This week’s portion, “Ki Tissa” (Exodus [30:11]-[34:35]) contains a multitude of issues and events. We have the incident of the “golden calf” (Exodus 32) and the challenge to the authority of Moses and the seeming capitulation to the demands of the people by Aaron. This text also can be seen in light of the text in I Kings [12:25]-33, which tells the story of King Jeroboam, in a flight for control with his brother Rheheboam after the death of Solomon, erects 2 calf gods at the shrines of Beth El and Dan. Could the Exodus story be a re-writing to show that this is NOT acceptable?
Likewise, another famous part of the portion is from the very end, in Exodus [34:29]. Moses, now having created the 2d set of tablets, comes back down the mountain and his face is “radiant”. The Hebrew here is the word “ka’ran”. The letters also form the word “horn” and in a mis reading/translation of this word we have the issue of the horns on Moses which we see on Michelangelo’s Moses and which led “coupled with the notion of Satan’s horns, to the anti-semitic belief that Jews have horns” (Jewish Study Bible. p.182)
So many things to discuss. However, let us go to that passage in 34 when God tells Moses to go back up Sinai to carve a second set of tablets in order to replace the ones he broke when seeing the calf god. Moses is instructed to go alone and in the process described in 34, renews the Covenant and we also see a formula of God’s attributes that reappear in our Shabbat Torah service. Moses looses his temper and throws down the first set of tablets and gets a second chance.
I was thinking a bit about this chapter. How many of us get a second chance? How many of us make that big mistake, or have a life situation change our life and present challenges that we never thought we could overcome? Maybe this story from Exodus can serve as a symbol of what Judaism can teach us about the give and take of life. If Moses was given a second chance, why not each of us? If Moses is a symbol of human life, the ups and down, the challenges to leadership and the search for some “promised land” of the self and soul, then why not each of us? We know instances of people who, seemingly at the depths of depression and travail, overcame hardship and gave themselves that “second chance”. Moses, you will notice, is called to up the mountain again by himself. Yes, he had a community. But, he had to make that climb himself, he had to confront God and God’s anger at the stiff-necked people and their actions. It took time. Yet, Moses, as many of us, emerged radiant, enlightened and, in a sense, changed. The text can teach us here that we can be open to our second chances, that life is a constant unfolding and that we need always need to be open to the possible.
Rabbi Richard F Address