Parashat Ki Tisa

Friday, March 5, 2021/21 Adar, 5781
Parashat Ki Tisa Exodus 30:11–34:35

Dear Friends,

After forty days of Moses’ absence, the Israelites were anxious for his return. They longed to hear what God told him on top of Mount Sinai, but as the day of his assumed return progressed, their anxiety increased. Why wasn’t Moses back already? What if Moses had not survived? What if they were all alone?

The Israelites decided that they needed to do something, so they came up with an idea. They compiled their gold so that they could create a golden calf statue to which they could pray. After 400 years of Egyptian bondage, they had adapted the Egyptian notion that the calf is a sacred symbol. Perhaps it could help them now.

The Israelites cast their gold into a mold and were delighted by the golden calf they had created. They circled around it, dancing and singing with delight. As Moses began his journey down the mountain, he witnessed his people worshipping an idol and became enraged. “As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus 32:19)

The people would not receive the Ten Commandments after all. It wasn’t just the Ten Commandments that had been shattered; so too was the trust between God, Moses, and the Jewish people. It would take hard work and time to rebuild that trust so that God would be willing to offer them the Ten Commandments once more.

What if this whole frustrating experience could have been avoided? Before Moses left, he told the people that he would return in forty days, at around noon. The Israelites believed that he would return ON the fortieth day. According to 11th Century commentator Rashi, Moses intended to be gone for 40 full days and nights and would return on the 41st day after his departure. If Moses had been clearer in his wording, the entire crisis could have been avoided.

How often do we find ourselves in an avoidable conflict that is rooted in miscommunication? Parashat Ki Tisa reminds us of the importance of clear and frequent communication in our personal and professional lives. We build trust, closeness, satisfaction, and understanding when communicating our expectations, requests, and understandings. Ensuring everyone is on the same page can go a long way in building sacred relationship.

It would take time for God to offer the Israelites the Ten Commandments once more. Once She did, we enthusiastically accepted them. They came to represent not just a moral teaching, but a shared language of mutual commitment.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail