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  • Writer's pictureJosh Scharff

Ki Tisa - Celebrating the Highs and Lows

Updated: Jul 12

At the bottom of Mount Sinai, the Isralites set up camp and bid farewell to Moses as he ascended the mountain to receive the Torah. There, they waited. Weeks passed with no word. Doubt and fear slowly set in. As the Israelites gave in further and further to their panic and abandonment, they turned to Aaron to build them a god. Aaron agreed, the golden calf was built, and the Israelites ate, drank, celebrated and worshiped their new God. 

As he stood on top of the mountain, God informed Moses of what was happening below. Moses descended in a hurry, was met with the image of a massive desert rave around an idol of gold, and famously broke the two tablets upon which God’s word has been inscribed. 

Moses is not the only one moved to anger in response to the Israelites actions. God is incensed at what they have done. The Israelites have borne first-hand witness to God’s wonders and miracles in Egypt, the pillar of cloud, parting the sea, and manna. Nonetheless, they are still not assured that they are following the correct God. God reaches the end of the line and assures Moses that now is the time to punish, to destroy the nation of Israel, or at least the wicked parts, and let Moses start over with a new, better group. 

In response, Moses pleads beautifully on the Israelites behalf. While Moses is no stranger to anger, his grace in this moment belies an understanding of leadership that he did not understand earlier in Exodus. He sees that part of leadership is being on top of Sinai, and part is shattering the tablets below. The accomplishments and the failures are all part of the same effort. They feel different, they make the experience worse or better, but they are all necessary. 

Parashat Ki Tisa reminds us that a leader, and a nation for that matter, is not just the days of triumph and success. It includes both failures as well as shameful moments. It is also made up of the little absurdities that life throws our way. It is a constant rise and fall through space and time. 

So we should remember to celebrate when we summit the mountain. We should also grieve over what we sometimes find below. So many in the Jewish world now feel as though we are at the bottom: grieving, wounded, wondering how we can recover from all that has happened. 

Thankfully we have thousands of years of tradition and history that reminds us that yes,  today might be the day for breaking - whether it be tablets of stone or anything else. But tomorrow might be the day that we climb Sinai. The Jewish thing to do, the human thing to do, is to live all of it in gratitude that we are here and in commitment to helping yourself and those around you to always strive to climb higher.

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