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D’var Torah Ki Tisa

Parashat Ki Tisa

March 2, 2024 | 22 Adar I 5784

Torah: Exodus 30:11–34:35 Triennial: Exodus 31:18–33:11

Haftarah: I Kings 18:1–39

 

Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:

“God gives us something to be looking forward to, a moment of peace, a moment that separates and delineates all other moments.” – Bex Stern-Rosenblatt
It is called Shabbat.

Stuck In a Moment
Bex Stern-Rosenblatt
Parashah

The first thing we learn how to do in the Torah is count. Over and over again, God enjoins us to keep Shabbat. God commands us to keep the seventh day. God gives us order. God gives us something to be looking forward to, a moment of peace, a moment that separates and delineates all other moments.

Our parashah starts again with counting when we take the first of many censuses. Counting runs through our parashah as God once more exhorts us to keep Shabbat, to count the days. To let our counting for Shabbat be “an eternal sign” or perhaps “a sign of eternity.” Just as after the flood God gave us the rainbow as a sign that the natural world would never cease, so too do we find the language of signs here. Our counting is a sign. We create eternity by numbering each day, by counting towards each Shabbat, towards a rest from all this counting. Shabbat as a sign of eternal covenant needs us. We need to do the counting. We need to do the keeping of Shabbat. By counting days, we continue the work of creation. We keep chaos at bay.

We fail most spectacularly when we forget to count. Sitting at the bottom of Mount Sinai, we know that Moses has been gone from us for a long time. A really long time. However long it has  been, it feels that with an absence of that length, surely Moses will not be coming back. It’s been long enough for us to lose ourselves. Long enough for us to forget the rhythms and reality of a life that included Moses. He has gone and we feel we must move on. Sitting at the bottom of the mountain, we have unmoored ourselves from time. We have gotten lost in the eternity of waiting. We stopped counting. We gave up our Shabbatot, our tool that made us masters of eternity. Time became our master, crushing us with its relentlessness. Time continued to pass and we could not impose order or meaning on it. We abandon ourselves into wild feasting, the ecstasy of animals, a return to a primordial state in which there is no moment besides the current moment, no plan for the future or reflection on the past.

Moses comes back. We get a second chance. But first, we need to be reestablished as masters of time, as keepers of eternity. After the smashing of the tablets, the Levite slaughter of thousands, and the drinking ritual, Moses returns to God and picks up his conversation. Bizarrely, the two of them discuss Moses’s desire to know God, to see God’s face or panim. In a long series of interactions, Moses witnesses or fails to witness God’s face. We read of Moses speaking with God face to face, just as a person speaks with his fellow. We read of God responding to Moses’s request for knowledge of the way by saying, “My face will go before you.” Moses needs confirmation and asks to see God’s kavod. God refuses at first, saying that no one can see God’s face and live. But then God comes up with a safe way for Moses to witness God’s kavod. God will use his own hand to shelter Moses and then remove his hand so that Moses may see God’s ahor but not his face.

Usually, the word ahor is translated as “back” in this context. Moses gets a glimpse of God’s body. However, the words ahor and panim also function in the Tanakh as words to describe time, to indicate after and before. (For more on this check out Diana Lipton’s fantastic article, “God’s Back!”)  Moses longs to see God’s face, to see the before, to know what has already happened. In the wake of the Golden Calf, Moses wants to unravel how we got here. Instead, God invites Moses to glimpse his back, or the future. God invites Moses to start counting again, to give order back to days. We may not know what day it is, we may have forgotten when the last Shabbat was. But we can start counting again. We can turn our waiting into meaning.

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Address: 91 Leinster St,
Saint John, NB, E2L 1J2
Phone: (506) 657-4790
Email: info@shaareizedeksaintjohn.ca
Mailing Address:P.O. BOX 2041
Saint John, NB,  E2L 3T5

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