Food For the Soul
Picking Up The Pieces
The Parshah Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) tells the story of the Golden Calf, the worst national sin in the history of the Jewish people. How humiliating to the Jews! Just weeks after the greatest revelation of all time, when they saw and heard G-d up front and personal, they go and bow down to a cow?! How fickle can you get? But the Torah is unflinchingly honest and records this most unflattering moment of ours in all its gory detail. Why?
Perhaps the very important lessons we need to draw from this embarrassing episode are, firstly, that people do sin, human beings do make mistakes, and even inspired Jews who saw the divine with their own eyes can mess up — badly. And, secondly, that even afterwards there is still hope, no matter what.
In the very same Parshah we read how G-d tells Moses to carve a second set of tablets, to replace the first set he smashed when he came down the mountain and was shocked by what the Jews were up to. The Torah does not intend to diminish our respect for that generation, but rather to help us understand human frailty, our moral weakness and the reality of relationships, spiritual or otherwise.
G-d gave us a perfect Torah. The tablets were hand-made by G-d, pure and sacred, and then we messed up. So is it all over? Is there really no hope now? Are we beyond redemption? After all, what could possibly be worse than idolatry? We broke the first two commandments and the tablets were shattered into smithereens because we were no longer worthy to have them. It was the ultimate infidelity.
Torah teaches that all is not lost. As bad as it was — and it was bad — it is possible for man to repair the damage. Moses will make new tablets. They won’t be quite the same as G-d’s, but there will be Tablets nonetheless. We can pick up the pieces.
Whether it’s our relationships with G-d, our marriage partners, our kids or our colleagues, we can make amends and repair the damage. If the Jews could recover from the Golden Calf, our own challenges are small indeed.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Everything is in G-d’s hands
In explaining how the [Shabbat] candles’ light causes peace and harmony, our sages use the expression, “So that people won’t stumble on wood or stone,” a scenario that could cause frustration and friction. This expression contains an additional and deeper message. Wood and stone are often used in the Torah as code words for idols and idolatry. The Torah mocks the absurd practice of taking such inanimate objects and worshipping them as if they had power of their own.
While we may be less exposed to this form of idol worship, we can still fall into the trap of attributing power and influence to an entity other than G-d. We may assume that we are in control of our success or destiny. We may feel dependent on the good graces of a boss, government body or even nature. All these are forms of idol worship… For at its essence, idolatry is the notion that there is another power separate from G-d, that there’s a place outside of His influence. In truth, everything is completely in G-d’s hands…
From an article by Chabad.org contributor Esther Vilenkin
Mind Over Matter
Ridding Ourselves of the “Slave Mentality”
Of those who participated in the sin of the Golden Calf, Chabad.org contributor Hanna Perlberger writes: “It is too easy to dismiss those who participated as being the riff-raff that tagged along with the Jewish people when they left Egypt, so that we can keep our moral outrage intact and assume we are invincible. But this train of thought doesn’t help us deal with the inevitable mistakes and failures we incur along the way. Of course, some of us would rather blame our genes or the ‘devil who made us do it,’ and not take personal responsibility to change. The Torah teaches us, however, that this kind of thinking is part of the ‘slave mentality’ that we needed to free ourselves from when we were redeemed from Egypt. You do not have to fall unwitting prey to the internal and external forces that undermine and sabotage your real goals. The point is to learn them for ourselves—and then consciously use them for our own good. When you understand these sources of influence, you can deliberately create the environment, the social network, the physical surroundings, the activities and partners that are healthy, that support and reinforce your goals and aspirations. Take heart, for these are learnable skills. Now go and learn them.”
The Tablets and Moshiach
First there was an era of manifest G-dliness. This is the period from the time of the giving of the Torah up to the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem). This era corresponds to the quality of the first tablets [at Sinai].
Israel’s sins caused the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the subsequent galut, the exile of Israel from the Holy Land and its dispersion throughout the world. This period of the present galut, a terrible era marked by both physical suffering and a tremendous degradation and loss of spirituality, corresponds to the breaking of the tablets. The third and final stage, which follows as a result of the galut-period, will be when the Jewish people will merit the greatest spiritual elevation that will last forever and comes about with the ultimate and complete redemption by Moshiach, speedily in our days.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
The Coins Shone
Rabbi Gavriel—a disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the “Alter Rebbe”)–and his wife, Chana Rivka, had been married for twenty-five years, but were childless. Rabbi Gavriel had been a prosperous merchant in Vitebsk, but hard times and persecution had destroyed Gavriel’s fortune. The Alter Rebbe was at that time trying to arrange for the release of some Jewish prisoners. Large sums of ransom money were needed, which the Rebbe attempted to raise amongst his followers.
Gavriel was “estimated” as being able to donate a certain sum—but he could not; he was heart-broken at not being able to participate in the great commandment of Redemption of Captives (Pidyon Shevuyim) to the extent expected of him.
On learning of her husband’s distress, his wife sold her pearls and jewelry for the required sum of money. She then scoured and polished the coins till they sparkled, and with a heartfelt prayer that their fortune should also begin to shine, she packed up the coins and gave them to Gavriel to bring to the Rebbe.
When he came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Gavriel placed the package in front of the Rebbe on the table. At the Rebbe’s request he opened the package; the coins shone with an extraordinary brilliance. The Rebbe became pensive, lost in thought for a few moments. Then he said, “Of all the gold, silver and copper which the Jews gave to build the Tabernacle (the desert sanctuary) nothing shone but the brass-laver and its stand. (These were made from the copper cosmetic mirrors which the Jewish women had selflessly and joyously given to the sanctuary).”Tell me,” continued the Rebbe, “where did you get these coins?” Gavriel told the Rebbe of his plight and how his wife Chana Rivka had raised the money.
The Rebbe rested his head on his hand, and was lost for a long while in profound thought. Then, raising his head, he blessed Gavriel and his wife with children, long years, riches and extraordinary grace. He told Reb Gavriel to close his business in Vitebsk and to deal with diamonds and precious stones. The blessing was wholly fulfilled. Gavriel “Nossay Cheyn” (the ‘graceful’)–as he came to be called—became a wealthy man and the father of sons and daughters. He died at the age of 110 years and was out-lived by his wife by two years!
The “coins of charity” (material or spiritual charity) may be the same as ordinary coins in number and in value, but when the commandment is done with self-sacrifice—yet with joy—it acquires an inestimably greater value, and shines with a brilliance that illuminates one’s whole life.
Rabbi Yitschak Meir Kagan