Rabbi Goldschmidt

Parshat Ki Tisa

Each of us have issues that prevent us from achieving our ultimate goals.

Unsurprisingly it is often a behavior or pattern we pick up when we are young: a product of our upbringing, a tendency in our society and often it exists as a personal shame that we, and sometimes only we know that we cannot truly overcome. Despite our oftentimes righteous desire to transcend these issues, to not make the same mistakes so frequently, it is there hovering over us, sometimes as a ticking time bomb and in other cases as a complex coping mechanism for difficult times.

It is with this in mind that we approach with some degree of humility the nature of the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf:

Having been on an extraordinary journey of redemption, salvation, nationhood and Divine revelation – now as Moses lingers on the mountain the Israelites find themselves leaderless, lost and alone in the desert and no longer certain of their destiny. The people panicked – their new ways were suddenly not so certain, they dropped from the level of seeming invincibility to a level of calamity and confusion.

One of the most interesting and at times saddening aspects of our lives is that in a situation of crisis we often prefer to return to a previously stable situation, even if that previous state was toxic.
So often this is recalled in various romantic literature, recalling one’s unrequited love of yesterday when often those relationships were unhealthy, turbulent, damaging and sometimes abusive.
When a particular addiction exists, the question remains of what trigger might be powerful enough to reawaken it and reignite cyclic downward spirals into self-destruction.

In our Parsha, left without their new path the Children of Israel are drawn back by the Erev Rav back to their former state of idolatry:

The reason that the incident is so painful and requires such a spiritual correction is because it speaks of the lack of transcendence that has occurred and the fall backwards to the level of the people whilst they dwelt in Egypt.

In the description given of this situation the Torah (Shemot 32:1) uses the Hebrew word בשֵׁ֥שׁ to express when Moshe “tarried” in returning from the Mountain with the Tablets of the law, commentators such as the Baal HaTurim teaches us that the word is written in Torah without the expected Vav to indicate as Rashi reminds us, the teaching in Talmud Shabbat (89a) that Moses promised to return within the first 6 hours at the end of 40 days – famously the Children of Israel counted the day of his ascension as part of this calculation and thus came to this error.

Perhaps a reflection of a deeper teaching contained in this idea is, that according to Jewish Numerological Mystical teachings the number 6 is associated with the working days of week of required physicality and Melakhah (creative works) – whereas the number 7 with rest, abundance and the Shabbat and the number 8 with transcendence of the physical Yom Tov, Brit Mila and the nights of Chanukah:

We can understand that the Children of Israel were asked to wait just long enough to transcend their innate natures and unfortunately they failed in this task, the same of many of us who have slipped in exactly the moment where we were required to express our own self-mastery.

Judaism is inherently a religion of transcendence through the mechanism of patience – we are asked to wait a moment to thank Hashem before taking a bite of food, it asks that we pause our busy lives and our work to appreciate being and join with our community in celebration of the act of Creation, to await the coming of the Moshiach each day, waiting 3 years until a fruit tree is no longer considered in the category of Orlah before tasting its fruits and many other reflections of this profound idea permeate our Mitzvot and philosophy (as mentioned frequently in the Midrash, Likutei Halachot and other such holy Sefarim).

The source of this requirement is harkened back to the eating of the Fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden where Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit, according to these deeper sources Hashem’s desire was that they to wait before partaking of the fruit and that rather the command to not eat of was in truth always time bound and it was actually Hashem’s ultimate desire to give us the fruit provided we could first express self-control and transcend our lower natures.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024©