Parshat Ki Tissa: Devastation vs. Celebration

This is a great time of year for a sports enthusiast. First of all, baseball spring training has begun. Basketball and hockey are beginning their most intense stage of the regular season. Football conversation abounds with all the hoopla concerning where college players will be drafted by the National Football League. Although many of us enjoy sports from an athletic perspective, we need to remember that sport is also big business. Such business inevitably involves trading or releasing athletes from their respective teams. No matter how successful an athlete, if he (or she) no longer benefits the team (skillfully or financially) that athlete is out. At times, the business of sports seems quite draconian; there is definitely a what have you done for me lately  mantra hovering over every athlete and every executive decision maker.

 That what have you done for me lately mantra may apply to the Israelites in the desert; but it does not apply to the ultimate decisions of God or Moses. The people generally expect constant, immediate gratification, and there are certainly moments when the Torah conveys how God and Moses react likewise. Ultimately however, both God and Moses acknowledge how the people require much more time-and patience-in adjusting to their new lifestyle. Consequently, when we review the entire history of these desert, former slave Israelites, we review a history which is not black or white. We find moments to celebrate as well as moments to lament.

 Such is the case with the portions in the Book of Exodus . We share in both the joy of a new Israel celebrating its freedom, and in its incessant complaints about having to labor for food. In the two previous portions we shared in the joys of building a Tabernacle ; yet in this week’s portion of Ki Tissa we are devastated by the Golden Calf. For each moment of simha , there is an accompanying moment of discouragement.

 What we need to bear in mind is this: Throughout the journey in the desert and in the subsequent Land of Israel, we will bear witness to both progress and setback. Although we tend to focus on the negative ( as does the Torah many times ), we have to celebrate those select moments – brief as they may be – when Israel comes together as a proud nation.

 The above thoughts came to mind following last night’s marvelous Purim celebration. I make no secret about the American Jewish community being in peril. Our numbers of actively, identifiable Jews continues to shrink. Our synagogues and Jewish institutions bear the consequences of contemporary realities. However, moments like our Purim celebration remind us to be optimists. Last night we celebrated Purim as a true, multi-generational community. After our Hebrew School students baked hamentaschen and played some Purim games, we all came together for a Purim meal and Megillah reading. Last night was about pure celebration, about defying Haman and all future Jew-killers who have tried to annihilate our people and our culture. In a more global sense, we need to remind ourselves how even with concern for the future of American Jewry, we share cherished moments of ecstasy, when the Jewish community genuinely comes together and makes itself present and accounted for.

Realistically, there will be more occasions to lament the gradual demise of the greater Jewish community. Yet, in spite of the trends, I still hope that we will continue to share festive occasions like Purim, to remind ourselves that there is still much joy which lies ahead for Am Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Klayman