Ki Tisa 5773 – Gilayon #789

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Parshat Ki Tissa

Six days shall

work be done

And the seventh

day a day of rest holy to the lord

Whosoever shall

work on the sabbath day


surely die.

(Shemot 31:15)


Six days shall work be done – And

one passage says 'Seven days shall you work', meaning that when you

do the will of the Omniscient, your work shall be done by others, your male

servants and your female servants, but when you do not do His will, you

yourself will do you work.

                                                                                                                                    (Hizkuni, Ibid. ibid)


Rabban Gamliel, son of R. Yehudah Hanassi said, It is well to

combine Torah study with some worldly occupation, for the energy taken up by

both of them keeps sin out of our mind; all Torah study which is not combined

with some trade must at length fail and occasion sin. Let all who work for the

community do so from a spiritual motive, for then the merit of their fathers

will sustain them, and their righteousness will endure forever.

(Mishnah, Aboth 2,



Our Rabbis taught: And thou shall

gather in thy corn. What is to be learnt from these words? Since it says, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, I

might think that this injunction is to be taken literally. Therefore it says,

'And thou shall gather in thy corn', which implies that you are to combine the

study of them with a worldly occupation. This is the view of R. Ishmael. R.

Simeon b. Yohai says: Is that possible? If a man

ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the

sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing

season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No;

but when Israel

perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, as it

says. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks. etc., and when Israel do not

perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is carried out by themselves, as

it says, And thou shall gather in thy corn. Nor is

this all, but the work of others also is done by them, as it says. And thou

shall serve thine enemy etc. Said Abaye: Many have followed the advice of R. Ishmael, and it

has worked well; others have followed R. Simeon b. Yohai

and it has not been successful.

(Talmud Bavli, Berachot 35b)


This issue of Shabbat Shalom is dedicated with great

longing for our friend Gerald Cromer , z"l,

A man of vision and action, a

founder of Netivot Shalom, initiator of the "Shabbat

Shalom" project.

On the occasion of the 5th memorial day of his passing which will occur

on Tuesday, 23 Adar 5773      


Tablets and shards of tablets

Maayan Cromer-Agmon


Parashat Ki-Tissa begins with God

asking Moshe to gather from the children of Israel a donation of half a shekel

which was to serve a double purpose – to count the population and to build the Mishkan. "The wealthy person shall not give more nor

shall the pauper not give less than half a shekel to atone for their lives"

(Shemot 30:15). I

read this command as a hint of the extended narrative of the sin of the calf

which is presented in this parasha. The giving

of half a shekel, a coin of incomplete value, hints at the fracture to

occur in the coming chapters.

We meet the

Children of Israel on their long wilderness journey here. After forty-nine days

of trekking through the wide and wild wilderness, slowly, step after step, the

Children of Israel move further away from their past as servants under Pharaoh's

rule, and come closer to the future – a nation that knows its Torah, accepts

upon itself the yoke of God and dwells securely in the promised land. They

reach one of the high points of the journey – the epiphany at Sinai and the

receiving of the Tablets of Covenant.

A few chapters

preceding our current parasha, in Parashat

Yitro, we are told of the Children of Israel standing

at the foot of the mountain, waiting to receive the two Tablets of Covenant.

After long wanderings in the barren wilderness, after the desert winds blew

above them, peeling away some of the difficulties of life in Egypt, they wash and cleanse

themselves in preparation for hearing the words of Living God. And Mt. Sinai

was covered in smoke and lightening and the rumbling voice of God is heard.

Following this

awesomely impressive event, God invites Moshe to ascend to Him and to receive

the engraved Tablets of the Covenant, and Moshe remains with Him for forty days

and forty nights. This was such a long time for the Children of Israel to be

without Moshe. The period that they spent at the foot of the mountain was only

a bit less than all their trekking in the desert until arriving at Sinai – forty-nine

days. It was really difficult for them – we can almost imagine them looking up

with hope to the top of the mountain peak, anxious to see Moshe's familiar

figure descending the dirt path, waiting to hear again his comforting voice

which directs them through the winding desert ways. "And the people saw

that Moshe lagged in coming down from the mountain […] this man Moshe who

brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him"

(Shemot 32:1).

They demand a

replacement, consolation, a different figure to enter the empty space opened in

their hearts. "Rise up, make us gods that will go before us […]" (Ibid.), they ask of Aharon,

and Aharon complies. He removes their gold ornaments

and melts them into a molten calf. A shining calf, radiant, a

luminescence of warm pleasant gold. Aharon

fashions for them a statue in their own image, a tender calf that wants to suck

and be warmed between its mother's breasts. "These are your gods, O

Israel." How pleasant to find shelter in the shadow of a god who resembles

ourselves, tender and young as ourselves, not threatening and not intimidating

with blasts and flashes and thunder. The people rise to life "And the

people came back from eating and drinking and they rose up to play" (32:6). After all this great anticipation,

after the barren wilderness and empty hearts watching in vain for Moshe, there

is great relief in gathering around the gold calf. Consolation

in eating and fulfillment of the basic need for nourishment.


Moshe turned and came down the mountain, with the two Tablets of the Covenant

in his hand" (32:15). Moshe

approaches the encampment and he cannot believe his eyes. The people to whom he

devotes his heart, the people of which he was the heart, this people could not

wait for him and his direction; they made for themselves a calf of gold as a

replacement for God. In his great fury he smashes the tablets "and Moshe's

wrath flared, and he flung the tablets from his hand and smashed them at the

bottom of the mountain" (32:19).

What a powerful picture! The Tablets of the Covenant, sculpted and engraved by

the hand of God himself, shattered against the rocks of the mountain. Had they

waited only a bit longer, patiently restraining themselves, they would have

received the real thing – tablets written in God's handwriting. What great

greater gift could they possibly receive from God to signify the binding

covenant between them? The two tablets, inscribed on both sides, were intended

to be a wondrous unification of the two forces, the people and – through Moshe

– God.

There is, at

first glance, great tragedy in this event. A nation standing at the threshold

of an amazing experience, deviates from the path a moment before the event. In

my opinion, however, just as we are obliged to look at difficult and painful

events in our personal lives with an understanding eye, so must we consider

difficult events in our national history.

Actually, by

making the golden calf, Aharon facilitated liberation

from all the hard experiences and heavy baggage which the Children of Israel

carried with them throughout the wilderness sojourning and the servitude in Egypt.

He unloads from them, unburdens them, relieves them, exposes

them bare of defense mechanisms. Ornaments can also represent beliefs and

conceptions which pass down from generation to generation. Just as a mother

passes on to her daughter a precious necklace which belonged to Grandma, so a

nation passes on to future generations the consciousness of slavery which

attended the people throughout its years in Egypt. And Aharon

melts all these ornaments into a single unit, thereby freeing the nation from

the yoke of the past, from the fears, from the dependency. Now they are more

open and ready to receive something new.

Facing this,

Moshe who broke the tablets; he too has created an additional opening for

rapprochement between the people and God. For what is a fracture if not an

entrance, a crack through which light may enter. As Leonard

Cohen sings: "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light comes


For me the

broken tablets are a symbol of the possibility of coming closer, an opening to

great intimacy with the Lord. Instead of solid tablets, made from impenetrable

stone, we received broken tablets, and between the cracks we have room to

enter, there is room for true and full merger with God. Perhaps this is why, at

the beginning of the parasha, the people are

told to construct the tabernacle from the donations of half-shekels. The

half-shekels make it possible to build a sanctuary which will carry the shards

and their unification into a whole from the contributions of the masses. "There

is nothing so complete as a broken heart" as Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Koztk used to say.

After Moshe

breaks the tablets, he himself creates new tablets and God inscribes upon them

again the words which were written on the first tablets. What is the difference

between the two sets? The second set really connects God and Man. They are not given

as a complete unit from God to nation, they are the

fruit of a joint project of Moshe and God, both in their work and in their

conversation. Moshe climbs the mountain with the tablets that he sculpted and

when they are in his hands he prays to God: "The Lord, the Lord! A

compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and

good faith […]" (34:6), and God

answers his prayers and forgives the people its sin.

I dedicate

this dvar Torah to my father, Gerald

Cromer, of blessed memory, who, in the Kol Nidre service of Yom Kippur eve, would bring his sensitive,

fractured heart into the prayer, thereby bringing the congregation closer to

their hearts and to God, and who, on Purim, was always willing to crack his masculinity and dress as a woman. I miss him terribly and

hope that I, too, merit to walk in the ways of his

open heart.


Cromer-Agmon, married to Ido,

mother to Naomi and Yaara, works in therapeutic




Is it possible that the Children

of Israel could come only forty day after the epiphany at Mt. Sinai,

the commandments "I am the Lord" and "You shall have no other

gods" still echoing in their eyes, and ask for other gods? It seems that

the Torah wanted to teach us and set for us an example for all generations, that this indeed can happen. The very

assumption that people who stood at the foot of Mt.

Sinai cannot, are not able to sink again into ignorance, into foolishness, into

the abomination of idolatry – is basically flawed […] revealed miracles – one-time

wonders – do not change man, his nature, his habits. They may astonish him

momentarily, but they do not separate him from his world, his conceptions, his

past, his routines.

(N. Leibowitz: Studies in the

Book of Shemot, p. 399)


Moreover the word of the LORD

came unto me, saying: 'Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land,

they defiled it by their way and by their doings; their way before Me was as the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. Wherefore

I poured out My fury upon them for the blood which they had shed upon the land,

and because they had defiled it with their idols; and I scattered them among

the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; according to their

way and according to their doings I judged them […] For I will take you from

among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you

into your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be

clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your

idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit

will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh,

and I will give you a heart of flesh.

(From the haphtarah for Parashat Parah, Ezekiel 36)



we miss you

In the month of Elul, 5757, my

good friend, Gerald Cromer z"l, who was then

chairman OzveShalom/ Netivot

Shalom, approached me with an offer to edit a weekly parasha

sheet to be distributed among synagogues, a message with a different voice

of religious Zionism, which draws its inspiration from the Torah of Israel.

I first got to know Gerald on the

bus to Bar Ilan, where he served as a professor in

the Criminology Department. Shortly after our first meeting, we became

neighbors and close friends, and hardly a day passed without our conversing. We

used to celebrate Seder eve together and Gerald invited us every year to

consider the "straits" (מיצרים) from which

we wished to exit. We also learned in chevrutah

for many years, and Mashechet Berachot

– which we learned together with two more friends – we completed on the first

anniversary of his passing.

While yet in England, Gerald was involved in social and

spiritual activity, and when he immigrated to Israel he was active from the very

first moment in social projects.

From a very personal and involved

position, he identified what was lacking in Israeli society and labored

tirelessly to bring about change.

When he sensed that the existing

synagogues no longer provided a place that answered his spiritual needs, he

established, together with friends, Kehillat Yedidya, which strives to realize principles of female

participation in the synagogue within the perimeters of halacha, and promotes action for peace and social


When he sensed that within the

national-religious schools there existed a tendency

towards extremism,


and nationalistic influences, he, together with a group of friends, established

the Efrata

School, which opened its

gates to the children of the neighborhood to education towards tolerance and

acceptance of the other.

Before the First Lebanon War and

before the Jewish underground, there existed a small movement of religious

intellectuals called "Oz V'Shalom" which

defined itself as an ideological group for religious Zionism. During the period

of the Jewish underground and even more during the First Lebanon War, there was

a feeling prevalent in a larger public –  which also included yeshiva students  – that there is place for a wider movement

which would express the feeling that something went wrong in the order of value

priorities of part of the religious national community, and in the assembly

which met in Bet Agron, Jerusalem, to establish "Netivot Shalom", two featured speakers were Rav Amital, z"l,

and Rav Lichtenstein, heads of the Har Etzion Yeshiva. Gerald was,

of course, one of those led the organization of this new movement.

Following the murder of Yitzchak Rabin,

Gerald thought that the most suitable place for the reading of the Eicha scroll on Tisha B'Av night would be alongside Yitzchak Rabin's grave. This

is because the greatest threat to our existence as a Jewish (and democratic)

state and the most palpable danger of destruction are latent in baseless

hatred, that is, in the inability to accept the other and in incitement, and

since then, every year, we meet on Mount Herzl for the reading of Eicha and the recitation of lamentations.

On Tisha

B'Av 5765, the day before the disengagement from Gush

Katif, Gerald organized a public symposium in

Jerusalem's Bell Garden, in which representatives of all shades of the

ideological and political rainbow, religious and secular, expressed their

personal feelings about what was about to happen. This twilight assembly had no

chairman. Each speaker introduced the following speaker, and it was impressive

and touching to see that, despite the intense feelings and deep disagreements

which divided the public, it was possible to conduct a respectful discussion

even in disagreement. This was in part because of the sensitivity which

characterized Gerald; despite his deep commitment to the values in which he

believed, he was a true pluralist.

Shortly before his death, when

there was great distress in the south, especially in Sderot,

because of the exposure to missiles from the Gaza strip, Gerald believed that ways must be

found to support this development town.

When, upon returning from a round

of lectures in the United

States, he discovered that he was very sick,

Gerald asked me: What should a man do, when he knows that his days are

numbered? At the time I could not believe that in only six weeks he would leave

us, but he knew, and until his last moments he strove to live a life

with meaning.

You showed us the way, dear

Gerald. A source of inspiration and motivator, you are lacking, but we shall

try to continue, each in his place, to act on behalf of those values in which

you believed, and in which we believe, for the sake of a better Israeli

society, more just and peace-loving.




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About us

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom is a

movement dedicated to the advancement of a civil society in Israel. It is

committed to promoting the ideals of tolerance, pluralism, and justice,

concepts that have always been central to Jewish tradition and law.

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom

shares a deep attachment to the land

of Israel and it no less

views peace as a central religious value. It believes that Jews have both the

religious and the national obligation to support the pursuit of peace. It

maintains that Jewish law clearly requires us to create a fair and just

society, and that co-existence between Jews and Arabs is not an option but an imperative.

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