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Parashat Ki Tasa

February 18, 2022
17 Adar I 5782
Parashat Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11 - 34:35

If you have had the pleasure and challenge of being with young children between the ages of 3 and 5, you have probably experienced their need for routine and reassurance. When a child is young, patterns of behavior, routines, make a difference in creating a sense of safety and security. When normal structures are disrupted, chaos may ensue. Adults may take unusual measures to restore a sense of balance. But ultimately, as with all of us, we need to build the internal resources to navigate change and upheaval, as we have all clearly been challenged to do over the past two years.

What does this insight have in common with this week’s Torah portion Ki Tisa?The Israelite people and yes, even Moses, display their need for reassurance and structure in the face of the unknown. The people are faced with extreme uncertainty when Moses ascends the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments; when he is later than they anticipate, they have a tantrum of sorts and build a replacement -- a golden calf. It has object permanence in a way that the Divine’s manifestations have not had. The Divine cannot be contained within a physical shell; even building a movable Tabernacle will not solve that issue for the people.

Amazingly, thanks to the intervention of Moses, God does not strike down all the people and destroy them. The punishment is more selective, though indeed those people who did not affirm the power of the Divine die, and all are made to drink the potion of melted gold. 

We might think that the need for reassurance ends with the return of Moses and his words to the people. Yet it does not. The people are not the only ones in need of reassurance; Moses needs it as well. Upon going up the mountain a second time, he asks to behold God’s presence. 

וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃
He said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!”

אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָחֹ֔ן וְרִחַמְתִּ֖י אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲרַחֵֽם׃
And [God] answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name יהוה, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show,”*

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃
continuing, “But you cannot see My face, for a human being may not see Me and live.”

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר׃
And יהוה said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock

הָיָה֙ בַּעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עׇבְרִֽי׃
and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by.

וַהֲסִרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵרָאֽוּ }
Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

What an incredible exchange! Even Moses, who has been witness to so much, needs reassurance. How much more so do the people? How much more so do we? We are not toddlers and yet we too need our routines, our rituals, and our community if we are to go forward.

I find it reassuring that even Moses who had witnessed the greatness of the Divine in the most intimate fashion needed reassurance. Moses asked for something he was not going to receive, but he did not go away empty. It was a transformative experience . May we have the courage to reach out to others to ask for what we need, even if the response is not exactly what we wanted. May it be enough to sustain us and enable us to go forward living each day to the fullest.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783