Weekly Torah Portions

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Summary in Russian
Rav Zilber in Russian

Moshe conducts a census by counting each silver half-shekel donated by all men, age twenty and over. Moshe is commanded to make a copper laver for the Mishkan. The women donate the necessary metal. The formula of the anointing oil is specified, and HaShem instructs Moshe to use this oil only for dedicating the Mishkan, its vessels, and Aharon and his sons. HaShem selects Betsalel and Oholi’av to be the master craftsmen for the Mishkan and its vessels

The Jewish People are commanded to keep the Sabbath as an eternal sign that HaShem made the world. Moshe receives the two Tablets of Testimony on which are written the Ten Commandments. The mixed multitude that left Egypt with the Jewish People panic when Moshe's descent seems delayed and force Aharon to make a golden calf for them to worship.

Aharon stalls and tries to delay them. HaShem tells Moshe to return to the people immediately, threatening to destroy everyone and build a new nation from Moshe. When Moshe sees the orgy of idol-worship he smashes the Tablets and destroys the golden calf. The Sons of Levi volunteer to punish the transgressors, executing 3,000 men. Moshe ascends the mountain to pray for forgiveness for the people, and HaShem accepts his prayer.

Moshe sets up the Mishkan, and HaShem's cloud of glory returns. Moshe asks HaShem to show him the rules by which He conducts the world, but is granted only a small portion of this request. HaShem tells Moshe to hew new Tablets and reveals to him the text of the prayer that will invoke His mercy. Idol worship, intermarriage, and the combination of milk and meat are prohibited. The laws of Pesach, the First-born, the First-fruits, Shabat, Shavuot and Sukot are taught. When Moshe descends with the second set of Tablets, his face is luminous as a result of contact with the Divine.

Instructions for a Census

   God spoke to Moses saying: 
   When you take a census of the Israelites to determine their numbers, each one shall be counted by giving an atonement offering for his life. In this manner, they will not be stricken by the plague when they are counted. Everyone included in the census must give a half shekel. This shall be by the sanctuary standard, where a shekel is 20 gerahs. It is half of such a shekel that must be given as an offering to God.

   Every man over 20 years old shall be included in this census and give this offering to God. The rich may not give more, and the poor may not give less than this half shekel. It is an offering to God to atone for your lives.

   You will take this atonement money from the Israelites and use it for making the Communion Tent. It will thus be a remembrance for the Israelites before God to atone for your lives.

The Washstand

   God spoke to Moses saying:
   Make a copper washstand along with a copper base for it. Place it between the altar and the Communion Tent, and fill it with water for washing.

   Aaron and his sons must wash their hands and feet from [this washstand]. If they are not to die, they must wash with the water [of this washstand] before entering the Communion Tent or approaching the altar to perform the divine services presenting a fire offering to God. If they are not to deserve death, they must first wash their hands and feet. This shall be for [Aaron] and his descendants a law for all time, for all generations.

The Anointing Oil

   God spoke to Moses, saying: You must take the finest fragrances, 500 [shekels] of distilled myrrh, [two] half portions, each consisting of 250 [shekels] of fragrant cinnamon and 250 [shekels] of fragrant cane, and 500 shekels of cassia, all measured by the sanctuary standard, along with a gallon of olive oil.

   Make it into sacred anointing oil. It shall be a blended compound, as made by a skilled perfumer, [made especially for] the sacred anointing oil.

   Then use it to anoint the Communion Tent, the Ark of Testimony, the table and all its utensils, the menorah and its utensils, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar and all its utensils, the washstand and its base. You will thus sanctify them, making them holy of holies, so that anything touching them becomes sanctified.

   You must also anoint Aaron and his sons, sanctifying them as priests to Me.

   Speak to the Israelites and tell them, "This shall be the sacred anointing oil to Me for all generations. Do not pour it on the skin of any [unauthorized] person, and do not duplicate it with a similar formula. It is holy, and it must remain sacred to you. If a person blends a similar formula, or places it on an unauthorized person, he shall be cut off [spiritually] from his people.
The Incense

   God said to Moses: Take fragrances such as balsam, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, all of the same weight, as well as [other specified] fragrances. Make [the mixture] into incense, as compounded by a master perfumer, well-blended, pure and holy. Grind it very finely, and place it before the [Ark of] Testimony in the Communion Tent where I commune with you. It shall be holy of holies to you.

   Do not duplicate the formula of the incense that you are making for personal use, since it must remain sacred to God. If a person makes it to enjoy its fragrance, he shall be cut off [spiritually] from his people.

The Architects

   God spoke to Moses, saying:
   I have selected Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Judah, by name. I have filled him with a divine spirit, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and with [the talent for] all types of craftsmanship. He will be able to devise plans as well as work in gold, silver and copper, cut stones to be set, carve wood, and do other work.

   I have also given him Oholiav son of Achisamakh of the tribe of Dan [as an assistant]. [Besides this], I have placed wisdom in the heart of every naturally talented person.

   They will thus make all that I have ordered, the Communion Tent, the Ark for the Testimony, the ark cover to go on it, all the utensils for the tent, the table and its utensils, the pure [gold] menorah and all its utensils, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar and all its utensils, the washstand and its base, the packing cloths, the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, the vestments that his sons wear to serve, the anointing oil, and the incense for the sanctuary. They will thus do all that I command.

The Sabbath

   God told Moses to speak to the Israelites and say to them:
  You must still keep My sabbaths. It is a sign between Me and you for all generations, to make you realize that I, God, am making you holy. [Therefore] keep the Sabbath as something sacred to you. Anyone doing work [on the Sabbath] shall be cut off spiritually from his people, and therefore, anyone violating it shall be put to death.  Do your work during the six week days, but keep Saturday as a Sabbath of sabbaths, holy to God. Whoever does any work on Saturday shall be put to death.

   The Israelites shall thus keep the Sabbath, making it a day of rest for all generations, as an eternal covenant. It is a sign between Me and the Israelites that during the six weekdays God made heaven and earth, but on Saturday, He ceased working and withdrew to the spiritual.

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The Golden Calf

   When [God] finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him two tablets of the Testimony. They were stone tablets, written with God's finger.

   Meanwhile, the people began to realize that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, "Make us an oracle to lead us. We have no idea what happened to Moses, the man who brought us out of Egypt."

   "Take the rings off the ears of your wives and children," replied Aaron. "Bring them to me."

   All the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took [the rings] from the people, and had someone form [the gold] in a mold, casting it into a calf. [Some of the people began to] say, "This, Israel, is your god, who brought you out of Egypt."

   When Aaron saw [this] he built an altar before [the calf]. Aaron made an announcement and said: "Tomorrow, there will be a festival to God."

   Getting up early the next morning, [the people] sacrificed burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink, and then got up to enjoy themselves.

Moses' Response

 God declared to Moses, "Go down, for the people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have been quick to leave the way that I ordered them to follow, and they have made themselves a cast-metal calf. They have bowed down and offered sacrifice to it, exclaiming, 'This, Israel, is your god, who brought you out of Egypt."' 
  God then said to Moses, "I have observed the people, and they are an unbending group. Now do not try to stop Me when I unleash my wrath against them to destroy them. I will then make you into a great nation."

   Moses began to plead before God his Lord. He said, "O God, why unleash Your wrath against Your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a show of force? Why should Egypt be able to say that You took them out with evil intentions, to kill them in the hill country and wipe them out from the face of the earth. Withdraw Your display of anger, and refrain from doing evil to Your people.

   "Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You swore to them by Your very essence, and declared that You would make their descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, giving their descendants the land You promised, so that they would be able to occupy it forever."

   God refrained from doing the evil that He planned for His people.

Moses Descends

   Moses turned around, and began going down the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hand. They were tablets written on both sides, with the writing visible from either side. The Tablets were made by God and written with God's script engraved on the Tablets.

   Joshua heard the sound of the people rejoicing, and he said to Moses, "It sounds as though there is a battle going on in the camp!"

   "It is not the song of victory," replied [Moses], "nor the dirge of the defeated. What I hear is just plain singing."

   As he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses displayed anger, and threw down the tablets that were in his hand, shattering them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that the [people] had made, and burned it in fire, grinding it into fine powder. He then scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

   Moses said to Aaron, "What did the people do to you, that you allowed them to commit such a great sin?"

   "Do not be angry, my lord," replied Aaron, "but you must realize that the people have bad tendencies.  They said to me, 'Make an oracle to lead us, since we do not know what happened to Moses, the man who took us out of Egypt.' When I responded to them, 'Who has gold?' they took it off and gave it to me. I threw the gold into the fire and the result was this calf."

   Moses realized that the people had actually been restrained. Aaron had restrained them, doing only a small part of what the outspoken ones [had demanded].

   Moses stood up at the camp's entrance and announced, "Whoever is for God, join me!" All the Levites gathered around him.

   He said to them, "This is what God, Lord of Israel, says: Let each man put on his sword, and go from one gate to the other in the camp. Let each one kill [all those involved in the idolatry], even his own brother, close friend, of relative."

   The Levites did as Moses had ordered, and approximately 3000 People   were killed that day.                                      Moses said, "Today you can be ordained [as a tribe dedicated] to God with a special blessing. Men have [been willing to kill even] their own sons and brothers [at God's command]." 

   The next day, Moses said to the people, "You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go back up to God and try to gain atonement for your crime."

   Moses went back up to God, and he said, "The people have committed a terrible sin by making a golden idol.  Now, if You would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that You have written." 

   God replied to Moses, "I will blot out from My book those who have sinned against Me. Now go; you still have to lead the people to [the place] that I described to you. I will send My angel before you. Still, when I grant special providence to the people, I will take this sin of theirs into account."

   God then struck the people with a plague because of the calf that Aaron had made.

Moses and the Decree

   God declared to Moses, "You and the people you took out of Egypt will have to leave this place and go to the land regarding which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I would give it to their descendants. I will send an angel ahead of you, and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizites, Hivites and Yebusites.

   "[You will thus go to] a land flowing with milk and honey. However, I will not go with you, since you are an unbending people, and I may destroy you along the way."

   When they heard this bad news, the people began to mourn. They stopped wearing jewelry.

   God told Moses to say to the Israelites, "You are an unbending people. In just one second I can go among you and utterly destroy you. Now take of your jewelry and I will know what to do with you."

   From [that time at] Mount Horeb on, the people no longer wore their jewelry.

   Moses took [his] tent and set it up outside the camp at a distance. He called it the Meeting Tent. [Later], whoever sought God would go to the Meeting Tent outside the camp.

   Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise, and each person would stand near his own tent, gazing at Moses until he would come to his tent.  When Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the tent's entrance, and [God] would speak to Moses. When the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tent's entrance, the people would rise, and each one would bow down at the entrance of his tent.

   God would speak to Moses face to face, just as a person speaks to a close friend. [Moses] would then return to the camp. But his aid, the young man, Joshua son of Nun, did not leave the tent.

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Moses' Plea

   Moses said to God, "You told me to bring these people [to the Promised Land], but You did not tell me whom You would send with me. You also said that You know me by name and that You are pleased with me.

   "Now, if You are indeed pleased with me, allow me to know Your ways, so that I will know how to [remain] pleasing to You. [Also], You must confirm that this nation is Your people."

   "My presence will go and lead you," replied [God].

    [Moses] said, "If Your presence does not accompany [us], do not make us leave this place. Unless You accompany us, how can it be known that I and Your people are pleasing to You? [But if You do,] I and your people will be distinguished from every nation on the face of the earth."

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The Divine Glory

   God said to Moses, "Since you have been pleasing to Me and I know you by name, I will also fulfill this request of yours."

   "Please let me have a vision of Your Glory," begged [Moses].

   [God) replied, "I will make all My good pass before you, and reveal the Divine Name in your presence. [But still,] I will have mercy and show kindness to whomever I desire."

   [God then] explained, "You cannot have a vision of My Presence. A man cannot have a vision of Me and still exist."

   God then said, "I have a special place where you can stand on the rocky mountain.  When My glory passes by, I will place you in a crevice in the mountain, protecting you with My power until I pass by. I will then remove My protective power, and you will have a vision of what follows from My existence. My essence itself, however, will not be seen."

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The Second Tablets

   God said to Moses, "Carve out two tablets for yourself, just like the first ones. I will write on                               those tablets the same words that were on the first tablets that you broke. Be ready in the morning, so that you will be able to climb Mount Sinai in the morning and stand waiting for Me on the mountain peak. No man may climb up with you, and no one else may appear on the entire mountain. Even the cattle and sheep may not graze near the mountain."

   Moses carved out two stone tablets like the first. He then got up early in the morning and climbed Mount Sinai, as God had commanded him, taking the two stone tablets in his hand.

   God revealed Himself in a cloud, and it stood there with [Moses]. [Moses] called out in God's name.

   God passed by before [Moses] and proclaimed, "God, God, Omnipotent, merciful and kind, slow to anger, with tremendous [resources of] love and truth. He remembers deeds of love for thousands [of generations], for giving sin, rebellion and error. He does not clear [those who do not repent], but keeps in mind the sins of the fathers to their children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation." 

   Moses quickly bowed his head and prostrated himself. He said, "If You are indeed pleased with me, 0 God, let my Lord go among us. This nation may be unbending, but forgive our sins and errors, and make us Your own.

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   God said: I will make a covenant before all your people, and will do miracles that have never been brought into existence in all the world, among any nation. All the people among whom you [dwell] will see how fearsome are the deeds that I, God, am doing with you.

   Be very careful with regard to what I am instructing you today. I will drive the Amorites, Canaanites, Hivites, Perizzites, Hittites and Yebusites out before you. Be most careful not to make a treaty with the people who live in the land where you are coming, since they can be a fatal trap to you. You must shatter their altars, break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their Asherah trees. Do not bow down to any other god, for God is known as one who demands exclusive worship, and He does indeed demand it.

   [Be careful] that you not make a treaty with [the people] who live in the land. When they practice their religion and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will end up eating their sacrifice. You will then allow their daughters to marry your sons, and when their daughters worship their gods, they will lead your sons to follow their religion.

   Do not make any cast metal idols.

   Keep the Festival of Matzahs. Eat matzahs for seven days as I commanded, in the designated time in the month of standing grain. It was in the month of standing grain that you left Egypt.

   The first-born initiating every womb is Mine. Among all your livestock, you must separate out the males of the first-born cattle and sheep. "The first-born of a donkey must be redeemed with a sheep, and if it is not redeemed, you must decapitate' it. You must [also] redeem every first-bon among your sons.

   Do not appear before Me empty-handed.

   You may work during the six weekdays, but on Saturday, you must stop working, ceasing from all plowing and reaping.

   Keep the Festival of Shavuoth through the first fruits of your wheat harvest. Also keep the Harvest Festival soon after the year changes.

   Three times each year, all your males shall thus present themselves before God the Master, Lord of Israel. When I expel the other nations before you and extend your boundaries, no one will be envious of your land when you go to be seen in God's presence three times each year.

   Do not slaughter the Passover sacrifice with leaven in your possession. Do not allow the Passover sacrifice to remain overnight until morning.

   Bring the first fruits of your land to the Temple of God your Lord. Do not [eat] meat cooked in milk, [even that of] its own mother.

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Moses Returns

   God said to Moses, "Write these words down for yourself, since it is through these words that I have made a covenant with you and Israel."

   [Moses] remained there with God [on the mountain] for 40 days and 40 nights without eating bread nor drinking water. [God] wrote the words of the covenant, consisting of the Ten Commandments, on the Tablets.

   Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand. As Moses descended from the mountain, he did not realize that the skin of his face had become luminous when [God] had spoken to him.

   When Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moses face was shining with a brilliant light, they were afraid to come close to him. Moses summoned them, and when Aaron and all the community leaders returned to him, Moses spoke to them. After that, all the Israelites approached, and [Moses] gave them instructions regarding all that God had told him on Mount Sinai.

   When Moses finished speaking with them, he placed a hood over his face.

Whenever Moses came before God to speak with Him, he would remove the hood until he was ready to leave. He would then go out and speak to the Israelites, [telling them] what he had been commanded. The Israelites would see that the skin of Moses face was glowing brilliantly. Moses would then replace the hood over his face until he would [once again] speak with God. 

Rav Yitzchak Zilber (in Russian) Rabbi Dovid Grossman (in English)