“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tisa 5781

“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tisa 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Hope that Emerges from Tragedy

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Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

Hope that Emerges from Tragedy

History teaches that out of tragedy rises strength and opportunity. 

A prime example is World War II, one of the worst disasters in history. As a son and son-in-law of survivors, our families were decimated, as well as 75 million people who were killed during that time.

Yet in the post-World War II era, new technologies that had been developed during wartime – in addition to the improvement of existing ones – flourished in various industries across the United States and the world, helping make that time period one of the best on record for productivity and economic growth. 

Another example comes from nature. 

After a fire sweeps through a forest and consumes the area’s vegetation, the forest regenerates with a high degree of regrowth. Fascinatingly, studies show that second-growth forests can look very different from what they replaced.

The common narrative is that in the aftermath of tragedy, whether man-made or natural, there is a change, often positive, within the reality of life as we’ve known it.

So there will definitely be changes as we exit this pandemic. 

There will be changes in the way we communicate, in the way that our communities and government are organized, and so much more.

It may be too early to predict with precision what those changes will be, but changes are on the way.

This idea that out of tragedy comes opportunity and hope is also seen in our Torah portion, Parshat Ki Tisa, where we read about the tragic sin of the golden calf.

The Jewish people, at the height of revelation, fall into an idolatrous stupor and fashion a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6).

But out of the chaos and tragedy of this moment arises a new reality, one containing new opportunities for the Jewish people.

Out of the tragedy of the golden calf incident, the institution of the Mishkan and the Mikdash are born (Rashi to Exodus 31:18); the physical structure through which the Jewish people are able to communicate and engage with God in the way that they need.

And also born out of the tragedy of the golden calf is a new paradigm for the role of the Jewish people in the development of the Torah.

As a result of this change, the Torah is no longer just a written law. The Torah now also contains an oral tradition, one in which the Jewish people play an active role (Talmud, Gittin 60b on Exodus 34:27).

The Jewish people are no longer just the guardians of the Torah; they are empowered to become its parchment by becoming its living interpreters, developers  and teachers.

Parshat Ki Tisa teaches us that there is a horizon of hope for when this pandemic ends.

It reminds us that from forest fires comes new natural growth, and even from the deepest tragedy or war or pandemic comes renewed – and perhaps even improved – existence.

So, what will our post-pandemic world look like?

Much of it depends on us.

The challenge that the Jewish people faced after the golden calf – and the challenge that we face now – is to seize new opportunities and lessons we have learned in order to help improve society, better ourselves and to become more invested in the world around us.

Please God, may we succeed in this test of history.

Shabbat Shalom.

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