the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Structure of Parashat Ki
Doctoral Student in the Department of Bible
Looking at the sixteen chapters
deal with the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-40), we find that the sin of the golden calf falls
exactly at the mid-point (chapters 32-34).
It seems that this placement was made with specific intent. This
arrangement of the chapters fits well with the gemara’s comparison of
the sin of the golden calf to a “bride who is unfaithful under her bridal
canopy” (Shabbat 88b).
Chronologically, the bride (the Israelites) was unfaithful in the very
place where the canopy of the Lord’s Presence had been forty days earlier—on
Although some commentators, such as Rashi and Sforno,  claim that the sin of the golden calf preceded the commandment to Moses to build the Tabernacle,  nevertheless even according to this approach we have to explain the current arrangement. One could say that the Torah did well not to write about the sin of the golden calf immediately after the giving of the Torah, but rather to place it between the chapters commanding the Tabernacle and the chapters describing its implementation, for three reasons: 
First, the memory of revelation at
Second, the juxtaposition of chapters that are so diametrically opposed – the sin of the golden calf coming on the heels of the Tabernacle of the Lord-- conveys a religious message. The golden calf reflected a misunderstanding of the proper approach to religious rites according to the Torah. The nation replaced the proper ritual with Egyptian rites of sacrifice, performed not out of spiritual closeness to G-d, but as an act of magic,  in the expectation of leadership from the calf. In contrast, in the Tabernacle of the Lord that would be built, sacrifice would be performed as a sign of giving of one’s self,  done out of a sense of submission to the leadership of the Creator.
Third, the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to have the sin of the golden calf enveloped on either side by the sanctity of the Tabernacle, as if to convey non-verbally His response, “I have forgiven you,” which does not appear in the chapter after the sin (ch. 34).  The Tabernacle itself, commanded before and executed after, is indeed the proper counter-weight to a sin such as that of the golden calf and may be considered its repentance.
These three points help us understand the structure of this week’s reading. The parasha begins with the census of the Israelites, which was said to be “as expiation for you persons,” since, according to Rashi, the census as well was a result of the sin of the golden calf.  Following the census we read the command to make the laver (Ex. 30:18), the anointing oil (Ex. 30:23), and the incense (Ex. 30:34).
Ostensibly, these subjects should have been covered in Parashat Terumah or Parashat Tetzaveh, when the rest of the Tabernacle furnishings were commanded; however, in line with our approach, these subjects, too, belong to the surrounding atmosphere of purification that envelops the sin of the golden calf.
The purpose of the laver is clearly for purification, and the incense has purifying powers, as well, as proven by the service on the Day of Atonement, when incense is brought into the Holy of Holies in the rite of atonement.  Anointing with the sacred oil is also a sort of purification rite. 
Thus, according to this overall development of the text, we see clearly the envelope structure of the entire parasha:
Taking yet a broader view of the book of Exodus, we have the following “envelope structure” of the chapters surrounding the sin of the golden calf:
 We have used the Christian division into chapters, since in practice this division has come to be accepted by scholars everywhere. If we were to follow the Masoretic division into parashot and sedarim (for example, as given in the Koren edition of the Torah), the division would be as follows: seder 18 through the middle of seder 24: the chapters commanding erection of the Tabernacle; mid-24 through mid-26: the chapters dealing with the sin of the golden calf; mid-26 through the end of 29: the chapters dealing with implementation of the commands, bringing the materials and erecting the Tabernacle.
 Based on
 See Rashi on Ex. 33:11, where he implies something somewhat different (depending on the textual variant). Be that as it may, Re’em on Ex. 31:18 says that Rashi’s intentions were the same.
 Some try
explain that Rashi himself held that had it not been for the sin of the golden
calf, the command to build the Tabernacle would never have been given;
rather, the Lord would have been
worshipped anywhere. Supporting
evidence for this can be found in Exodus Rabbah 33.3:
“Bring Me gifts – that is, as it
is said, ‘I was asleep, but my heart was wakeful’ (Song 5:2); I was asleep from
the sin of the golden calf but my heart was awake and the Holy One, blessed be
He was spellbound over me,’ thus it
was said, ‘Bring Me gifts.’”
Likewise, Tanhuma, Ki Tisa 2: “This is what [they]
shall pay – notice how beloved
 The first three commandments deal with monotheism and the prohibition against idolatry, and verse reiterates this prohibition.
 See the description of the magic in Rashi 32:4, based on Tanhuma, Ki Tisa 19.
 Nahmanides notes in his preface to the laws of sacrifice (Lev. 1:9), that it is actually the ideal that persons offer themselves, and that sacrifices were instituted as a substitute.
 Only with regard to the sin of the spies did G-d say, “I pardon, as you have asked” (Num. ), but there the forgiveness was extremely limited, for the very next verse begins to spell out their punishment: “none of the men … none of those who spurn Me shall see it.” In the case at hand there are only hints of forgiveness, such as the expression, “and the Lord renounced” (Ex. 32:14), the thirteen attributes of G-d (Ex. 34:6), and the command given Moses to fashion new tablets (Ex. 34:1).
 Rashi, on Exodus 30:16, again basing his commentary on Midrash Tanhuma 9.
 Lev. 16:12-16.
 In the description of anointment of the priests at the beginning of the days of consecration, Leviticus chapter 8, anointing the high priest is done in conjunction with the sin offering (verses 12-14), thus providing foundation for this assumption.