When I was about seven years old, I wanted to be a motorcycle-man. This was way before I would dream of becoming a basketball star, a pro-snowboarder, or a brilliant mathematician (O.K. so that last one never really happened). At the tender age of seven, all I wanted was to be a motorcycle man. But even I knew that at that point in my life I couldn’t actually go out and buy a motorcycle (the money part never crossed my mind, it was simply that I was too young to get a motorcycle license). What could I do besides making loud motorcycle noises, and running around the house holding imaginary handlebars?

To this day I regret this infantile stupidity of mine, but I decided that to live the life of the true motorcycle-man I needed glasses. Didn’t all the motorcycle-mans wear sunglasses? So I told my parents I couldn’t see well, and they brought me to an eye doctor. I sat down in that chair and lied about everything he showed me. When he showed me a dog, I promptly told him it was UPS truck. When the cat was a refrigerator, the fire truck a baseball, and the number 3 a house, the doctor was ready to prescribe me a pair of glasses (with a very low prescription because I had the distinct feeling he didn’t trust me 100%)!

The problem was that I was a pretty rough-and-tough kid back then, as all motorcycle-men in training should be, and I kept breaking my glasses. After I broke three pairs in rapid succession, my parents came up with the ultimate solution – they bought me one of those Made in Geekland, three inches of solid plastic glasses, the ones where the manufacturer actually offer to pays off your mortgage if they break. I couldn’t wear those, they may have been high on the function index, but the fashion quotient of those glasses would have left me as the biggest loser in my class, far ahead of the competition. So I didn’t wear glasses for five years, out of fear of those big plastic representations of everything evil and wrong. I may have retained my personal “coolness,” an all-important commodity at that age, but I didn’t retain the 20/20 vision I had had before this whole mess; as a matter of fact my eyesight kept slipping lower and lower. 

When my family moved to Israel, I ensured that my plastic glasses be left as a souvenir to whoever moved in to our old home. Yet I still waited until about a year and a half before summoning up the courage to ask my parents for a new pair of glasses, hoping and praying that they forgot about the Pernicious Plastic Plan. Of course, they had long forgotten, and readily offered to buy me a new pair.

I will never forget that crisp, November night, when I walked out of the opticians shop into the bustle of downtown Jerusalem. I COULD SEE! I suddenly realized that the Jerusalem stone covering all the buildings was beautifully shaped and faceted, not just a big flat white slab. I could see people passing me, not just shapes that were at best either definable as male or female! I could read signs on stores, on street corners, and bus stops. The whole world was a different place.

For the next few days all I could think of was how much I could see! Everywhere I went, I just looked around and reveled in the details, the freckles, the individual hairs, the numbers on someone else’s watch, the grooves between the tiles. I was floating around in vision heaven. The ironic aspect of the situation was that I wasn’t seeing anything new, I was simply seeing everything a whole lot better. If only I could still have that feeling of marvel every time I walk outdoors, my life would be significantly different.

Our goal in Judaism is to experience that kind of wonderment constantly. In order to maintain a zest and enthusiasm for our experience of Judaism we must always look for new ways to look at it. As we embrace a new practice, prayer, or study it usually brings with it an excitement. However, over time, the excitement begins to wane and the deed loses its significance.

In Deuteronomy, Moshe tells the Jewish people, “This day, the Lord, your God, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes and ordinances (Deut. 26:16)”. The Medrash Tanchuma wonders about this wording as G-d actually commanded the Jews to fulfill the statutes of the Torah many years before. Moshe’s speech in Deuteronomy was given right before he dies, forty years after the Torah was given! But the Medrash explains, “Every day, you shall regard the commandments as if they are brand new, as though you are just today being commanded regarding them!” Every day we are enjoined to find a way to view the Torah as with the excitement and freshness of someone wearing glasses for the first time after years without.

Furthermore, the Torah compares the Jewish people to the moon. This is because we have to find ways to renew ourselves even after we wane, just as the moon waxes after it wanes. If we find something becoming trite, uninspiring, or vapid, we need to look for new details, something that was there all along, but which we simply weren’t seeing, and use it to instill new meaning, excitement, and life into our spiritual endeavors.

For example, if we have been saying a particular prayer daily for quite a while, and it doesn’t pull at us the way it used to, we need to research that prayer and find some deeper level of meaning within it, which would cause us to be once again inspired while praying. Or, if we don’t get as much pleasure out of out Torah study as we used to, maybe we should find a new topic that we are excited about. Just as we need to consistently inject excitement into our marriages, careers, and friendships if we want them to thrive, so too we need to be able to find newness in our relationship with G-d and the Torah if we want to foster its growth.

If we constantly look for new details, new subtleties, and new perspectives, we can truly live our lives with a constant feeling of I CAN SEE!

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s Pasha, Ki Tisa, tells of one of the darkest moments in the Jewish people’s history, the serving of the Golden Calf. Many questions abound, with the most pressing: how could they fall to such a low point a mere 40 days after seeing G-d reveal Himself? Let us focus on another question, and through that we can bring some clarity to this dismal event in Jewish history.

When Moshe saw the people serving the Golden Calf, he took the tablets he was holding and dashed them to the ground. Why? Granted, the Jews weren’t ready or deserving of them, but why take tablets with G-d’s writing on them and destroy them? Wouldn’t that be analogous to a rabbi whose congregation is going astray, taking the Sefer Torah out of the ark and burning it?

The third of Maimonides Principles of Faith states, “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, is not physical and is not affected by physical phenomena, and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him.” This is one of the hardest principles for human beings to relate to, because everything we see, feel, and relate to is physical. The idea of G-d being totally divorced from physicality is something we struggle to comprehend.

This challenge is what drove the Jews to worship the Golden Calf. They weren’t trying to serve another G-d, a different G-d, but rather were trying to find a way to capture some of G-d’s essence in a physical being. That is why after creating the golden calf, they proclaimed, “This is your G-d, Israel!” They weren’t refering to a new god, rather they saw this as the G-d of Israel, the one who took them out of Egypt, but in a tangible physical package. They wanted a concrete, corporeal edifice that would rule the physical world. But, of course, this defeats the reality of G-d, and the purpose of man. This was an attempt to bring G-d down into the physical lower world, rather than trying to climb from the physical world to the loftier spiritual world.

When Moshe came down the mountain, he immediately ascertained the people’s mistake. To prove it to them in the strongest terms, he took the tablets and dashed them to the ground. This was his way of showing the people that real holiness, all of which emanates from G-d, is not physical, and can’t be bound by the physical. Even the tablets with G-d’s own writing can be destroyed because they have no inherent spirituality. The only spirituality they have is when it is infused with G-dliness, but in and of themselves, they have nothing.

Furthermore, Moshe was afraid that if he were to destroy the calf but leave the tablets intact, the people would transfer their mistaken ideology, and try to put G-dly powers and holiness into the tablets. Thus, it was imperative that Moshe destroy the tablets for the dual purpose of not leaving the Jews a stumbling block and teaching them that nothing physical has inherent spirituality. To this day, that message still resonates, reminding us not to give powers to anything physical, not money, good looks, or physical strength. On Wall Street, money is worshipped, in a gym, muscles are venerated, and in Hollywood good looks are divine, but in the Jewish home, we serve G-d and G-d alone!

Parsha Summary

This week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, begins with G-d commanding the Jews to take a census by having each Jew donate a half-shekel, and then counting all the coins. This teaches us that we are never whole until we join with other Jews. Then we are instructed to make a laver (a receptacle that holds water and has faucets used for washing) for the temple, so that the Kohanim can wash themselves before going in to serve in the Temple. We can relate to this by remembering that service of G-d is sacred, and there should be both a mental and physical sanctification before beginning services. This translates into not rushing into prayers with our minds still on our business or our hands greasy from that pastrami sandwich we just had for lunch!

 Next, we are commanded to make a special anointing oil used to consecrate vessels and Kohanim for temple service. We are also told to make a unique incense that was burned in the Tabernacle twice daily on its own dedicated golden altar. Both the oil and incense were not allowed to be made for laymen’s purposes.

Now the Torah focuses on the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle. Ha-shem commands Moshe to take Bezalel and Oholiav as assistants to aid him in building the Mishkan and in making the priestly vestments. After that, the Torah repeats the Mitzvah of keeping Shabbos. The Sages learn from the juxtaposition of these two ideas that one cannot desecrate Shabbos even for the purposes of building the Mishkan. They also learn that the actions we are not allowed to do on Shabbos are related to the types of labor involved in building the Tabernalce, which the Sages delineated as the 39 Categories of Work.

Finally, the Parsha turns to one of the darkest moments in Jewish history. Moshe ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets, and tells the Jews he will be back in forty days. The Jews miscalculate when the forty days ended and, when Moshe did not return, they assume him dead. In a state of panic, confusion, chaos, and fear, the Jews build the golden calf and worship it. Moshe comes down from the mountain, sees the wanton sinning of the people (which had degenerated from idolatry to other sins, such as immorality) and dashes the tablets to the ground.

He then forces the Jews to drink from water containing the ground up golden calf, which causes those who served the calf to die. There is a lengthy dialogue between Ha-shem and Moshe in which Moshe pleads on behalf of the Jewish people that Ha-shem should forgive them, which in the end He does. Moshe moves his tent away from the camp, and proclaims that those who want the word of G-d should come to him.

Soon after, Moses ascends the mountain once again and this time G-d tells him to carve the second set of tablets. G-d also teaches Moshe a special prayer called the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which will never return empty from before G-d, and tells him to teach it to the people (it is the focal part of our prayers on fast days, and especially the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur).

G-d renews His covenant with the Jews and, finally, on the first Yom Kippur ever, G-d gives His full forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf, and Moshe descends with the second set of tablets. After having spent 120 days on Sinai (40 getting the first tablets, 40 in dialogue to get level one forgiveness, and 40 to get the second tablets and full forgiveness), Moshe came down with such a bright radiance that people couldn’t look at him. He had to make himself a special mask to wear when he was not teaching the Jews. That’s all Folks!!!

Quote of the Week: To have more does not mean to be more.

The goal is not to have, but to be –

Not to own, but to give-

Not to control, but to share-. –R.A.J. H.

Random Fact of the Week: The average reader can read 275 words per minute.

Funny Line of the Week: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Have a Wondrous Shabbos!

R’ Leiby Burnham

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