Shabbat Parshat Ki Tissa
In this week’s Torah portion we have one of the more pathetic events in Jewish history – the building of the Golden Calf. Right on the heels of the most amazing and nation-altering moments – The Ten Commandments – comes this low point. So much so that God is ready to wipe out the entire nation and start over with just Moshe.
Moshe gets to work defending the Jewish people, not only from annihilation but also to get them back in God’s good graces as well. He is able to successfully re-establish the relationship between the two and make it whole again.
As Moshe was pleading for the Israelites, the Torah gives us a peek and a listen into the private conversations that took place back atop Mount Sinai between them. It wasn’t all, “Ah, c’mon, God, you know how stiff-necked these Jews are … give ’em a break!” No, actually there were some pretty, pretty … pretty interesting things being discussed.
In the dialogue, Moshe puts it all on the line and raises a number of issues with God. He claims that although God has told him that he is to get assistance with the Jewish people, he still isn’t clear how that will come about. According to Rashi, Moshe implies that an angel won’t cut it as a guide and replacement for a disgruntled God and he will only be satisfied if God Himself is with the people and leads them. Moshe then gets down to some more fundamental issues and uses those private moments with the Almighty to inquire about a few things that have been bothering him for some time.
When Moshe asks, “Make known to me Your ways” (Ex. 33:13) he is raising the most difficult theological issue that we all contend with: Reward and Punishment, why bad things happen to good people, why we see evil people prosper and the like. According to tradition it is not clear whether Moshe even received an answer to this all-important and nettlesome issue that has plagued mankind in every era and place.
But then Moshe takes the discussion even further. “Show me Your Glory” (Ex.33:18) is Moshe’s request to see God’s essence, and here God tells him no dice, “You cannot see My face because man cannot see Me and still live.” (Ex. 33:20)
What is striking and curious is why it took this abysmal event to give Moshe the courage to finally address these issues? Why wait for this point of anger and hostility between God and the Jewish people to broach some very intense theological matters?
In fact the two are inextricable linked. You see, the fact that the Israelites built such an idol led to some head scratching and reassessment between God, Moshe and the Jewish people.
When a couple has a falling out, a breach in the relationship, a rupture of some sort – in order for them to repair that relationship they need to dig a bit deeper into themselves than they ever have before. They need to look inside to discover a new layer of what makes them tick, what they expect of each other, what they are really made of and what their dreams, goals and aspirations are all about. Failings in any relationship are an indication of something that has gone – and in fact has been going wrong for some time – and has only now come to a head. And once that failing is realized and made evident, each party needs to do some serious soul-searching to re-evaluate who they are and what their future holds.
This is what was happening here. Moshe was having a very private and intimate confrontation with God about the sad reality that something is very wrong and needs to be corrected between Him and the Jewish people. Moshe came to the realization that he cannot go forward until he has a much better understanding of who and what God is all about, how He operates, what His plan is for His ongoing relationship with His people – His plan and not some lackey angel – and how exactly He will deal with His chosen people in particular and all of mankind in general.
“Who are you really, God and how do You work?” is what Moshe needed to know. He needed to peel away the heretofore unforeseen layers so he could have a better understanding of where they stood and where they were going. The failure as expressed by the Golden Calf was a golden opportunity for Moshe to find that out.
Failings and falling-outs are never fun. They literally can make or break a relationship. But they provide a phenomenal opportunity in the aftermath of the crisis when a couple can reach deep inside to discover a place that they now need to be and that has never been broached before. These were the moments that Moshe shared with God and these are the moments that we must revisit to get our relationship with Him and others back on solid ground.
Come up to meet you, tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
I had to find you, tell you I need you
Tell you I set you apart
Tell me your secrets
And ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start