Ki Tissa

In this portion, we find the final details of the instructions for building the Mishkan, the portable wilderness sanctuary. The reading actually begins with directions for conducting a census of those of military age by collecting a poll tax of half a shekel. The money was to be used for the maintenance of the Mishkan. A reminder to keep the Sabbath serves as an indication that the sanctification of time is more important even than building a sanctuary. At this point, we read that the Israelites panic over Moses’ protracted absence on Mt. Sinai and demand that Aaron make a god they can see. The outcome is the golden calf. When Moses sees this egregious breach of the covenant, he breaks the tablets of the Ten Commandments. God, for His part, wants to destroy the people. Moses punishes the people and manages to assuage God’s anger. Moses then returns to Sinai to rewrite the tablets. With the covenant renewed, the construction on the Mishkan can proceed.