The Torah Portion of "Ki Tisa"
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
"This is what they shall give..." (Shemot 30:13)
Rashi explained that the Holy One Blessed Be He showed Moshe a sort of coin of fire and told him: "Something like this is what they shall give". The coin of fire hints that fire is able to be beneficial and also to cause damage. Fire is able to burn, G-d forbid, but it is also able to cook and to heat and to give light, and the like. Similarly, the coin, if it is used for Tzedaka (charity) and acts of kindness, then it has great benefit; but if we use money when it isn't for the purpose of fulfilling a Mitzvah, it can burn and cause damage, G-d forbid. (from Noam Elimelech)
The Coin of Fire
The coin of fire also hints that just as fire is able to give enjoyment to several people simultaneously and the fire does not get used up any faster because of that, so too someone who gives (tzedaka) does not diminish his property and won't be lacking anything. The coin of fire also hints that even for a poor person who is only able to give a little bit and a small amount, if his giving is done with the enthusiasm of fire then even the small amount that he gives is thought of as a great donation, and it is also able to be an atonement for his soul like a great donation.
"...half of the shekel..." (Shemot 30:13)
And why not a whole one? Because a man needs to regard himself as a half, and not as a complete person.
"... and into the heart of all who are wise of heart I have put wisdom..." (Shemot 31:6)
The Sages, may their memory be blessed, say that Hashem gives wisdom to the wise. It can be asked, how did they get their original wisdom? There are those who explain that the intention of this verse is that Hashem gives wisdom to those who have fear of Heaven, which is called wisdom, as it is written "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem" (Tehillim 111:10). And there are those who explain that Hashem gives wisdom to those who want the wisdom and know to appreciate it.
"...Only (in Hebrew: "Ach") observe my Sabbaths..." (Shemot 31:13)
The Hebrew word "Ach" is a language of limitation and exclusion, as when it is used in the context of Hagalat Kailim (Kashering pots). The verse about Kashering pots states: "...Only (in Hebrew: "Ach") the gold and the silver..." (Bamidbar 31:22). And the Sages derived from that verse, that the word "Ach" comes to exclude the rust and the tarnish. Therefore one needs to clean the rust off before Kashering the pots. Similarly it is possible to derive from the current verse (in which the Hebrew word "Ach" is also used) that before Shabbat one needs to clean the "rust" off one's body, and to purify himself by doing repentance in preparation for Shabbat, in order to enter Shabbat when he is clean. And then he will be able to receive the Shabbat with perfection. (from the Sefat Emet)
"...it is a sign forever..." (Shemot 31:17)
The Shabbat is like a sign. Just as in the case of a store, even if it is closed, all the time that the sign is hanging at the entrance, it's an indication that the store will be open in the future. But if the sign is taken down it's an indication that the store will never open again. Similarly, regarding the Shabbat, if it happens that G-d forbid a Jew stumbles in a sin, all the time that he still observes the Shabbat it's an indication and evidence that he is a Jew who has a connection in his heart to the Holy One Blessed Be He. But if he doesn't observe the Shabbat, the sign is removed and it's evidence that he doesn't have any connection to the Holy One Blessed Be He and the Torah. (from the Chafetz Chaim)
"...and he put on his face a mask." (Shemot 34:33)
The Kli Yakar says that Moshe was a very humble and shy person, and that everyone looked at him, and therefore he put a mask on his face because he felt embarrassed. But when he came to learn Torah from Hashem he took off the mask because (as it says in Pirkei Avot Chapter 2) "the bashful person cannot learn".
"...Carve for yourself..." (Shemot 34:1)
Rashi says about this verse, "the chips shall be yours". And from the point of view of Mussar (Ethics), when you see on yourself something which is "chipped" or defective in any way, you should not blame this on other people, but reallize that "all the chips are yours", you are responsible for all of it.
"...the chips shall be yours. From this Moshe became wealthy..." (Rashi on Shemot 34:1)
Another explanation of Rashi's comment that "the chips shall be yours", is that the chips are a reference to the little bits of free time that a person doesn't usually pay attention to. But if a person would take advantage of those small bits of free time that seem to crumble into nothing because of their briefness, he will be able to merit to great wealth. If he will gather up those small time segments (and use them for learning Torah), they will add up to many hours and he will merit to be rich in his Torah knowledge because of them.
"You shall not make yourselves molten gods." (Shemot 34:17)
Immediately after this verse it is written: "You shall observe the Festival of Matzot". (Shemot 34:18) Why are these verses next to each other, and what is the connection between the two of them? The reason is that on Erev Pesach (the time before Passover), because of much distress and the pressure of the work, it is possible G-d forbid to become angry. And behold, "everyone who is angry it is as if he is worshipping idols" (Gemara Shabbat 105b). And that is the reason for the juxtaposition of the Festival of Matzot next to the sin of idol worship. Similarly the Be'er Haitev brings in the name of the Rokach, that a person should not say ""how much hardship there is in this Pesach", because that is the statement of the Rasha (the wicked one of the four sons discussed in the Passover Hagaddah) who said "What is this work to you?"
The Torah Portion of "Ki Tisa" has 139 verses, 4 positive commandments and 5 negative commandments. The Haftorah is "Vayehi Yamim Rabim" (Malachim Aleph 18)
We say Borchi Nafshi.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772