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Ki Tisa 5784

February 25, 2024

Rabbi Geier


BS"D || Rabbi Geier

Ki Tisa 5784

In 3 more weeks, we will have gone through Taanit Esther, the half-fast that we observe from dawn on the eve of Purim until the festival actually begins. This year, the fast is being moved up to avoid conflicting with Shabbat, so we will be fasting on Thursday, March 21st, from 5:36 am until 7:37 pm.

It's interesting how this half-fast isn't about afflicting the body or soul, like we do on Yom Kippur. The half-fast recalls those fasts before battles in the desert, where it was customary for Bnei Israel to demonstrate their trust in the Creator, relying not just on physical strength to overcome challenges.

Similarly, facing the imminent confrontation in Shushan, Persia, Queen Esther asked the Jewish people to fast to change the bloody fate that King Ahasuerus and the wicked Haman had sentenced them to, in a day that would surely be reflective amid the fast.

To change the destiny of a people required the commitment of each and every one. A commitment of body, mind, and soul. Complete commitment from individuals, regardless of any differences. Esther didn't ask certain members of the people to fast. Nor did she address the devout, the poor, or the rich specifically. It was everyone, each and every one. Even the "good people" and the not so much.

As the Masechet Kritut in the Talmud says, "Every communal fast in which the transgressors of Israel do not take part is not a valid fast, since the galbanum emitted a bad odor, and yet the Scriptures counted it among the ingredients of the incense."

What does Kritut refer to? The incense was a complex combination of 11 ingredients, of which 10 had a pleasant aroma and one, the galbanum, had an extremely unpleasant odor. Even so, this was the correct combination and what made the incense suitable for use in rituals.

All the ingredients were necessary. All members of the people were and are too.

This brings us directly to some concepts from our Torah portion.

In Ki Tisa, the need for each member of the people to contribute their half-shekel is mentioned three times, a value attainable for every member of the people, for the support of the ritual, and of the Temple years later. It didn't matter how rich or how poor or how righteous or transgressors they were, but that each gave their part. That half-shekel, which together with another half-shekel made a whole, a unity. And each whole added to another whole made up what was necessary to support the present and future of the people.

"No unpleasant-smelling ingredients" should be excluded or any "pleasant-smelling ingredients" included especially from any community. And no one should feel that they are not part of it or that they don't have to support it. We are all integral and necessary parts for things to happen; for the community to continue; for in the future our children and our children's children to continue approaching to pray at HIS house.

It is in Ki Tisa where the Israelites worship the golden calf and Moshe breaks the tablets. Moshe pleads with God to forgive him and returns with a second set of tablets.

It is also in Ki Tisa where Moshe receives the commandment about the Sabbath, an incredible gift that was bequeathed to our people in perpetuity, a visionary and far-reaching mandate that has remained fundamental in Jewish life. We sing the verses every Sabbath in our synagogues: “Veshamru Bnei Israel et haShabat…"

But in the same Torah portion, everything positive that has happened is annulled because the people want an idol, a tangible divinity among them, instead of the one they heard around Mount Sinai shrouded in a cloud.

Descending from the mountain with the first tablets, Moshe faces a changed reality, the People he dedicated his efforts to, is now worshiping a golden calf.

Anger invades him and he smashes the tablets against the rocky base of the mountain.

How things change! How quickly what we thought was already overcome, buried in a distant past, resurfaces and impacts us with its toxic effects on our lives. The life of our nation is constantly changing, it always has been, and yet, we secretly hope that some things once changed, will not return to what they once were.

This parashah contains a powerful reminder that in human life we must always expect the unexpected; sometimes because of us, for seeking idols where there are none. But sometimes situations change due to external actions and those changes surprise us, they impact us.

None of us, since October 7th of last year, needs to be reminded of this truth, because we know it was an event that changed everything, possibly forever. It was a seismic moment, an earthquake, that unleashed a wave of fear, insecurity, and despair, and a tsunami of antisemitism.

The events in Israel and Gaza have not only unleashed an incredible increase in antisemitism in the societies of many nations, but in a perverse way, have unveiled a reality that we considered on the way to overcoming. We felt comfortable in a world that seemed to have accommodated to an enjoyable reality, without surprises in what concerned the People of Israel.

It is true that there are many sectors of society that resist this cheap and ignorant attack that causes us so much harm. Unfortunately, those sectors that support us, that stand in solidarity and weep with us, are a minority and not as loud as the majority.

There are many moments every day, for almost 5 months now, when anger overwhelms us, like Moshe.

Anger is not always a bad counselor; there is healthy, necessary, and constructive anger because it is channeled. It is expressed by all those who raise their voices, appeal to strong words, artistic expression, to all the means at their disposal to clarify, to condemn the massacre of October 7th.

We, like the People of Israel in the desert, will continue walking and facing every adversity with the Ark containing "shivrei luchot" (the pieces of the tablets that Moshe smashed in the midst of his anger) and those that he later laboriously carved into stone upon returning to Mount Sinai, fulfilling the divine command.

We have every reason to break the chains that blind those with brainwashed minds and the deceived.

We have every reason to continue clamoring for the release of all hostages.

We have every reason to demand loudly that humanity as a whole condemns and definitively punishes the terrorism of Hamas and its accomplices.

Let us always try to exemplify the best of our tradition and to strengthen our communities, our people, and the society in which we live, because in its strength and cohesion always lies the hope of a future with peace.

We have three weeks to make this Taanit Esther a meaningful half-fast, of reflection and commitment. Like Queen Esther, let's twist destiny and transform reality so that we correct that in every generation there is an Amalek who wants to destroy us.

If you haven't already committed to participating in the upcoming Purim we will have together with Temple Emanu El on Saturday the 23rd at night, start thinking about your costume, and start preparing for a night in which we forget the evil to cling to the goodness, even knowing that evil is always there and hides to jump on our neck as soon as possible.

Let's celebrate the joy of Purim with extended family, as our Congregations are.

May this Shabbat be the beginning of our preparation for a month in which even as we continue to pray for the return of the hostages imprisoned in Gaza and even as we continue to mourn the loss and massacre of innocent lives, we can continue to choose "Uvacharta bachayim," "Choose life."

Let us receive Shabbat together after an intense week, to celebrate that we contribute what is necessary from our bodies, our minds, and our souls, so that, as our ancestors did, the message of the Torah prevails among us.

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