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Parashat Ki Tasa

March 1, 2024
21 Adar I 5784
Exodus 30:11 - 34:15


Dear Friends,


In preparing to write my thoughts about this week’s Torah portion, I was reminded that this week’s Torah portion Ki Tissa, "when you elevate" (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35), was our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah portion. Today she is a grown woman with a daughter of her own; when she grappled with this Torah portion, she was twelve.

Many of you have heard me say that I learn the most from my students. In rereading what she wrote those many years ago, there are once more lessons to be learned and shared.

Ostensibly, this week’s Torah portion is about the creation of the Golden Calf and both the Divine’s and Moses' response to its creation. The Divine is ready to abandon the people who have just been liberated and Moses smashes the Divinely created tablets in a moment of fury, rage, and disappointment. This moment, along with its aftermath, is high drama indeed.

But there is another moment in this Torah portion that captures our attention, as it did my daughter’s -- Moses' desire to see God. This comes up after Moses has been on the mountaintop with the Divine for 40 days and nights. In all that time together, with no answer supplied, we are left with the question of how the Divine presence was manifested during those 40 days. Communication clearly happens, but the Divine remains unseen by Moses.

How does Moses witness the presence of the Divine in our Torah portion? We have all been told over and over again that the Divine is not visible and yet here is the description we have in our Torah portion:

“Station yourself on the rock and as my Presence passes I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with my Hand until I have passed by, then I will take my hand away and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 32:21)

This concept is all very physical; it goes against everything that we have been taught about the nature of the Divine. My daughter's analogy still resonates: Wile E. Coyote sees the dust from the Road Runner but never sees the Road Runner himself. He only leaves a cloud of dust behind. But Moses doesn’t even get that, because dust is physical and we know that the Divine is not corporeal.

Is this all an extended metaphor, and for what? How do we explain it given our modern sensibilities? There are those among us for whom it is the spirit of the Divine, commonly known as the Shechina. For all of Moses' time on the mountain, he might have been so busy, so occupied with the work at hand that he failed to experience the Divine presence, which is a humbling thought for all of us. How often do we lose sight of what is going on around us, not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense? Do we take the time to feel the presence of that which is greater than each of us individually? One might say, who has time for that?

My father taught me long ago about the power of the spirit and the power of gratitude. The people in our story wanted a physical reminder of the Divine and Moses wanted to see God. Neither was satisfied.

I thank Kayla for her insights, which resonate with me today. We are all certainly seeking reassurance and a sense of solidity, but we are left with something more ephemeral. The Golden Calf was something to be seen and not felt; what we seek is a reassurance that we are not totally alone. We are looking for a sense of being held, of the Shechina. How do we find that sense? We find it by being truly present with one another.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784