15 Adar I 5774 / Feb. 14-15, 2014
In this week’s portion, Ki Tissa, Moses is still up on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions from God. We learn about how to take a census (everyone gives ½ a shekel!), how to go about making ritual anointing oil, and we learn that even during constructing the Tabernacle and its accoutrements that working on the Sabbath was a no-no.
While Moses was up on the mountain, the Israelites demanded of Aaron that he make them an idol of gold. Without much protest, he proceeds to create the Golden Calf, and the Israelites dance and sing around it, showering it with adoration. God takes note of this on the mountaintop with Moses and shares a desire to destroy all of them, and to in turn make of Moses (and his progeny) a great nation. Moses’s response: no thank you.
Moses comes down the Mountain with two stone tablets, sees what’s going on, and proceeds to hurl the tablets onto the ground, shattering them. He then incinerates the Golden Calf, and is so angry that he makes the Israelites drink water mixed with its ashes. Plague ensues. When he confronts Aaron, Aaron says, “I hurled the gold into the fire and out came this calf!” Talk about not taking responsibility for one’s actions…!
The scene continues as Moses has the Levites slay 3,000 Israelite men (which was a very big deal). He then goes back up the mountain in order to ask forgiveness on behalf of all the Israelites for their actions. Moses descends over a month later with a second set of tablets, his face aglow. After delivering instructions, we’re told that he put a veil over his face in order to mute its radiance, and that the practice continued going forward – whenever he spoke to the nation, the veil was removed, and afterwards, he’d cover his face again.
I can’t help but think about the connections between this portion and the need for patience in our lives today.
The Israelites couldn’t handle Moses being away for over a month – despite knowing he had promised to return – and as a result, resorted to creating and worshipping a physical object. How short term were their memories exactly? Did they forget about the miraculous plagues in Egypt that they witnessed (and were spared from), and the parting of the Sea, after which they watched their tormentors drown? These were recent events! And yet, they still couldn’t seem to wait for Moses to return and instead turned to idol worship.
Too often today we also lack patience – whether it’s waiting for a return phone call, text or email, waiting for a favorite TV series to start its new season, or waiting to hear from grad school admissions committees or potential employers. We drive ourselves crazy wondering why we can’t have exactly what we want when we want it. We may even sink as low as our Israelite ancestors by watching American Idol because there’s nothing else good on TV, rather than reading a book or doing something useful with our time (apologies to those of you who are AI fans!).
This Shabbat, reflect on your own ability to be patient. Are you meaningfully utilizing waiting times? Are you responding to others as quickly as you wish you were being responded to? Unlike Aaron, take responsibility, and begin developing a personal practice that harnesses your potential frustration and channels that energy into productivity.