Light from the Sidra

Ki Tisa ('When you take a census''). 6th March 2015. 16th Adar 5774

Torah: Exodus 30:11-34:35. Haftarah: 1 Kings 18:1-39.

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)

Ever increasing glory

After I became a believer in Israel’s Messiah, I wanted everyone else to believe in him too. However, I was more zealous than wise in my efforts to persuade others that I had seen the light. If there was an Olympic event for getting up people’s noses, I would have won gold. Sylvia, up whose nose I frequently got (so to speak), informed me that she would believe in God only if he ‘manifested himself.’ When I asked how she would react if someone stopped her in the street and told her that he/she was God. She wouldn’t buy that, she said, because God, if he existed, would be glowing and radiant. I then suggested that if Sylvia ever met a glowing individual she would probably run the first four second mile ever, stiletto heels and all!

Take Moses for example. He was having a hard time with the Israelites. Even while he was on Mount Sinai receiving the blueprints for the Mishkan, the people of Israel broke their vow to do ‘all the words that HASHEM has spoken’ (Ex 24:3), specifically the first two commandments: ‘I am HASHEM your God… You shall not recognize the gods of others . . . You shall not make yourself a carved image… You shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them, for I am HASHEM your God’ (Ex 20: 2-5).

Even though Moses was willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life if God would forgive the sin of the people, God declined his offer. Sin is a serious business; so serious in fact that God cannot simply overlook it. Those who sin must either be blotted from God’s Book or their sin must be atoned for.

God told Moses that his Presence would not go with the people but Moses pleaded and reasoned with him so that God – who is ‘not a son of man that he should relent’ (Num 23:19) – agreed to go with the people. Moses then asked HASHEM to show him his glory.

The Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is kavod: ‘weight.’ Many people think of God as an insubstantial spirit and his glory as an ethereal glow but science has revealed that it is the material universe which is insubstantial. Early in the twentieth century, British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington theorised that matter is 99.9999999999999% empty space. Take away all that empty space and all the subatomic particles in the six billion people on earth would fit into a volume the size of a grain of rice. With the advent of quantum theory, it seems that electrons, protons, neutrons, and the other subatomic particles are just waves of energy, with no exact location in space, just a probability of being around at a certain point in space and time. Solid matter has now, literally, disappeared into empty space.

God existed eternally before the universe began, and the cosmos exists only because God upholds it. The world in which we live is insubstantial and transient. Mankind is like grass; here today and gone tomorrow. The only thing of weight and substance in the universe is God and his glory.

HASHEM descended in a cloud and stood with him there, and He called out with the Name HASHEM. HASHEM passed before him and proclaimed: HASHEM, HASHEM, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Wilful Sin and Error . . .’ (Exodus 34:5-7).

God’s name is his glory because his name is his character. To know his name is to behold his glory. This means more than knowing how to pronounce the name of God, be it Jehovah, Yahowah, Yahweh, Yahveh or simply HASHEM. The divine qualities revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai are the glory of God.

The people broke the Torah and Moses, in anger, broke the two tablets of the Torah. The covenant had to be renewed and so Moses ascended Sinai once again to receive the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. During the forty days he was with God on the mountain, the fellowship he enjoyed with God was so intimate that, unbeknown to himself, Moses began to reflect the divine glory. The people were terrified by the man with the shining face and asked him to cover up the glory when he appeared to them. Every time Moses met with God in the Mishkan, he removed the veil over his face but whenever he spoke to the people he covered his face.

This incident tells us that the Torah and the covenant established at Sinai were glorious. But that glory was a passing glory because eventually (we don’t know when) Moses needed to wear it no longer.

What happens when the glory of a covenant fades away? Another covenant is needed. A covenant whose glory will not pass away. But imagine a covenant, the glory of which increases; a glory of which is increasingly reflected from those under it. By the time of Jeremiah, the glory of the Sinai Covenant had become pretty dim, which was why God announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

Behold, days are coming — the word of HASHEM — when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah: not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master — the word of HASHEM. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Judah after those days — the word of HASHEM — I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach — each man his fellow; each man his brother —saying: ‘Know HASHEM! For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest— the word of HASHEM — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.

Now here’s a dilemma for the Jewish people. According to the word of HASHEM, Israel’s ancestors abrogated the covenant their God established with them at Sinai. And if the rabbis are correct in their assertion that the New Covenant has yet to be sealed, the Jewish people don’t have the Torah inside them; all they have is an abrogated or cancelled external set of commands and precepts. Furthermore, according to Jeremiah 31, since the Sinai Covenant is abrogated, they have no right to call HASHEM their God or to claim to be his people. No Jewish person, whether small or great, can claim to know God, and until the New Covenant is established, not a single Jew can know the forgiveness of sin. No wonder this passage is never read in the synagogue!

Therefore, Israel’s only hope is that Jesus of Nazareth was all he claimed to be: the Messiah and the Mediator of the New Covenant established through his own blood.

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