See you soon - I promise.
In the meantime, a litle taste from er, last week's portion. (I told you I'm tired. But I'm just a little behind...)
I wonder if it is possible to think view Ki Tissa in terms of a unifying theme. There is, after all, an awful lot going on this week – and that is before we even get to adding on the special reading of the maftir for Shabbat Parah.
If I were to attempt to discuss all the various events and commandments… well, this post would be a liot longer, and certainly would not qualify as "a taste."
But when all the different pieces are put together: the census, the anointing of priests, the commandments of shabbat, the people’s worrying that Moshe had not reappeared after 40 days and nights and creating the golden calf, Moshe’s ongoing talks with God panim el panim – face to face, as the Torah says, “as a person speaks to his friend” (ex.33:11), Moshe’s request to see even more than that – to see God’s Kavod, and God’s offer of a partial assent to this request, and then Moshe’s return to the mountain, from which he returned with his face alight – it seems to me that there is indeed a theme that runs through the portion: God’s presence and absence, and how we go about engaging with God.
After Moshe had come down from the mountain, he asked Aaron what the heck happened. And he gives a very peculiar response: Aharon says that he said to the Israelites,
לְמִי זָהָב הִתְפָּרָקוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ-לִי וָאַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בָאֵשׁ וַיֵּצֵא הָעֵגֶל הַזֶּה
“Whoever has any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me; then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.”
But on further reflection, maybe Aharon wasn’t lying. There is an interesting commentary (32:14) by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk. The Torah tells us, “And the Lord repented of the evil which He had thought to do to His people.” The Kotsker rebbe asks, “Why is it that God forgave the sin of the golden calf even though they did not repent, while He did not forgive the sin of the spies, even though the people had repented? The reason is that the sin of the golden calf at least had a spark of holiness, a thirst for a supreme force –‘make us a God,’ whereas in the sin of the spies all that they sought was a better material life.”
When Aharon says that the calf came out of the fire, perhaps rather than attempting to imply that he was blameless, perhaps he really was saying was that the sin of the calf came out of the people’s desire to be close to God. They were burning with the desire to be close to God – that was the fire- and in the meantime, Moshe was off having a private conversation with God.
Moshe speaks to God face to face – but every time the Israelites get a taste of this intimacy, it’s too much. We end up asking for a mediator. But still, in our hearts, that desire to be close to God is there, and it never leaves us. We can see that someone else has been able to make that connection, and we’re burning for it.
1. By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but I found him not.
2. I will rise now, and go around in the city; in the markets and in the broad streets will I seek him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but I found him not.
3. The watchmen that go around in the city found me; Have you seen him whom my soul loves?
4. I had just passed them when I found him whom my soul loves; I held him, and would not let him go...
Israel had shown that they were burning for God; One who seeks God must be prepared to get up and look for God. But in searching, we surely will find the one whom our soul loves.