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Ki Tisa

Ki Tisa

The Pursuit of Happiness Throughout Parshat Ki-Tissa

Published on Friday April 2nd, 2021

This week’s parsha continues to delve on the description of the sanctuary, which began in previous weeks. But the story is interrupted by the recounting of several critical episodes in the history of the Jewish People.

Our text describes the gift of the tables of the Law, followed by the tragic episode of the golden calf. This disastrous event caused the shattering of the first original law tablets, which were replaced by other tables on the day of Yom Kippur. However, these two sets of tables are different, and observing their differences can help us understand what Hashem expects from us and unravel profound insights into human nature.

Let's take a look at the first tables. The text tells us: "And these tables were the work of God. And the writing engraved on the tables was the writing of God "(Exodus 32:16). It is, in fact, a gift bestowed by the Lord upon men, a material gift whose conception was entirely divine.

On the other hand, the second tables of the law are different. "Cut yourself two tables of stone similar to the preceding ones: and I will engrave on these tables the words that were written on the first tables, which you broke" (Exodus 34.1). This time, the structure was assembled by man, and the writing was written by God.

Rav J. Sacks (Covenant and Conversation) observes one might tend to believe that the first tables had greater impact and holiness than the latter, they were the exclusive work of God’s hand. And yet, clearly, because of our faults, the first tables completely disappeared from the world, while the second set of tables enjoyed much longer longevity.

This difference prompts us to question human nature and reflect on the essence of our spiritual work.

Spiritual life is syncopated by different rhythms and milestones. Man is occasionally carried away by moments of overwhelming spiritual elation, feeling a closeness to God, and experiencing events beyond his own reason. He feels a call that seems to come from Heaven. Our Sages refer to these moments as "awakening from above", the transmission of a heavenly message to man, directly confronting him with divine transcendence. This is exactly what the Bnei Israel experienced in Egypt, during the ten plagues, and at the splitting of the sea.

Beyond these events which are few and far between, man is escorted by God in a more discreet fashion, and it is up to him to be more proactive in his spiritual journey. This is called the "awakening from below" where it is up to the man to act and take the initiative for his own growth and elevation.  He must maintain the covenant that connects him to his Creator through constant and regular effort, overcome the coarseness of materiality and create a space for Hashem to dwell in his life.

This "inner awakening", this human movement enticing a man to face himself and God, is precisely the greatest development a man can aspire to. He thus comes to truly know himself; he is appalled by his latent capacities, and marvels at the progress he is able to accomplish during his life.

The shattering of the first tables of the law is a lesson the Torah teaches us: transcendent manifestations of providence challenge the spirit, but they have no impact and no tomorrow if they are not reciprocated by man’s personal effort.  A man may witness miracles, but nothing will change for him in the long run, if he dismisses personal effort and fails to reinforce his desire to come closer to God.

On the other hand, when man cooperates with God and invests himself in his spiritual growth, he makes significant everlasting changes. The Sages of the Midrash relate the following psalm written by King David to Moshe Rabbeinu: "It is good that I have toiled to better learn your laws" (Psalm 119, 71). When a man receives a present effortlessly, he naturally tends to underestimate it, but when he achieves even a modest success, preceded by regular effort, he experiences deep inner joy and happiness.

Thus, the second tables of the law were received, following three stages of 40 days on Mount Sinai. They were written on a man-made structure and thus, they embody the spiritual blueprint that men are expected to follow. Man is not satisfied to receive free and undeserved gifts. When he participates voluntarily towards achieving spiritual growth, when he invests the totality of his being in this venture, he emerges deeply transformed. So, not surprisingly, "the skin on Moses' face shone" (34.29) As Rav E. Munk says in the Way of the Torah "Whoever seeks the truth in the realm of spirituality attracts a ray of divine light that illuminates his face".

This is also one of the reasons for the sanctity of Purim and for the joy that engulfs not only this festival but the entire month of Adar. Up until then, the children of Israel had received the written Torah. But tradition points out that this reception was "forced upon" them by God. On Purim, the Bnei Israel "kiyemu ve kiblu" "they voluntarily applied and accepted" not only the written Torah but also the oral Torah, which integrates this ideal of spiritual co-construction between Hashem and His children.

May we, with the help of Hashem, become fully aware of the gems concealed within each and every one of us. May everyone feels empowered to operate at his optimum level and may we all manifest more light and happiness in our lives and radiate it to the entire world!

Jérome TOUBOUL - © Torah-Box Account

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