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Torah Sparks

February 22, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Exodus 30:11 - 34:35 (Hertz, p.352; Etz Hayim, p. 523)
Triennial Cycle II: Exodus 31:18 - 33:11 (Hertz, p. 356; Etz Hayim, p. 529)
Haftarah: I Kings 18:1 - 39 (Hertz, p. 369; Etz Hayim, p. 548)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(30:11-16) Instructions concerning the contribution of the half shekel as a means of taking a census of men fit for military service.

(30:17-38) Instructions concerning the fabrication of the brass basin used for washing up before entering the Sanctuary and the manufacture of the anointing oil and the holy incense.

(31:1-11) Bezalel is appointed in charge of the making of the Tabernacle.

(31:12-17) A special warning regarding the sanctity of the Shabbat.

(31:18-32:6) God gives Moses the Two Tablets of the Covenant. Meanwhile, down in the Israelite camp, the people despair of Moses' return, and demand of Aaron that he make a "god" for them. The result is the Golden Calf.

(32:7-35) God tells Moses what the people are doing, and threatens to destroy them. Moses descends the mountain, sees the people dancing around the calf, and in a fit of anger breaks the tablets. The actual worshipers of the calf, 3000 in number, are put to death. Moses intercedes for his people and ascends Mt. Sinai once again. He pleads with God, who relents from destroying the entire people, though He sends a plague as punishment.

(33:1-11) God tells Moses to lead the people toward the Promised Land and says that He will no longer dwell in their midst. The people must strip off their finery as an act of contrition. God continues to speak to Moses directly.

(33:12-23) Moses pleads to be able to see God as a confirmation both of his authority and his relationship with God, but that request is denied, "for a human may not see Me and live." God does promise that Moses will be able to see His "back," i.e., have an indirect manifestation of His Presence.

(34:1-9) Moses returns to Mt. Sinai for the third time and receives the revelation concerning God's Thirteen Attributes.

(34:10-26) The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel. Further instruction concerning the mitzvot.

(34:27-35) After forty days, Moses receives the second set of Tablets. He comes down from Sinai, his face shining with rays of light.

Discussion Theme: Freedom

Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces; they were inscribed on the one side and on the other. The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing, incised (charut) upon the tablets. (Exodus 32:15-16)

  1. Read not incised (charut) but freedom (cherut), for there is none who is free save one who is occupied with Torah study. (Avot 6:2)
  2. The Tablets did not bear the writing but the writing bore and held the Tablets... Just as the writing of the Divine Evidence was not only independent of the material but raises the material serving it to its own level of freedom above the ordinary laws of Nature which govern matter, in the same way human beings, who take upon themselves the spirit of this writing and make themselves the representatives of this spirit are raised, borne and held by this very spirit itself, above the blind force of 'you must,' the lack of free will which clings to all matter, i.e. they become free. (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch)
  3. Freedom is not seen as the liberty to do what one feels like doing, but rather, it means to become what one really is, namely the individual who has etched Godliness within the self. Thus, 'read not engraved (charut) but freedom (cherut), for there is none who is free save one who is occupied in Torah study.' Only one who is occupied with Torah study perceives the freedom in its true context, as a freedom towards realizing Torah values, rather than a freedom from this restraint or that obligation. Freedom itself is in a context, and oriented around a specific target. (Reuven Bulka in Chapters of the Sages: A Psychological Commentary on Pirkey Avoth)
  4. Freedom is the state of going out of the self, an act of spiritual ecstasy, in the original sense of the term. Who, then, is free? The creative man who is not carried away by the streams of necessity, who is not enchained by processes, who is not enslaved to circumstances. Man's ability to transcend the self, to rise above all natural ties and bonds, presupposes further that every man lives in a realm governed by law and necessity as well as in a realm of creative possibilities. It presupposes his belonging to a dimension that is higher than nature, society, and the self, and accepts the reality of such a dimension beyond the natural order. Freedom does not mean the right to live as we please. It means the power to live spiritually, to rise to a higher level of existence. (A. J. Heschel, Between God and Man)

Sparks for Reflection

What is the connection between "charut" (engraved) and "cherut" (freedom). One would have thought that Torah, with all its rules, would restrict freedom. Yet, these commentators discover ways that Torah enhances freedom. How so? What is the freedom that comes with following the laws of Torah or studying them?

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