parasha

Ki Tisa 5777

Taking Advantage of Our Traits
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In this week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, one of the Jewish nation’s most serious transgressions is described: The Sin of the Golden Calf.  Moshe Rabeinu, the nation’s leader, went up to Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to receive the Torah and deliver it to the nation.  During this time, the nation camping at the foot of the mountain created a golden calf and began to worship it.  This sin of “avoda zara”, idol worship, is very foreign to us nowadays.

  It is hard for us to grasp the temptation to create an idol and worship it, but the sages of the Talmud tell us (Tractate Sanhedrin daf 102) that in that time, idol worship was very attractive and hard to resist.
After the nation sinned with the golden calf, G-d said to Moshe,I will not go up in your midst since you are a stiff necked people” (Shmot 33, 3).  Even though He will fulfill his promise to bring Bnei Yisrael to the Promised Land, He Himself would not take part in the journey.  He canceled the plan to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and have His Divine Presence rest among Bnei Yisrael; He would not travel the long route to the Land with them and His house would not reside among the houses of the nation.
The reasoning for this given in the verse is that Bnei Yisrael are a “stiff necked people”.  This term “stiff necked” is given here as the reason God is revoking His relationship with Am Yisrael; because the nation is stubborn, inflexible, and uncompromising.  If God would be among Bnei Yisrael and they would insist on sinning, it could be dangerous since sinning in front of the House of God is a much greater defiance than if God is not part of this journey. 
Faced with this decree, Moshe asks God to forgive Am Yisrael’s sin, to stay with them, and not to cancel His plan to build the Mishkan.  He adds a surprising argument to this request for forgiveness:
"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...."
(Shmot 34, 9)
Referring to Am Yisrael as a “stiff necked people”, the reason God chooses not to be part of their journey to the Promised Land, becomes Moshe’s reason for the opposite decision, for why God should forgive their sin and build the Mishkan among them.
What is Moshe’s argument? Because Bnei Yisrael are so stubborn and uncompromising, this inflexibility of theirs will ensure their loyalty to God.  Their deep faith and sense of fateful belonging are so deeply rooted and strong that they will keep the nation connected to its unique history and eternal beliefs.  Throughout history, Moshe’s words were proven to be correct time and time again.  Am Yisrael survived decrees and destruction, torture and horrors, but despite this remained loyal to its heritage and to its God.  A Jew never surrenders to the choice between denying his legacy or dying.  He will insist on living in accordance to his values, or – if there is no other choice – not live at all.
Moshe teaches us with these words that there is no human trait that is always bad; that has no positive side to it.  Every characteristic can always be used for beneficial purposes.  Even if it seems to us that parts of our personalities make it difficult for us to move forward and succeed, we must keep in mind that these same traits can become positive ones if used properly.  Taking advantage of our strengths in a beneficial and healthy manner can help us live a better and more complete life.  

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