Ki Tisa – 5783 – Cracks of Light

By: Michael Carr

Ki Tisa- Cracks of Light                                          Michael Carr               03/11/2023

It’s been said that we don’t see things as ‘they are’; we see things as ‘we are’ because we see reality through our emotional history.

Each of us experiences emotional sensory situations differently when we read, listen, or taste. These sensations may evoke pleasure, pain, distaste- well you get the idea. Yet it is what was seen at Mt Sinai, according to author Sarah Gershman, often that has the greatest impact upon our emotions as described in Parsha Ki Tisa.

40 days beyond the Israelites exodus from Egypt and that storm cloud on Sinai where G-d speaks to Moses and the Israelites, Moses meets up with G-d. The people eventually grew restless and impatient in the desert following their adventurous entrance to freedom. They were filled with uncertainty about their future and did not know if Moses would return from his meeting. He had already been up there for days, and it is said he was running late by about a day.

Sure there was this G-d that freed them from hard labor and unhealthy conditions they experienced over centuries. There was really no one telling them what to do now. They had time on their hands. No one had told them what structures to build and how/where and when to build them. Nor what crops required harvesting or planting. They were unsettled with very little direction in their lives.

But who was this ‘G-d of freedom’? They believed their Egyptian G-ds and idols provided comfort, guidance and safety. As slaves, their beliefs shaped the world that they saw. Now, through their new life reality, it seemed their lives lacked clarity and direction. They were learning to believe in a completely new life and new world.

Would this G-d do the same? This G-d did get them out from under Egyptian rule. And where was Moses? What the heck was he doing up on the mountain with this G-d and why was he late in returning?

Lots of uncertainty and waiting around for the ‘next move’. After all, Moses had not shown up when he said he would (not that there were any sophisticated time pieces other than the sun, moon and stars).

Perhaps like a baby or young child, the Israelites had ‘separation anxiety’. Yep – separation from Egypt, separation from Moses and maybe also, separation from this ‘G-d of freedom’.

In-spite of G-d’s commandment to have no other G-ds, and no sculptured likenesses or images, infidelity and yes the pull of idolatry get’s the better of them but again, supposedly not as a replacement for G-d, as Gershman explains. The replacement is a ‘place-holder’ for Moses.

Absent anxiety meds, a good novel, binge watching a Hulu series or exploring social media feeds, Aaron (talk about forgiveness – remember he’s destined to be the future high priest – Cohen Gadol) gets pulled into melting everyone’s gold earrings and creating a golden calf for the people.

The recently freed Israelites had been missing a reference point and certainly missing what had been familiar for 400 years. They demonstrated no restraint.  Once again, they saw a symbol and were able to find joy in a golden calf that in their minds provided soothing comfort – like alcohol for an alcoholic or drugs for the addicted.  What was their purpose?

As Yogi Berra would say, ‘it’s deja vu all over again’, that is for G-d. He obviously sees what’s happening below in Sinai, becomes furious and tells Moses it’s time to start all over again – ala Noah and his Ark.

Of course Moses is not yet able to see what G-d has already taken in. He pleads with G-d to help G-d understand that decimating the Israelites and ‘starting over’ is not the answer to getting things straightened out and perhaps getting a written solution for this mistake is the better direction.

Moses with divine tablets in hand crafted by G-d heads back down. Except of course sees the atrocity of the golden calf and the joy of the Israelites on his way down. Moses smashes the tablets (that is—the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people) to the ground.

So G-d invites Moses back up and commands him to carve new tablets for the Jewish people with the same words that were on the first set. That is the words of G-d that Moses inscribes.  To me this symbolizes Moses repairing the relationship (the covenant) between G-d and the Jewish people after one of the most egregious mistakes the Jewish people could make early on following their flight to freedom.

It is written that the broken tablets are not discarded and instead are carried by the Israelites through the period of 40 years of desert wandering.  Broken-ness is normal—nothing to shy away from or hide from. It’s part of our life story; it’s what makes us who we are.  The expectation was not and still is not perfection.

We can strive for improvement and aspire to be better human beings. Improve our relationships with each other, the world and G-d.  This message is captured in Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in….”

Shabbat Shalom!