This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, (Ex. 30:11 – 34:35) concludes God’s instructions to Moses regarding the building of the tabernacle, and then recounts one of the Torah’s most painful episodes. At the end of the instructions, Moses receives the two tablets of the Covenant, inscribed by the finger of God. But meanwhile, the people below have become frightened at his long absence. They go to Aaron, who inexplicably assists them in building an idol, a golden calf, which they then worship as their god. On Mount Sinai, God tells Moses what is taking place below, and he rushes down the mountain, carrying the tablets. When he sees the people dancing before the calf, he becomes enraged and threw the tablets, shattering them at the foot of the mountain. Moses punishes the wrongdoers by pulverizing the calf, mixing it with water, and making the idolaters drink it. God also sends a plague among the people for punishment, and states that He will no longer dwell among the people, essentially for their own protection. They anger God so much that He would always want to destroy them. This threatened withdrawal of God’s presence finally seems to make the Israelites come around. They acknowledge their sin. Moses climbs the mountain and God agrees to write a second set of tablets to replace the ones Moses broke, and allows Moses to sense God’s presence. God repents His refusal to dwell among the people.
After anger, near-destruction, and threatened separation, God, Moses and Israel still stand together, with new tablets, a renewed covenant, a common goal, and an enhanced understanding of the nature of the parties involved.
We have all been in the place where the Israelites stood. We have been angry and others have been angry with us. We have betrayed and have been betrayed, we have violated that which is sacred to others, and had that which is sacred to us violated. These things happen in our personal relationships, in work situations and in the communities in which we live and function, including—if not especially—our religious communities. True, there are things which cannot be forgiven or replaced, but if the very covenant which defines our ancient origins and identity can be broken and repaired, then so can most things in our lives. And if Moses, God and the Israelites can reach an understanding and come to stand together, than so can we.