Parashat Ki Tisa Erev Shabbat, 18 February 2022 (5782)
Week of 13-19, 2022
Torah portion: Exodus 30:11-34:35 Haftarah: 1 Kings 18:1-39
Theme: Covenant, an Intimate Relationship

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the “stiff-necked” people’s idolatry with the Golden Calf and the personal relationship of G-d and Moshe might be the most famous events, and probably the most significant events in biblical history. My havrutah partner and I met three separate times to read, study, talk and contemplate Parashat Ki Tisa.

Exodus 31:16 states, The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath for all time. It shall be a sign for all time between me and the people of Israel. For in six days, the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day G-d ceased from work and was refreshed.. It was a joy for me to recognize these immortal words, “V’Shamru v’nei Israel …..”, sung in regular synagogue services to begin the Kiddush blessing. Nehama Leibowitz explains that the Sabbath is not only grounded in the mystery of creation, or inspired by social justice but also symbolizes the intimate bond existing between the Almighty and His people “between Me and the children of Israel”, (p.540) And she adds, “Our sages compared the relationship between the Sabbath and Israel to that existing between bride and groom”. Aviva Zornberg adds the image of a wedding when Moshe, the groom, holds the Tablets, the bride, in his arms as well as his mind and he initially knows everything and then begins to know. She also describes G-d and Moshe, during their 40 days and 40 nights of communicating, as Havrutah partners.

Exodus 33:11 states that the LORD would speak to Moshe face to face, panim el panim”. The same phrase is used in Deuteronomy 34:10 which closes the book of Deuteronomy with a strong statement of the uniqueness of Moshe, the prophet, who spoke directly with G-d, whom G-d entrusted with G-d’s own words. Panim el panim is an image of intimacy. In ordinary life, we know a baby responds to a parent’s face in a very physical way. Eyes and mouth and hands and feet all engage when a familiar face comes close to a baby. It makes perfect sense for the Hebrew word panim to be plural! It is not only the multiple muscles and nerves and tissues that provide the image of plural, it is the absolute need for a face to be present to connect to another’s face. Panim also refers to the presence of someone. As In Ex.10:10: They were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence. The story of Jacob is rich in its complexity of panim. In Gen.32:12-22 various forms of panim occur seven times in the unfolding saga. Jacob must first struggle with G-d, Gen.32:25, and names the place of the encounter Peniel (the face of G-d), ”for I have seen G-d face-to-face, panim el panim, yet my life has been spared. Gen.32:31. Following his night-long struggle with G-d, Jacob confronts Esau and exclaims: “seeing your face is like seeing the face of G-d” Gen.33:10, (Payne).  Jacob who feared to see hatred and revenge in his brother’s face, sees love and forgiveness. And is that not the ultimate Covenant. You will be my people, and I will be your G-d.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Share a Jewish liturgical song you have learned, or listen to V’Shamru on Youtube. 2. Share your view or experience of encounter, a panim el panim experience.

Bibliography: Leibowitz, Nehama “New Studies in Shemot Exodus” (Jerusalem: 1995); Lieber, David, Etz Hayim (New York: 2001); Payne, MaryAnn, Hebrew Word of the Month, “Panim”, (Australia: 2018, private publication); Zornberg, Aviva, Notes taken during lecture, (Jerusalem College for Adults: 2000).

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Marjan Saenen, USA, Bat Kol Alumna 1999-2000; 2002, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2018


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