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Parashat Ki Tasa

March 10, 2023
17 Adar 5783
Exodus 30:11-34:35; Numbers 19:1-22

Dear Friends:

We just finished celebrating Purim, which is an upside down inside out kind of story. Is it farce? Is it revenge fantasy? Is it about female empowerment? Or is it about the ways in which power not closely held and respected can bring a society to the edge of destruction?

This week’s Torah portion Ki Tisa, “when you elevate” (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35), is one of those portions that speaks to the human need to be held and cared for, no matter who you are or where you find yourself. This portion holds within it the Divine communicating directly with Moses on the mountaintop while the people wait below. Moses is in the process of receiving the Ten Commandments.

Meanwhile down below the people lose patience waiting for Moses to reappear. He is late! What should they do? They construct a golden calf. Some call it an idol while others call it a throne for the Divine. No matter how we understand its nature, it is a sign that the people feel unsteady, unseen, and unsure.

This Torah portion resonates with us at this particular moment. The things we took for granted as always being in place are not where they are supposed to be, even the bad things. The ground is not steady beneath our feet and terrible frightening behavior continues to unfold all around us. We are living in a time when the worst of human behavior has been unmasked and the ground beneath our feet is not secure. Amalek is within each of us and we are witnessing the worst among us, whether here or in Israel. Fear has the capacity to disable our ability to hear and see one another. We understand that the people at Sinai felt lost and unmoored. What is our excuse? We are in need of reassurance; we are in need of hope. We need to find a path through the wilderness in which we find ourselves.

We are not alone in needing support. We find Moses on Sinai once more alone with the Divine. This comes after breaking the first set of tablets, intervening on behalf of the people. He is clearly shaken by recent events. Even Moses is in need of support. He does not get what he asks for when he asks to see the Divine; rather, he is allowed to feel the presence of God and then he is asked to act. This time, it is Moses who writes down the Ten Commandments that he will bring to the people.

Moses is taking action even though he is afraid and needs reassurance. We need to take action even in the face of fear, when we need reassurance, and when our first impulse may be to complain or to weep. This week I witnessed the power of action by a diverse group of women (more about that below). We have more power than we realize and we have more support available if we need it. 

When we read this week’s Torh portion, we begin to understand that it is never easy and that we can only go forward if we stand together not in in fear but in hope and if we support one another through our words and our deeds.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784