Parashat Ki Tissa

By Eliana Falk

In Parashat Ki Tissa, Moses ascends Har Sinai and comes face to face with God, so to speak. With each step, he ascends in body, mind and soul and he dwells in God’s presence.

On Sinai, Moses knew the completeness, the unity, the wholeness the love of God – and the awe of God. And he was filled with holiness. On Sinai, he was deeply involved in the act of finding. He was finding a new relationship with God. And he was finding himself in the relationship. And, he was learning how to be a teacher and a leader, and to trust God absolutely.

Meanwhile, the people were at the foot of Har Sinai, and even though they had already experienced God’s wonders and presence, they were lost. Their leader was not visible to them. Perhaps they let their fears overtake them, and so turned their focus to idolatry- or perhaps as a tangible manifestation of faith. Either way, they then made the tragic mistake of turning away from God, and relied upon only themselves for their answers. And that, you know, never really works.

When Moses descended Har Sinai and saw what the Israelites had done, he sank from holiness to mortal frustration, and even anger, smashed the tablets of the Law and, by so doing, smashed the manifestation of God’s word. It seems he had lost faith in the people. But then he did something surprising. When God determined to destroy the Israelites for their poor judgment, Moses cast his lot with theirs. Why? He knew he was just one of those individual souls who was taken out of Egypt, and that each soul was precious to God.

It is really important that we remember that. We see, in our mind’s eye, the hoards of Israelites leaving Egypt and crossing the sea, and we can so easily forget that it was really a vast crowd of individual souls. Old and young, wise and foolish, good and bad, giving and cunning – every one – for whomever she was, just as he was. Each soul that cried out to God was heard – and was redeemed.

So perhaps it is no surprise that even after Moses sank to anger and frustration and even violent behavior at the foot of Sinai, and he returned to God -their relationship flourished and matured. And when Moses asked to see the Eternal, he learned the attributes of God.

“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Adonai, Adonai, God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, preserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin…” (Exodus 34: 6-7)

“And Moses hastened, bowed his head to the ground and prostrated himself, and said: “If I have now found favor in Your eyes, O Lord, let the Lord go now in our midst [even] if they are a stiff necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin and thus secure us as Your possession.” (Exodus 34: 8-9)

When we learn that God, in compassion, accepted Moses’ plea, we understand that God will always embrace and redeem us. And we understand that we stand in relation to God and one another.

The Israelites were not alone in their sometimes lonely, sometimes, confusing, and sometimes overwhelming earthly existence – nor are we.

When we look around the world – in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our very confused country – in the world, and we see such horrendous social ills, we can, in a very mortal minute, lose our understanding of holiness and faith and become frustrated and even angry, just as Moses did. When it seems as if God is not manifest in our world we understand how the Israelites lost their faith.

For our sakes, and for the sakes of others, then, our path is clear. We must engage in finding ourselves in relation to God, as Moses did. But this time we have to make the ascent ourselves. We need to receive God’s word with our own ears. We need to allow our fears to dissipate and be filled with love, rahmanus and absolute trust in God.

Then, renewed, inspired and more whole, mortal fears overcome, we will be better able to defend and raise up and heal those who have fallen, and those who have suffered when others fell, just as Moses did.

Will our acts of love be a strong enough defense against society’s immorality and loss of faith? I posit to you that it is the only force strong enough to overwhelm hatred, greed, tyranny, hopelessness and fear.

As Moses, learned, love eclipses outbursts of anger. It overwhelms frustration. It engenders healing and forgiveness. It is the basis of our faith, the essence of the Torah, and the call of the prophets. Through love, we gather the shards of God’s word, and God’s people, and attempt to make them whole again.

May the words of our mouths reveal the love of God and inspire the hopeless. May the meditations of our hearts raise us to the heights of Sinai, and may the works of our hands bring healing love to our fractured world.


Eliana Falk is a rabbinical student at AJR, and serves as the spiritual leader of Beth El Synagogue in Southbury, Connecticut.