Parashat Ki Tisa // “When You Take a Census”

- ה ק ם -

Why do mercy and forgiveness take precedence over justice?

Moses receives the Torah as the Israelites simultaneously build the Golden Calf

“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us…And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These bethy gods, O Israel” Exodus 32:4

  • God commands Moses to climb down Mount Sinai because the Israelites have started worshiping the Golden Calf. God is enraged and plans to punish Israel and strip them of his promises. Moses – who is torn between his love of God and the Torah, on the one hand, and his love for the Israelites, on the other – begs God to have mercy on them. Moses argues that the Torah needs the Israelites to fulfill it. He therefore asks that they be given another chance. 
  • The divine message is that forgiveness precedes justice. When Moses describes Israel as a “stiff – necked” people (see Exodus 34:9), he means that their stubbornness can be channeled positively. The Israelites could also cling steadfastly to God under adverse circumstances – and they therefore deserve to be forgiven.

Moses sees the Golden Calf and smashes the Tablets of the Law

“And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables…And he said, It is not the voice of them thatshout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.” Exodus 32:15 – 19

  • The smashing of the Tablets is Moses’ greatest act because it allows the Israelites to repair their misdoings and renew their covenant with God. Rupture lays the foundation for betterment. It motivates us to reflect on our actions and allow the light to come in. 

Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “When You Take a Census”

  • Light and the divine presence cannot dwell in places that are quantifiable. Measurement is a trait of physical objects; if we do not detach from these items, we will always remain spiritually empty. We must focus on things that are immeasurable, such as the divine presence, altruism, love, and spiritual light.
  • Each of us must try to receive the Torah every day of our lives, so that we can relive the moment we had direct contact with our Creator.
  • We must try to defeat our material proclivities and vices and overcome our own personal Golden Calf. This can only happen if we open our hearts to the light and share it with others.
  • The incident of the Golden Calf teaches us that forgiveness goes beyond the letter of the law. God favors mercy and pardon over enforcing divine justice. 
  • Thanks to Moses smashing the Tablets, the Israelites can begin the healing process and merit their salvation. Rupture can serve as an impetus for improvement because it drives us to act, correct ourselves, and open our hearts.  
  • Rupture is a precondition for repair. The Golden Calf is a spiritual decline that comes along with the possibility of repentance. Only once we correct our actions can we truly be deserving of God’s grace.

Mercy is the empathy that inspires support for those in need.