Ki Tisa Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum February 26, 2005 17 Adar I 5765
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, one of the major themes we discover is the importance of "seeing the forest through the trees." We learn how important it is to keep our eye one the ball; to focus on the "greater scheme" and not let obstacles get in the way.
Parsha Ki Tisa begins with Moshe’s accounting of the Jewish People. The census was taken by each person contributing one half shekel, so as not to be counted directly and avoid the "yatzer hara." The parsha continues with Moshe ascending the mountain for forty days and forty nights. Once atop the great Mount Sinai, Moshe miraculously receives, directly from G-d, the greatest gift to bestow upon the Jewish people, the tablets containing the Torah. With great excitement, Moshe descends the mountain, the bearer of hope and eternity. However, his enthusiasm quickly turns to horror when below him he witnesses the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf, a mere idol. Shocked, devastated and deeply disappointed, Moshe smashes the tablets. A real knee-jerk reaction on Moshe’s part.
But let’s rewind for a minute and look at what Moshe has just gone through. Remember, Moshe is now 80 years old. He has not had an easy life. First he is raised by Paro. He is then given the task to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt and provide for an entire nation. The responsibility is enormous. He now has to ascend Mt. Sinai by himself with no water, no food, on a journey that will take forty days and forty nights. Already his brain in on full alert. In addition, he must absorb every word and detail of the Torah as G-d dictates to him. The concentration is intense. Then he must communicate G-d’s teachings to the Jewish nation, exactly as told, for all of eternity. Literally, the weight of the world rests upon his shoulders.
He wasn’t leaving the group to take a forty-night trip to the Caribbean. Moshe wasn’t on vacation for forty days. Certainly, he must have felt like he deserved a little time off after successfully leading an entire nation through the desert. This adventure wasn’t about diversion or respite. He was divinely appointed to lead a nation that would continue forever.
So, imagine what for a moment what Moshe Rabbeinu must have felt after going through this life-altering mission. Filled with enthusiasm and pride, imbued with the words of G-d, carrying the luchot, the tablets, he must have been so inspired and excited to impart this to his fellow Jews. So, what a giant blow this must have been to him when he saw the nation worshipping the golden idol. What a shock! The disappointment was so great. These idol-worshipping Jewish people, in his eyes, were not worthy of the G-d given tablets. He smashed them, altering the destiny of the nation forever.
But, let us go deeper and analyze the biblical text to see what really transpired. How did Moshe really grapple with this horrific crisis. Who can blame him for what he did? On the surface it seems like a very appropriate reaction, doesn’t it?
But Moshe is no ordinary guide. His brilliant and diplomatic leadership qualities allow him to accurately assess the ramifications of the entire situation. He understands the consequences should the Jewish people not be granted the Torah. Setting aside his own emotions, he recognizes, in that decisive moment, that the survival of the Jewish people and human civilization as a whole, stands in the balance, moreover, in his hands. Sometimes, the greater cause is more important than ones own needs.
So, he cools down, gathers his composure. Risking his own life for the greater good, he logically dialogues with G-d, begging for forgiveness. Placing his obligations to the Jewish nation over his own emotional disappointment, he courageously pleads before G-d not to destroy the entire nation. It is another variation of the Pesach theme, as Moshe begs G-d to overlook or pass over this horrendous incident. For the sake of humanity and the continuation of the Jewish nation, Moshe asks for G-d’s forgiveness.
In the end, G-d grants forgiveness and the Jewish people are, once again, given the tablets. The nation is saved - but not without consequences. Three thousand leaders who were instrumental in the Golden Calf debacle, were slain.
In other words, Moshe was able to see past the idol worship and his own despair and grasp the bigger picture. Sometimes in life, more often than not, we are thrown a curve ball. A sudden, unplanned provocation comes knocking at our door. How do we cope? How do we react? Perhaps a secretary accidentally hit’s the wrong key on the computer, wiping out an important file. Poof, it’s gone. Irreplaceable. Or maybe a brilliant scientist mistakes one chemical for another, destroying an entire experiment. Literally, the entire process is down the tubes. Unexplainable obstacles, divine providences, devastate and disappoint us.
It is through this parsha, Ki Sasa, that we learn how important it is to pick oneself up by the boot straps and look ahead. Proverbs 24:16 tells us the righteous man falls down seven times and get up eight. We are taught through Ki Sisa to look at any situation and figure out what is really going on. What am I supposed to do? How can I repair this situation which may, or may not, have been my fault. How do I keep moving forward and not get derailed from the true goal?
How do we keep families together in the face of overwhelming odds? How do we keep our communities together when so many outside forces prevent us from building trust and good relationships? How do we keep our heritage strong when so many nations want to see us fail? Where do we gather our strength and wisdom from when the tablets, our world, are crashing down around us?
Let’s look at the situation in Israel today and a world filled with Anti-Semitism. Let’s apply these same principles on a broader scale, a national scale. When arriving at decisions and analyzing our actions, we must continually remind ourselves of the original mission. What is the ultimate goal? Where are we supposed to be going? What is it we are trying to accomplish? And then stick to it, despite the obstacles.
In the Torah portion, we are called a stiff necked people. Normally, this has a negative connotation as being inflexible and stubborn. However, there are times when this trait can be life-saving, as in the case with Moshe. Even though Moshe himself was reactionary and broke the tablets after witnessing the Jewish nation’s sacrilegious actions, he became "inflexible" and stiff-necked about saving the nation. When push came to shove, he did not compromise, even with G-d. Through persistence and perseverance, Moshe convinced G-d, through his endless mercy and compassion, to not to give up on the Jewish People.
In Psalm 82, King David states "Render justice to the needy and the pauper; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand, they go about in darkness; (therefore) all the foundations of the earth tremble." We are taught how compassion and mercy are essential components when assessing the big picture. Certainly G-d showed his compassion and forgiveness with the Jewish nation and once again, bestowed upon them the Torah.
The gift of Torah is the blue print for living correctly. Torah provides us with the instructions for how to live and which pitfalls to avoid. These are G-d’s words and must be taken seriously. The Torah contains real warnings with real consequences. Like we see in today’s parsha, consequences that can be the difference between life and death.
However, the Torah also teaches us that joy and happiness breaks all barriers to opposition. This past Thursday, we observed the holiday of Shushan Purim Kattan. This holiday reminds us that Purim is not far away and we must prepare. We are instructed to increase our joy, increase our festivity and get ready for celebration. All obstacles can be overcome when he are blessed with a full cup, stay positive and follow the blue print with which Moshe provided to us.
Let us all pray that we have ability to avoid transgression and prevent the path of sin, in the first place. However, if we should find ourselves in predicaments that call upon our best judgment, situations that seem hopeless at first glance, let us never lose sight of the bigger picture. Always remember that G-d wants us to live right. He has given us the Torah, the blue print for a good and righteous life, so that we will succeed. He wants us to make good decisions with kindness, compassion and mercy. And he wants us to be "stiffed necked" enough to keep our eye on the big picture, which is to repair today in order to rebuild a better tomorrow.
There is a poem by Rudyard Kipling entitled "IF." I’d like to read some of it because he so beautifully describes the ideas of today’s parsha and the need to stick to your goals and believe in your ideals.
Poem lyrics of If by Rudyard Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too: If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same:. If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss: If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much: If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!