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Derasha Parshat Ki Tisa

03/05/2024 12:00:00 AM


R’ Chaim Eisen spoke several times in the area during the week.  In one of the high schools, he spoke about the famous disagreement between Rashi and the Ramban about the relationship of the Mishkan to the sin of the Golden Calf.  According to the Ramban, the placement of the Golden Calf in our Parasha makes sense,  The Mishkan has been planned already, it was part of the divine plan from the beginning.  But the Golden Calf creates a detour and forgiveness for it puts the Mishkan back on track.

According to Rashi, however, the Mishkan is here to correct what took place with the Golden Calf.  The Mishkan is commanded on the day after the Torah is given for a second time on Yom Kippur.  It comes entirely as part of getting back on track after the sin.  But if that is true, the chronology is mixed up.  Rashi in fact begins by asserting that the Torah is not in chronological order.  This is a well known Talmudic concept about which there is no disagreement.  The Ramban agrees to the concept as well, but he only applies it where one is forced to apply it.  He sees no reason to apply it here, as the Mishkan was planned from the beginning.  It is only Rashi who says that it applies here.

If the sin appears here out of order, we must still wonder why.  The Torah is not forced to place it out of order.  There are five Parashiot devoted to the Mishkan -- two of them are about the planning and two of them are about the actual implementation of the plan in collecting and then in building.  In the middle is this week’s Parasha, which begins with a section tying up loose ends in the planning and then goes into the Golden Calf.  Next week’s Parasha will resume with the implementation.  The Torah has put the Golden Calf precisely in the middle, just between planning and then acting.

There can be many approaches to this placement but I think it’s here to teach something very valuable.  It comes to teach about that space between planning and action, between thought and deed.  It comes to show us that this is a shadowy and precarious space.  Between thought and deed, we are all vulnerable, all plans are precarious then.  Vulnerable to --

-- doubt, which can be helpful in the form of skepticism but should not be allowed to bring about a failure of nerve.  .  

-- delay

-- distraction  

-- or disaster, which diverts us to the pressing needs, and from which recovery is often dubious.

The placement of the Golden Calf in the middle between thought and deed brings attention to this murky space. Perhaps all of these are at play in the sin of the Golden Calf. But what brought the Jews back from the disaster of the Golden Calf?  In the episode’s immediate aftermath, Moshe Rabenu calls out “Mi Lashem Elai -- whoever is for Hashem should come join me.”  To this call, the tribe of the Levi’im responded, and that is why they occupy a special place.   R’ Shimon Schwab used to tell the story of the only time he met the Chofetz Chaim.  They met on a Shabbat afternoon, and they shared a Seuda Shlishit together.  On the way to Mincha that afternoon, the Chofetz Chaim asked R’ Schwab if he was a Kohen.  No.  A Levi?  No.  The Chofetz Chaim said, “you know why I am a Kohen?  Because when Moshe Rabenu said, Mi Lashem Elai, my ancestors responded.”     

When disaster strikes, Jews have always responded with resolve.  We dust ourselves off and move forward.  Everyone’s aware of the volunteer response in Israel during October.  Such resolve can overcome that murky space between thought and deed.  On Sunday, there is a Unity March planned in SF to stand up against anti-Semitism.  It is one way for us, so far away, to show resolve.  The only way out of a disaster is to quicken our step when we hear, Mi Lashem Elai.  

Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784