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Parshat Ki Tisa – Teshuvah – Strengthens

Maart 5-11, 2023 Exodus 30:11–34:35

Part of this week’s Torah portion:

When Moses does not return from Mount Sinai as expected, the people make a golden calf and worship it. G-d proposes to destroy the errant people, but Moses intercedes on their behalf. Moses descends from the mountain with the tablets of testimony, on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed; when he sees the people dancing around their idol, he breaks the tablets, destroys the golden calf and has the chief culprits put to death. Then he returns to G-d to say, “If You do not forgive them, delete me from the book You wrote.”

וַיַּ֣רְא הָעָ֔ם כִּֽי־בֹשֵׁ֥שׁ מֹשֶׁ֖ה לָרֶ֣דֶת מִן־הָהָ֑ר וַיִּקָּהֵ֨ל הָעָ֜ם עַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֤וּ אֵלָיו֙ ק֣וּם ׀ עֲשֵׂה־לָ֣נוּ אֱלֹהִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֤ר יֵֽלְכוּ֙ לְפָנֵ֔ינוּ כִּי־זֶ֣ה ׀ מֹשֶׁ֣ה הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר הֶֽעֱלָ֙נוּ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לֹ֥א יָדַ֖עְנוּ מֶה־הָ֥יָה לֽוֹ׃

But meanwhile, the people had miscalculated the 40 days. They counted the day Moses went up the mountain as the first day, even though it was not a full day, whereas Moses meant 40 full days. On the 16th of Tamuz, which they thought was the 40th day, they saw that Moses was delayed coming down from the mountain. Moreover, the accusing angel Satan made them believe that Moses died. Realising the need for a leader, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Arise, make us substitute leaders, who will channel G-d’s messages to us and lead us, because regarding this man Moses, who led us out of Egypt – we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1 – abridged version)

Their fear of losing a leader who would lead them to the land, a leader who would convey messages from G-d to them made the people, listening to the advice of the Erev Rav, make the Golden Calf as an unintentional sin, but a grave sin.

How was it possible that after the spiritual height of receiving the Torah, they descended to this deep level of idolatry, fornication and murder? The Talmud, of course, also wondered this and gives the following answer in Avodah Zarah 4b:

“If the nation was really in such an exalted spiritual state, how could they worship the Golden Calf? Rather, their sin took place so that it would become clear that one can repent for any sin, for even a sin as serious as the Golden Calf was forgiven.”

In other words, G-d manoeuvred the Jewish people into this sin so that they would repent of it and learn the sweetness of atonement.

This sounds extraordinary at first, but it reminds me of:

“Our Sages declared, “In the place where Baalei Teshuvah stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand.” The level of Baalei Teshuvah exceeds the level of those who have never sinned at all, for they overcome their [evil] inclination more.”[1]

What can we learn from this?

We can feel strongly connected to HaShem and find that we have a very good relationship with Him. This is a level of joy, inspiration spiritual growth. However the moment a person sins, therefore, there is apparently something in his soul that he felt was more important, more interesting than that relationship with HaShem. The fact that he sins is proof of that.

Teshuvah, returning to HaShem, means that man goes into the depths of his soul, and transforms that which he considered more important, more interesting, into something that man can place in a relationship with HaShem.

The soul – before sin at a high level – by learning to redirect sin – will come to a higher level, to a deeper relationship. A relationship that endures storms is stronger than before. A relationship that cannot weather storms was essentially never a true relationship.

The course of the day

I see the above process mirrored in the course of my day.

In the morning, I start with the Mode Ani :

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ

Modeh anee lefanecha melech chai vekayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha.

I thank You, living and eternal King, for You have graciously restored my soul in me; Your faithfulness is great..

In the morning, the soul returns to man clean and restored, to perform the tasks HaShem has given it that day. (Similar to the level of receiving Torah)

But no matter how well one starts the day, things always happen during the course of the day that are not in accordance with His will. Wrong choices made – unintentionally – because they seem more important at the time. (Similar to the level of making the Golden Calf)

I like to end the day with the “Riboni Shel Olam” – prayer:

“Ribono Shel Olam, I hereby forgive whoever has hurt me, and whoever has done me any wrong;
Whether it was deliberately or by accident, whether it was done by word or by deed, In this incarnation
Or in previous ones. May no one, be punished on my account. May it be Your will, O L~rd my G~d,
G~d of my parents, that I sin no more, that I do not revert to my old ways, that I do not anger You any more
by my actions, may I do not do that which is evil in Your sight. Wipe away the sins that I have committed,
With Your great compassion, but not through Sickness or suffering. May these words of my mouth, and the prayers
that are in my heart, be acceptable before You, O L~rd, My Rock and my Redeemer.”

It is also an evaluation of your day. Are there people you need to forgive, as well as things that have damaged your relationship with HaShem, things you need to ask HaShem for forgiveness about. This brings the soul to a higher level than the soul was in the morning. And so every day is a day of spiritual growth and strengthening your relationship with Hashem.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources: [1] Mishne Torah, Sefer Hamada, Teshuvah hoofdstuk 7:4, Open Sidur

Ki Tisa Text-Based Learning, Ki Tisa in a Nutshell

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