“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Ki Tissa 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Finding Comfort in Times of Crisis”

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Parshat Ki Tissa: Finding Comfort in Times of Crisis

There’s a profound message in this week’s Torah reading about how to cope with a serious threat that faces human society.

First, recent events remind all of us that even if Chinese culture and Western culture are very different, and our societies are quite dissimilar, we recognize that we share one world and what happens in one country affects the entire world. What happens in China affects what happens in Europe and affects what happens in and America; we’re all part of one society even if we have different philosophical perspectives, traditions and values.

Kol haKavod to so many American rabbis (I had the privilege of joining them) who wrote a letter showing solidarity with Chinese Americans, and said that we can’t allow xenophobic feelings to affect the way we engage with others, and that we need to treat other minorities with respect during these times of challenge.

And I am especially appreciative of my students, participants in the Straus- and Beren-Amiel programs, rabbis and educators in Italy and throughout Europe, who are dealing with difficult decisions of whether to keep their synagogues open for community prayer or not, based on the rules and regulations of their respective countries regarding issues of health and the needs of every individual person that prays with them.

Kudos to them- the decisions that they are making instruct us all about the priorities within halacha of dealing with the safety, health and security of every one of our parishioners.

Parshat Ki Tissa teaches us a very important lesson that we can learn in relation to the corona virus: the mitzvah of the half-shekel.  Exodus 30:13

This mitzvah is a reminder that everybody is obligated to give a half-shekel – not a full shekel. It calls attention to the fact that we cannot do it alone; we are part of a larger group, a larger team.

It is the only biblical commandment that one must borrow funds in order to fulfill, because it reminds us that as individuals we cannot move our goals along, but as a society, we can change the world.

And during this time of the corona virus we’re reminded of the fact that as individuals we’re really not effective, but if we’re careful and we engage as a society, we can deal with the challenges that we face.

Parshat Ki Tissa points out the responsibilities that we have as a society to make a difference in the world. That half shekel not only contributed to the building of the Temple, but to ensuring that the communal needs and issues that faced the Jewish community were supported by a common, cooperative effort by each and every individual.

This mitzvah emphasizes to all of us that as we’re dealing with the challenges throughout the Jewish world, and throughout the world community, of the corona virus, we are all just part of a whole. As individuals, we are all only part of the process. We need to be safe and secure, but that takes cooperation from everyone. We must recognize that we can each contribute to making a difference; we can each contribute our half-shekel portion. But individual action is not enough – as a society, we have a global responsibility to both confront this threat and deal with other challenges that beset mankind.

Shabbat Shalom

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