other purpose, except this holy one.
the prohibition against eating or drinking holy products made for the sanctuary: from this, one deduces that it was prohibited to make alliances with the people of Canaan who kept such practices.
the prohibition against ploughing the fields during the shemita year (year of rest).
the prohibition against cooking a lamb in its mother's milk; hence the prohibition against mixing meat and milk together.

Study of a verse with Rashi

This commentary follows the traditional method of learning which consists in focusing on the meaning of a verse or a few words instead of on general themes.
In this case I am basing myself on Rashi's commentary and the sources he refers to.
(Refer to chapter 21 of Lev Gompers which describes at length Rashi's method of interpretation.)

The first mitzva in this parasha is that of the half-shekel. The phrase ki thissa is usually translated as "when thou takest the sum. Rashi, for his part, states: "here the verb means to receive as in Onkelos's translation (leshon kabala ketargumo). This means: when you assess the number of the children of Israel, do not count them by the head but receive from each man a half-shekel and when you have counted these shekalim, you will know the number of the people."

Method of studying Rashi
When we study a commentary by Rashi, we must ask 5 questions:
1. Which is the problem Rashi is trying to resolve in his commentary? (This is not always evident in one's first reading of Rashi). This is the temia rule (astonishment), when one says "tamua!"
2. Which means does Rashi use to resolve the problem? (Is it through reasoning, through reference to another verse or another commentary, or to Onkelos's translation…?)
3. Which are the sources he bases himself on and does not indicate?
4. What is the specific teaching Rashi is making here?
5. Which error, or opposite interpretation, would we have made had were it not for Rashi?

Let's apply this method to the first verse of the parasha
Question 1: What is Rashi's temia? (What is his astonishment?)
It is the use of the verb "thissa" which he finds unusual in the context of making a census for it would have been simpler to use the verb "count."
Readers should know that astonishment is the traditional method of Jewish commentators and, following their example, of every Jew who thinks. It is important to be astonished and to say "tamua," which means "surprising, bizarre, astonishing." (See Rashi on Bereshit 18, 25; 41, 38; Bemidbar 32, 6; Isaiah 45, 11 and 53, 2; Job 15, 2).

Question 5: Which error, or opposite interpretation, would we have made without Rashi?
In this case, it would have been to interpret ki thissa simply as taking a census instead of "receiving." Rashi states: leshon kabala ketargumo (thissa indicates receiving as in Onkelos's translation which says are tekabel!). Rashi is indicating here the source he has used to come to his conclusion question 2): it is Onkelos. But this is insufficient, for the reference to Onkelos does not tell us on which source Onkelos bases himself.

This is a typical example of Rashi's method: he points to a problem without elaborating further on it, and only if we are well acquainted with his method can we understand what he is saying. This refers to question 5.
So if we ask ourselves the questions listed above and delve into them, then we shall see that Rashi has opened up for us the gates to discovering the true meaning of the Torah.
This is, of course, on condition that we do not assume that our first interpretation is the correct one or that Rashi has given us the final answer.

Rashi does not disclose his source because he possesses all the Torah in his head and assumes that we do too (!). He also uses this technique in order to encourage us to delve further and study the masters who received the Torah through the chain of transmission since the time of Moshe Rabbenu. We must therefore seek to identify the source used by Rashi and Onkelos. We find it in Bemidbar 16, 15, when Moshe defends himself, saying: "..even one ass, from them I have not received" (using the word nassati, which is the same verb as thissa).
This is how the Torah is structured: the meaning is discovered through key words which connect different contexts.
So when Rashi writes leshon kabala ketargumo, this means that there is another place we should refer to and if we do our research we shall see that it is in this other place (commentary) that Rashi gives an explicit answer to the problem. A Jewish Sage does not disclose all his knowledge in one go: he will only do so if a student deserves it, if he student questions and perseveres in his studies.

We have now found the source in Rashi's commentary on Bemidbar 16, 15 (Numbers), which describes Korah's revolt: here it is not only Hakadosh Baruch Hu who is angry at the people, as in Ki Thissa which recounts the episode of the golden calf, but Moshe himself, as he anticipates God's wrath. The text says: "Moshe was very wrath and said unto Hashem: respect not thou their offering; I have not taken one ass from them."
Onkelos translates this verse as: la hamara dehad minehon shahret,
and Rashi comments: shahret leshon arami kakh nikrat anegaria shel melekh she hozeret.
Onkelos translates the verb lo nassati (I did not take) into the Arameic shahret, which like anegaria shel melekh, means "royal requisition" or miluim, community service, as in Baba Metzia 78.
Here Rashi is telling us something very important: "it is a royal requisition."
This is the kind of in-depth research needed in order to understand the Torah.

What does this teach us?
This tells us that the aim of the census and the imposition of the half-shekel tax on all men, rich or poor, is to make us aware that we exist only through the will of the King of Kings and his guardianship, ashgaha.
Bemidbar 16 recounts an episode of mutiny among the children of Israel, who doubt the protection of Hashem ; these feelings of doubt put them into a dangerous situation in relation to their enemies, just as in the case of a child who pushes away the protective hand of his parent, rebels and rushes across a street full of cars. The frustrated parent, tired of constantly pulling the child back, ends up by telling him: "OK, I don't care, if that's what you want, do it, get run over." Of course this not what the parent really feels, and this is how Moshe interprets God's wrath. He believes that God has asked his help in dealing with the children of Israel. This is how the episode is explained in the Talmud and the middrash.
Another question.
We have now found the context indicated by Rashi but how does a "census" relate to this context and why is the census described by the unusual verb thissa, while many other verbs would have been appropriate for "to number the people."

1. The main meaning which the text teaches us with this census is not to consider men as "numbers" who are to be counted, which entails terrible degradations, as described in II Samuel 24, 10-15. To consider someone as a number is like the destructive "evil eye." This is how Rashi interprets verse 30, 12: the evil eye has a hold on numbers, shehaminiansholet bo ayin ha ra.
The Nazis knew all about numbers. As one of their leaders declared: "killing one man is grave, but killing thousands is just a statistic." Another stated at his trial: "killing one man was upsetting but massacring 1700 was easy."
Thus, even when the Jewish people behave badly, we must remember that they are helek Hashem, a part of Hashem (Devarim 32, 9). They have a role to be a light unto nations and to disseminate the teachings of the Torah and God's benevolence. They were given this role for the good of the whole world, just as the Cohanim received God's blessing and transmit it among the people. It is for this reason that Israel is called a holy people.


2. Men must therefore not go before the censor like a flock of sheep, or as soldiers who have lost their individuality because they have donned their miluim (reservist) uniforms, but as men who are giving a gift, for nediv lev (in their generosity), they are contributing to a necessary cause.
But then, their presence must be valued and respected, because they are giving a gift and contributing to the common good, and in doing so they are demonstrating their noblest quality, that of "accepting" kabala others. This is how people in Israel view their young soldiers.
The verb nassa entails elevation, and in this sense it is found in many expressions:
essa einai, I shall lift up my eyes,
nasso panim, to treat kindly,
nassa isha, to marry a woman; nissea le ish, to marry a man: he who marries rises towards his or her spouse,
to marry a son, issi isha livno, to elevate him to a wife,
nassa, to give advice, issi etza,
nassa peri, to bear fruit; nassa revahim, to make a profit,
even the expression massa u matan, to negotiate, entails a meaning of elevation towards the ideas of the other person,
massea, desire; masseat nefesh, a longing; masseat lev, an ideal.

It is essential to study Hebrew in order to understand the Torah
Only by knowing the Hebrew language is it possible to understand the reasons why particular words appear in the Torah and in particular contexts. Even in the best translation, the original meaning is lost and replaced by ideas that are completely foreign to the Torah. The Hebrew language is a source of great enrichment, both for the knowledge of the Torah and for one's personal self-development.

It is essential to learn the traditional Jewish method of Torah study
Rashi is indispensable to the study of the Torah, on condition that one studies him and the rich sources he uses together with a Torah master. Students should not fear that this means being limited to a technical form of study: on the contrary, technique, as in music, allows a musician to express his deepest feelings. So, even if we are not able to grasp the deepest levels of meaning, we can imagine how far we can reach when we study a text in detail. In Megid Mesharim, his personal diary, and in his reflections on the census in this parasha, Rabbi Yosef Caro writes: "when the ruah of the spirit unites with the nefesh of one's identity, then a shekel shalem, complete unity, is achieved. This is why the expression ki thissa is used when one wants to elevate the nefesh towards the ruah."

3. We can now see that the mitzva of the half-shekel links man, through this action,
to the divine order of things and to the sanctuary, for the weight of the shekel is that of the skekel of the sanctuary, the shekel kodesh (30, 13). Thus, the re-creation of the world will not only take place through the Cohen Gadol,as described in the preceding parashiot, but also through every individual man in Israel who has reached the age of 20. And the shekel consists of 20 parts.

Conclusion
We have discovered, through this commentary, the Jewish concept of the world, or rather the Jewish mode of existence:
what could have been a banal, administrative act, such as the statistical counting of the people, becomes an opportunity to do something totally different;
on condition that one asks questions: Judaism ruptures monotony and the systematic way of doing things, which tends to characterize the way most people live their lives.
we are asked to go in another direction; to discover in every act a way of elevating ourselves.
we were told how to do this but we didn't listen. We become aware that we have been deaf and we understand why we are commanded: hear O Israel, Shema Yisrael.
our blindness and our deafness to what we were given and told are in fact a blessing for they incite us to be constantly vigilant, to listen and to reflect. It is said that the Sage is a man who sees the nolad, that which is being born, as noted in parasha Shemot, in the case of Moshe.
This should also make us aware of the need to learn from and to listen to the Sages, to their knowledge and wisdom.
wisdom is like the dew: it accumulates very slowly.

Exercise
1. Read this commentary again.
2. Look up the references cited above.
3. Re-read the commentary until you know the plan and the main themes by heart.
4. Identify the main questions developed in this commentary and try to answer them.
5. Revise this commentary periodically.
6. Read Psalm 121, in particular the first verse where the verb nassa has many resonances (ki thissa, essa) ; "count and count on."

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Second Level

Codes used by Rashi

This section is addressed to advanced students and aims to impart a deeper level of knowledge.
A commentary which includes this level is indicated with a *.

"THE" Jewish method of Torah study
Rashi's commentary needs to be understood within the context of the traditional method of Jewish learning, which consists in:
1. read each verse twice in Hebrew, in order to master it well;
2. then read it once in Arameic, in Onkelos's translation, shtayim mikra ve ehad targum.
3. finally read Rashi's commentary.

- There are very complex reasons why this method alternates reading s in Hebrew and Arameic, which I will not elaborate on here.
- Reading the Torah every day according to this method is the simplest way of learning Arameic, just as children learn a language easily because they use it every day.
- Finally, studying the Torah according to this method ensures that one learns an accepted interpretation and not an individual view.

Examples of codes: Rashi
Let's return to parasha Ki Thissa: the first mitzva concerns the donation of half a shekel. Ki thissa is usually translated as follows: "When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel" (i.e. when you take a census). But Rashi tells us that "the verb means to receive as in Onkelos'translation (leshon kabala ketargumo). This means: when you evaluate the number of the children of Israel, do not count them by the head but receive from each of them half a shekel and when you have counted these shekalim you will know the number of the people."

Rashi's codes
Rashi's commentary often focuses on the differences between the text of the Torah and Onkelos'translation.
I have listed below some of the codes used by Rashi in his commentaries on the Torah (the subject of Rashi's codes is described at length in my book Lev Gompers). Refer to the examples which I cite below. It is important to know these codes in order to understand Rashi correctly, and in order to fully grasp the meaning of the Torah.

1. Confirmation through Onkelos'translation
Making frequent use of the expression, ketargumo, Rashi indicates that the literal meaning (the peshat) of a text does not stem from its apparent Hebrew meaning, but from the meaning attributed in Onkelos'translation (Bereshit 4, 7; 11, 6; 12, 17; 12, 20; 13, 11, etc.).
Rashi uses many other expressions to reinforce the interpretation chosen by Onkelos in his translation:
vezehu leshon onkelos (Bereshit 6, 17, etc.)
vezehu targum shel onkelos (Bereshit 49, 5, etc.)
vezehu she tirgem onkelos (Bereshit 49, 9, etc.).

2. Rejection of Onkelos'translation
With the phrase, hametargem, Rashi indicates firmly that Onkelos'translation is erroneous (Bereshit 15, 11; Bemidbar 20, 29; Devarim 17, 5, etc.);
with onkelos tirgem, Rashi indicates that he takes an opposing view to Onkelos (Bereshit 20, 13; Shemot 15, 2; Bemidbar 24, 8; Devarim 12, 30, etc.).

3. Elaboration of Onkelos'translation
with vetargumo, Rashi indicates that he will elaborate on Onkelos'translation, which he believes is correct (Bereshit 3, 15; 15, 11; 19, 18; 25, 16, etc.);
with hatargum, Rashi indicates that he does not contest Onkelos'translation but is elaborating on it (Bereshit 15, 2; 49, 24, etc.);
with nofel al hatargum, Rashi explains what appears to be a contradiction between Onkelos and the Torah (Bereshit 20, 16, etc.);
with nofel al (hal)lashon, Rashi explains the meaning of linguistic similarities between various words and thus elucidates a verse and its translation by Onkelos (Bereshit 2, 23; 3, 15; 3, 20; 5, 29, etc.).

4. Additional commentary on Onkelos'translation
with veonkelos tirgem, Rashi indicates that he does not oppose Onkelos'translation but is making a commentary on it (Bereshit 20, 16; 24, 21; 30, 8, etc.).

5. Onkelos'translation used as confirmation of Rashi's thesis
with vekhen tirgem onkelos, Rashi presents his thesis and uses Onkelos'translation to support his thesis (Bereshit 38, 24; 49, 10; 49, 23, etc.).

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Dedication

Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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