Ki Tissa


Margaret MacMillan, in her book History’s People, contrasts the role some individuals can play in shaping history and others being swept up in the forces that are prevailing. There is no doubt that Moses was one of the most influential people in history. A tantalising question is how important was the role of a much less-known individual, Chur, who makes a brief appearance in this week’s portion.

The medieval commentator, Ibn Ezra, says “we don’t know who he is.” (Shemot 24:14). The Midrash states that he is the son of Miriam and Kalev.

What role does he play?

We first find him supporting Moses’ tiring arms. Joshua is instructed to lead a battle against Amalek. Moses overlooks the battle scene from the top of a hill. Whenever he held up his hands, the Israelites prevailed. When he lowered them, the Amalekites started to win. Moses sits on a stone and Aaron and Chur stand on either side and support his arms aloft. We next encounter Chur when Moses is about to ascend Mt Sinai for forty days. Moses tells the elders: “Wait here until we return to you. You have Aaron and Chur with you; let anyone with a legal matter approach them.” (Shemot 24:14)

Yet, in this week’s portion, when Moses does not return as expected and the people panic, it is to Aaron they and build a golden calf. Chur, mysteriously, has vanished. The Midrash fills in the details by telling us that the people first clamoured to Chur who remonstrated with them. The confrontation became ugly and Chur was killed. This explains Aaron’s softer tactics when the people turned to him.

Perhaps Chur’s role and absence from the text can be understood by considering what his name might mean. The name Chur is related to the word chor (spelled the same) meaning a hole or hollow.

Chur is a sort of interstitial personality who falls through the gap in the narrative. Yet he doesn’t disappear completely. We find him referred to again our parsha as the grandfather of Betzalel, the architect of the Tabernacle (Shemot 31:2). The Midrash sees this as a reward for his self-sacrifice. Yet it is also a further instance of his unseen, supportive role. When we look back at history we should realize that much of what happens to us may be influenced by what we are not seeing as well as by what we can see. Remember Chur. Mind the gap!