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Parashat Ki Tisa

March 5, 2021
21 Adar 5781
Parashat Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11 - 34:35

Dear Friends,

This week has my mind reeling with a series of upcoming events and milestones, all set within the frame of an incredibly dynamic Torah portion that may give us a road map for the moment in which we find ourselves.

Passover is three weeks away and, for most of us, it will not be what it was two years ago. For many of us, the struggle to make sense of it this year has just begun. We are in the process of reimagining.

It has been a year in which, starkly, 500 thousand Americans have died; we are grappling with finding the right way to honor the dead while caring for those still ill and while expressing our abiding gratitude to those who have been and continue to be on the frontlines doing all they can to care for us and keep us safe.

This Shabbat also marks the observance of Refugee Shabbat, a project of HIAS. So where do we place our focus? Tonight, we begin with where we are as we mark Refugee Shabbat. We will remember the journeys of our families and those families who continue to seek refuge from oppression, hunger, and violence around the world.

How fitting then that this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, highlights moments in our story when we are at a loss. There is a sense of being overwhelmed. Why else, after a series of amazing miracles, would the people have a deep seated need to create a physical object to revere -- the golden calf? The irony is underscored by the Torah portions of the past two weeks where we have the elaborate descriptions of the physical objects and priestly garb that will ultimately go into the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. The text seems to know of our very human need to have things made manifest before us.

We have spent a year away from many of the tactile physical and sensory experiences of our daily lives, from the meals that we eat (now mostly consumed within the four walls of our homes), the way we choose what to wear, seeing our friends in person, offering hugs to those that need them, and, for those of us at Tehillah, the seemingly simple joy of singing together. It is true that we have found new paths, but it does not mitigate our sense of loss.

This year, like never before, the response of the people in the wilderness is something recognizable, coming from a pent-up need. Not knowing what comes next demands so very much -- descriptions simply will not do. Moses perceived that a late arrival demands more patience and hope then the people have.

Later in the Torah portion, we encounter Moses’ version of the same need, although expressed somewhat differently. Moses asks that God reveal the God’s self more fully to him. Moses’ wish is not fulfilled in the way he requests.

Instead, what we can take away from this Torah portion is a manifesto of sorts. It does not mean that we are being given a free ride -- that the Divine will always be merciful, gracious, and righteous. Rather, we are being given a road map with the Divine as our exemplar, that what really matters at all times , in all places is that we are to behave from the place within ourselves inhabited by our best selves. As Maimonides wrote in his Mishneh Torah: “As God is called gracious, so should you be called gracious, as God is called merciful, so should you be merciful, as God is called Holy, so should you be holy." (Hilkhot Deot 1:6).

May we all find our best selves as we go forward through these challenging times.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781