Ki Tisa: The Only One
Updated: Jan 19
Ki Tisa ‘When You Take’
(Mt of Olives)
This week, I couldn’t help but fixate upon the first 6 verses of our Torah Portion which focuses on the census and the half shekel payment that it requires.
This particular topic reads as follows;
Exodus 30:11–16 (The Scriptures)
11 And יהוה spoke to Mosheh, saying,
12 “When you take the census of the children of Yisra’ěl, to register them, then each one shall give an atonement for his life to יהוה, when you register them, so that there is no plague among them when you register them.
13 “Everyone among those who are registered is to give this: half a sheqel according to the sheqel of the set-apart place, twenty gěrahs being a sheqel. The half-sheqel is the contribution to יהוה.
14 “Everyone passing over to be registered, from twenty years old and above, gives a contribution to יהוה.
15 “The rich does not give more and the poor does not give less than half a sheqel, when you give a contribution to יהוה, to make atonement for yourselves.
16 “And you shall take the silver for the atonement from the children of Yisra’ěl, and give it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. And it shall be to the children of Yisra’ěl for a remembrance before יהוה, to make atonement for yourselves.”
We learn here that the census goes hand in hand with the risk of plague unless a person pays a half shekel atonement for their life.
For reason’s I don’t fully understand, God appears to have an aversion to having his people counted. We see this elsewhere in Scripture and perhaps most famously when King David himself orders a census, without God’s approval, that is then followed by a plague.
1 Chronicles 21:1–8 (The Scriptures)
And Satan stood up against Yisra’ěl, and moved Dawiḏ to number Yisra’ěl.
2 And Dawiḏ said to Yo’aḇ and to the rulers of the people, “Go, number Yisra’ěl from Be’ěrsheḇa to Dan, and bring the number of them to me so that I know it.”
3 And Yo’aḇ answered, “יהוה does add to His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my master the sovereign, are they not all my master’s servants? Why does my master seek to do this? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Yisra’ěl?”
4 But the sovereign’s word prevailed against Yo’aḇ. And Yo’aḇ left and went throughout all Yisra’ěl and came to Yerushalayim.
5 And Yo’aḇ gave the sum of the number of the people to Dawiḏ. And all Yisra’ěl had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Yehuḏah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword.
6 But he did not number Lěwi and Binyamin among them, for the sovereign’s word was loathsome to Yo’aḇ.
7 And it was evil in the eyes of Elohim, concerning this matter, and He smote Yisra’ěl.
8 Then Dawiḏ said to Elohim, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this matter. But now, I pray, take away the crookedness of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
But why is the plague associated with census and why is it associated with ‘guilt’?
I’m not sure I’ll be able to answer the question for you, but allow me to share what I know.
Firstly, the word to count ‘lispor’ has the root word ‘sapar’ which has a number of meanings and implications to it. It’s to number something (lispor is the verbal conjugation of the word sapar); it can be to ‘proclaim’ something or to ‘declare’ something, but it’s also to ‘measure’ something as in to set a boundary or to set a completion to something.
For this reason some have said that counting i.e. census is viewed in a negative light by God because to count something can be to limit something. Of the Children of Israel YHWH himself said;
Genesis 15:5 (The Scriptures)
5 … “Look now toward the heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So are your seed.”
We can all relate to the dehumanizing affect of simply been a number and for many the verses here acknowledge the practicality of a census whilst acknowledging that to God people are not just numbers and that we are individually loved by Him. Perhaps for this reason the census count actually occurred of the shekels and not the people. It’s a work around but still serves a practical purpose.
In the same vein the Chasidics (a Jewish movement) comment and answer another question for us;
“Why not a complete coin? To teach us that no man is a complete entity unto himself. Only by joining with another can a person become a “whole thing.”
The half shekel then represents God’s love for each and every one and of us and how we remain incomplete without been joined to him.
A couple of practical reasons people offer for the aversion to the census is possibly due to its association with taxation (which doesn’t help answer the question in my opinion) and its association with the military draft.
For the latter point the people counted were the men, 20 years and above who were all in the army. We see this more clearly expressed in the Numbers 1 census which says;
Numbers 1:45 (The Scriptures)
45 And all those that were registered of the children of Yisra’ěl, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and above, everyone going out to the army in Yisra’ěl
These 2 explanations (taxation and conscription) might explain why we as people dislike censuses but doesn’t quite answer why God doesn’t.
Perhaps we can answer the ‘why’ in trying to understand the purpose of the census and the shekel.
The first purpose for the census is the easiest. As it says in the text the half shekel was required as part of funding the tabernacle;
Exodus 30:16 (The Scriptures)
16 “And you shall take the silver for the atonement from the children of Yisra’ěl, and give it for the service of the Tent of Meeting…”
We see this confirmed in Exodus 38 which speaks of the same census and confirms that the half shekel was used for the tabernacle;
Exodus 38:25–28 (The Scriptures)
25 And the silver from the ones counted of the congregation was one hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five sheqels, according to the sheqel of the set-apart place:
26 a beqa, half a sheqel for a head, according to the sheqel of the set-apart place, for everyone passing over to those counted, from twenty years old and above, for six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty men.
27 And the hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the set-apart place and the bases of the veil: one hundred sockets from the hundred talents, a talent for each socket.
28 And of the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five sheqels he made hooks for the columns, and overlaid their tops, and made bands for them.
Verse 16 of the text also tells us the second reason;
Exodus 30:16 (The Scriptures)
16 “... And it shall be to the children of Yisra’ěl for a remembrance before יהוה, to make atonement for yourselves.”
The need for ‘atonement’ is related to the census’ association with the military.
The phrase ‘atonement’, or ‘ransom’, occurs 3 times in the Torah and every time it is mentioned it refers to money paid by someone who is guilty of taking a human life in circumstances that do not constitute murder. For example, the owner of an ox which kills a man after the owner was warned about the ox was charged with the death, but this was still not intentional murder. In this case, the owner of the ox is able to pay a ransom for his life whereas for a murderer the Torah says;
Numbers 35:31 (The Scriptures)
31 ‘…take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall certainly be put to death.
My Soncino Chumash comments on this stating;
‘This is the conception that underlies the law of the half shekel in this chapter. The solder who is ready to march into battle is in the eyes of Heaven a potential taker of life, though not a deliberate murderer. Hence he requires a ‘ransom for his life’.
This explanation rings with truth. When one examines the loss of blood in Scripture it always requires atonement or a resolution to the issue that caused it. Even in the case of menstruation the Torah has laws for its atonement. Quite simply, blood is associated with the loss of life which the Father needs addressing.
Having stated this though, we must not confuse atonement with sin. Kafar (פרכ), the word for atonement, also simply means to cover something. That it also translates as atonement does not make it synonymous with sin.
That this issue and the need for atonement is related to the military can also be seen in the ever looming plague which in the Hebrew, ‘negef’ (נֶֶגֶֶף), can mean to strike or to injure something, as in the military sense.
We can even note that the phrase in verse 15 only appears one other time in the Scripture.
Exodus 30:15 (The Scriptures)
15 “… to make atonement for your souls.
It’s found in Numbers 31:50 and it’s where the soldiers of Israel fight the Midianites and having conducted their own census, which confirms that no men died in the battle, the princes of the army say to Moses;
Numbers 31:50 (The Scriptures)
50 “we have brought an offering for יהוה, what every man found of ornaments of gold: armlets and bracelets and signet rings and earrings and necklaces, to make atonement for our souls before יהוה.”
In Mark 12 Yeshua helps further illuminate this topic as to what the half shekel may represent. Now Mark 12 in itself is not dealing specifically with the half-shekel but dealing with the broader issue of taxation in the 1st century. Hopefully you’ll see why it’s a helpful text for us now.
The text that comes to bear is as follows; please note that Yeshua is in the Temple and the elders and the scribes are seeking to challenge him;
Mark 12:13–17 (The Scriptures)
13 And they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in a word.
14 And when they came, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and it does not concern You about anyone, for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of Elohim in truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
15 “Should we pay, or should we not pay?” And He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you try Me? Bring Me a silver piece to look at.”
16 And they brought it, and He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
17 So Yeshua said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to Elohim what is Elohim’s.” And they marvelled at Him.
To fully grasp the genius of Yeshua’s response we have to look at the broader context at hand.
We have Israel living under the oppression of Rome and you have a religious system that is split into numerous sects of different beliefs. Here Yeshua is presented with 2 very different sects of His time, with 2 very different and opposing positions.
First we have the Pharisees. Of all the groups that exist within Judaism at the time these are the ones to like. I know that might sound ridiculous given the scorn Yeshua has for so many of them, but the Pharisees were present amongst the people because many within their ranks, despite popular opinion, sought to share the kingdom of God within Israel and sought to lighten the burden on the people. That the Pharisees are criticized so much actually speaks to the fact that they, and not the other sects of the time, were actually present amongst the people. That they are constantly challenging Yeshua even has an essence of holiness in it; simply read Deuteronomy 13 to see some of their member’s motivations.
Nonetheless, the Pharisees were the religious fundamentalists of the day. They were not zealots themselves but they shared in the zealot view that God alone should be the ruler of Israel and they hated Rome. Actually, about the time of Yeshua’s birth a man called Judas led a rebellion against Rome due to a Roman census and tax that was imposed in Judea at about 6 CE.
The zealot view of Rome and taxation informs the context in Yeshua’s day and demonstrates the sentiment held by the Pharisees towards its Roman occupiers. Josephus says of this;
…Coponious, one of the equestrian order of the Romans, was sent as a procurator (to Judea), having the power of life and death put into his hands by Caesar. Under his administration it was that a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countryman to revolt and (they said to their other countrymen that) they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and would after God submit to mortal men as their lords.
- The Jewish War 8.1
Again, the Pharisees were not zealots but this sentiment is reflected within their own belief system that Israel should be subject to God alone and most definitely not to Rome.
Contrast this to the Herodians who were Jews, but who were the assimilated secular liberals of the day. These were men who were pro-Roman and who were part of the Roman governance through either buying their office or through earning Roman favor.
That they stood with the Pharisees to challenge Yeshua speaks of the fact that they had a common enemy in our Messiah. With both groups present we can clearly see that the question is a set up for surely there would be no answer that would satisfy both groups. If Yeshua said we should pay taxes the Pharisees would call him traitor, they would see Him as abandoning Israel, forsaking the Torah, and assimilating with our enemy in Rome (keeping in mind that assimilation is a great evil within Judaism and the Bible). If Yeshua had said we should not pay taxes the Herodians would have denounced Him as enemy of Rome and sought to treat Him as such.
That Yeshua asks for a coin is genius and places a wedge right between the Herodians and the Pharisees and reminds them of their differences. The Herodians would have produced the coin. We know this because, as I mentioned, the group are standing within the Temple grounds at the time. Why? Because coins, like they do today, have images on them.
History tells us that the coin which would have been produced would have read;
‘The Divine Emperor Tiberius’
The coin would have had a pagan image on it, and the inscription basically said ‘this is god’. Given this, it was forbidden to have a coin within the temple grounds and the Talmud, which sits on the Pharisaic side of the equation, praises the men who refuse to have such coins in their position. Meaning, the Pharisees didn’t produce the coin which was an affront against God within His temple.
An example of the Pharisaic view towards coins is found in the Bavli, Pesachim Folio 104A;
A. So who is the son of saints?
B. It is R. Menahem b. R. Simai.
C. And why do they call him “the son of saints”?
D. Because he would not even look at the figure incised on a penny
The answer Yeshua gives them, ‘give unto Caesar’ causes no affront to Herodians and ‘give unto God’ causes no affront to the Pharisees. It gives neither of them the answer they were hoping for, it reminds them of their differences, and it communicates a very stark message to both of them.
He says ‘give unto God, what is God’s.’
If the image of Caesar is imprinted on his coin and is returned to him; then where is God’s image found, and what is it that we are to give to Him?
The answer is found in the beginning;
Genesis 1:27 (The Scriptures)
27 And God created the man in His image…
Thus it is your soul that the image of God is printed upon and not on a worthless coin; it’s on every single one of us and it was on every single man that stood there that day to challenge the Messiah.
Yeshua is reminding them who it is that they belong too and in the process He has told us and them what God truly seeks when He asks the men of Israel for ‘half a shekel’.
In the Midrash, which was known at the time, it teaches a story of the half shekel by means of a conversation between God and Moses;
Moses pondered, ‘Who is in a position to give ransom for his soul? ‘Skin for skin! Yes, all that man has he will give for his life (Job 2:4). But even his own life is not enough; as it says (in Psalm 49) ‘no man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for his soul – for the redemption of his soul is too costly’. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, answered Moses, ‘I do not ask for ransom according to my ability to pay, but only in accordance with their ability to pay. This they shall give’…The Holy One, Blessed Be He, took what resembled a coin of fire from beneath the Throne of Glory and showed Moses. He said, ‘this they shall give’. That is, ‘They shall give a coin that resembles this one’.
- Numbers Rabbah 12:3
In Jewish thought they know this to represent the soul of man and we can quite easily associate this coin of fire, the price that was paid for our atonement, with the Messiah.
The men standing there knew well that it is our lives that He seeks and not really the coin.
Now if we jump to the time of Nehemiah we learn that when he returned from exile in order to rebuild the Temple that he instituted an annual tax based on the half shekel of Exodus 30.
Nehemiah 10:32 (The Scriptures)
32 And we imposed commands on ourselves, to give from ourselves yearly one-third of a sheqel for the service of the House of our Elohim:
As a matter of fact, the issue of the annual tax which Nehemiah based on the half shekel was in effect in the 1st century and was quite the contentious matter.
In the days of Yeshua the Jews from far and wide participated in the tax with many in the diaspora sending their half shekels each year for the sake of the Temple. That the Jews did this caused the scorn of Rome who at one point imposed the same on the Jews but to fund pagan temples.
Not all however adhered to this tax and in Yeshua’s day the Essenes refused to pay. In time, even the Levites and other ‘elites’ in Israel excused themselves from participating in the annual tax.
That the tax itself was contentious is found within the very first word of our Torah Portion. The first word is ‘ki’ which is commonly rendered as ‘when’, as in, ‘when you take a census.’ But rather, the word for ‘ki’ can also be understood as ‘if’, meaning that the need to hold a census was optional and not necessarily mandatory within the Torah on an annual basis. It may have been a once off thing (though it’s not bad for the community to pitch in for the Temple).
At any rate the debate raged and our Master did actually come across it in the New Testament in what is one of its more odd stories;
Matthew 17:24–27 (The Scriptures)
24 And when they came into Kephar Naḥum, those who received the tax came to Kěpha and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the tax?”
25 He said, “Yea.” And when he came into the house, Yeshua spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Shim‘on? From whom do the sovereigns of the earth take toll or tax, from their own sons or from the strangers?”
26 Kěpha then said to Him, “From the strangers.” Yeshua said to him, “Then the sons are exempt.
27 “But, lest we cause them to stumble, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you shall find a piece of money. Take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
What I find so fascinating about this is that Yeshua appears to disagree with the annual institution of the tax, but yet ‘lest we cause them to stumble’ opts to pay it. It seems like the ‘if’ part of the tax opened the door for disagreement either way. Perhaps Yeshua opted to pay it due to His support of the Temple and what it meant to the Jewish population of the time which in essence was a very positive thing.
That Yeshua paid the tax from the coin out of a fishes’ mouth remains a mystery to me. I have looked at numerous commentaries and none have revealed any meaning to this beyond the fact that Yeshua is divine and that He can, if He wants, miraculously find a coin within the mouth of a fish.
I suppose we’ll have to write that symbolism off as a matter of further study.
Returning to Nehemiah however; he wasn’t just famous for rebuilding the Temple but his other claim to fame was in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
The Book of Nehemiah starts with this;
Nehemiah 1:3–4 (The Scriptures)
3 And they said to me, “The remnant who are left of the captivity in the province are there in great evil and reproach. And the wall of Yerushalayim is broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
4 And it came to be, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days. And I was fasting and praying before the Elohim of the heavens
As we know, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with the blessing of Artaxerces (the Persian King) and started to rebuild.
In Nehemiah 3 it describes the men who repaired certain parts of Jerusalem’s wall once the work had started. There’s one specific part of the Scripture here that I need you to know.
It’s Nehemiah 3:31;
Nehemiah 3:31 (The Scriptures)
31 …Malkiyah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the Nethinim and of the merchants, opposite the Miphqaḏ Gate, and as far as the going up of the corner.
One of the gates of Jerusalem mentioned here is called the Miphqad gate. It’s on the eastern part of Jerusalem; it opens up into or very near the Temple area and is one gate away from the famous ‘Eastern Gate’ (aka The Golden Gate) where Yeshua is prophesied to return through.
My fascination with this is found in the gate’s name. It’s called ‘miphkad’ which means ‘to count’ or ‘to muster’. In verse 12 of our portion, where it says the word ‘number’, it’s the Hebrew word ‘pekudei’ which likewise means ‘to count’. Both words, ‘miphkad’ and ‘pekudei’, share the same Hebrew root word which is ‘pakad’. ‘Miphkad’ and ‘pekudei’ are really just different conjugations of the word ‘pakad’.
Think of it as the difference between ‘run’ and ‘ran’. Basically the same word but just in a different form.
Now as we come to the time of Yeshua, Jerusalem had again changed. In my research I haven’t come to exactly when but the walls were again rebuilt and in the sources I’ve read the miphkad gate is then also the name applied to the eastern gate of Jerusalem. So at the time of Nehemiah, the miphkad was next to the eastern gate, but in the time of Yeshua, the miphkad gate is the eastern gate.
For context, the eastern gate is the main entrance into the Temple from the Mt of Olives which is east of Jerusalem. From this gate the Red Heiffer Bridge was built over the Kidron Valley so that the priests would not defile themselves when crossing the Kidron which was full of grave sites. This in turn connected to ‘the way of the Mt of Olives’ (Luke 19) which was one of the main highways into the city of Jerusalem.
We need to remember that many of the Temple sacrifices required an altar outside of Jerusalem which was to the east. Many people neglect this but in the time of Yeshua on the Mt of Olives near the end of the ‘Red Heiffer Bridge’ was that altar which had many names, but which was most notably called the ‘miphkad altar’.
Coincidentally, in the Book of Ezekiel it describes the very location as to where the Red Heiffer would be burnt outside of the walls.
Ezekiel 43:21 (The Scriptures)
21 ‘And you shall take the bull of the sin offering, and shall burn it in the appointed place of the House, outside the set-apart place.
What is the word translated as the ‘appointed place’ for the Red Heiffer sacrifice here in Ezekiel’s text? It’s the ‘miphkad’, the’ appointed place’ for the sacrifice.
(Popular image of the Miphkad Altar and the ‘Red Heiffer Bridge’ to the Eastern Gate)
Now there’s an important fact I need you to understand. The Miphkad Altar, or near there on the Mt of Olives, was where the censuses took place in the time of Messiah. Remember this is also one of the main highways into Jerusalem so that the people could be counted as they entered the city. Hence the name, the miphkad altar and the miphkad gate (aka the counting gate).
There’s more to this part of town but to learn more we have to return to Exodus 38. Remember this part of the text is speaking about the same half shekel tax that we read about in Exodus 30.
The verse I want you to examine with me in particular is;
Exodus 38:26 (The Scriptures)
26 … half a sheqel for a head, according to the sheqel of the set-apart place, for everyone passing over to those counted, from twenty years old and above, for six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty men.
The text again says that a half shekel was required for every ‘head’ that was to be counted. In Exodus 30, which says literally ‘when you count the heads’, the word for head is ‘rosh’. The word for head in Exodus 38:26 is not the same word but it is a synonym for the word ‘rosh’. It’s a different word but it basically means the same thing. It can be ‘head’; in certain contexts it can mean ‘skull’ and in some translations it’s rendered as ‘man’; but really, head or skull is accurate.
This word, synonymous with ‘rosh’, is the Hebrew word ‘golgolet’ and is synonymous with the census (the counting of skulls). In the time of Yeshua, ‘golgolet’ was idiomatic of the place where the census occurred which we have just established happened on the main highway into Jerusalem on the Mt of Olives.
Given that this location was so important it was also the place where the Romans conducted many of their executions. You would literally walk into town, pass the warning of Rome by means of men been crucified, pass the miphkad altar (the counting place) and enter into the city and the Temple via the Eastern Gate (aka the miphkad gate).
An inspection of Roman precedent and punishment not only yields that they liked to crucify people in the most visible location but that they also typically crucified people near the scene of either the crime they committed or where they were caught.
With regard to Yeshua, we know that He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane which we know is on the Mt of Olives (no one truly knows where exactly though). There were gardens both near the summit of the mount and its base. That Yeshua was arrested here suggests He may have been crucified near the scene of His arrest and that it was also near the main highway makes it a likely crucifixion site.
So we know now that the eastern part of town, where the sacrifices were conducted, where the Romans conducted their executions, was called as you know it the Mt of Olives, but was also called ‘Golgotha’ which is derived from the Hebrew ‘golgolet’ where the census occurred at the ‘counting’ altar and the ‘counting gate’.
This is where Messiah was crucified.
Golgotha is not a physical description of some rocks it is an idiom for the place of the counting.
Additionally, in Jewish legend they teach a parable that at the time of the flood in Genesis that Noah went into the burial chamber of Adam and recovered his bones lest they be swept away by the water. In the story, once the flood receded, Noah reburied the skull of Adam on top of the Mt of Olives further lending to the idiomatic expression of Golgotha and identifying it further with the Mt of Olives; the place of the skull.
That Yeshua was crucified here not only aligns our understanding correctly with the Hebraic context, it also means that Yeshua correctly fulfilled the Torah in that the sacrifices conducted outside of Jerusalem occurred to the east.
(This is why early Church depictions of the crucifixion have a skull set the base of the cross)
We need to return to Exodus 30:11, but before we do there is one other idiomatic name by which the Mt of Olives is known; it’s the mountain of light.
This is because when the sun rises in Jerusalem it’s first to hit the Mt of Olives. Its slopes are that which provide the oil for the Temple lamps to burn and the Temple lamps when lit are first to light up the mountain. It’s also where the signal fire was set up so that the Levites could signal to all of Israel when it was time for the festivals to begin (via a network of fire signals from mountain top to mountain top).
Returning to Exodus 30:11 however, it says, when literally translated;
‘When you lift up the head’
I earlier translated this as ‘when you count the heads’ but really, to count in the Hebrew here is to ‘lift up’ and it’s related to ‘exalting’ something. The word is ‘Tisa’ and it’s from the root word ‘nes’ which can also be translated as ‘miracle’.
The word for ‘heads’ (rosh) is in fact the word ‘head’ which is notably in the singular. Our first verse then is really ‘when you lift up the head of the sons of Israel’.
It’s singular because there is only ‘One’ person that needs to be accounted for on behalf of Israel.
If you think back in terms of the census been related to the army then the Scripture says ‘The Lord will fight for you’. If you think of it in terms of atonement then there is only one that can truly pay that ‘coin of fire’ for us and that is ‘The Rosh’; Yeshua the Messiah.
He is the only one that can truly be counted on our behalf and in extraordinary fashion He did just that when He was led up to Golgotha through the Miphkad gate to near the Miphkad Altar, on the mountain of light, the place of the census, where our Master was lifted up.