KI SISA (Exodus, 30:11-34:35) — “Cut Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning”

G-d was angry. 

It was the greatest communal sin in Jewish history.  Fearing that Moses wasn’t coming back from Mt. Sinai, the Israelites replaced him with a Golden Calf.  Idol worship was a violation of the Second Commandment, given a mere forty days before.  G-d was prepared to annihilate them all, and to establish a new nation, starting fresh with Moses. 

Moses, too, was angry.  He descended the mountain with two stone Tablets, inscribed with the Ten Commandments.  When he saw the orgy first-hand, he smashed the Tablets on the ground; the nation didn’t deserve them. 

Now came the hard part. …Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go back up to G-d and try to gain forgiveness for your crime.” (Exodus, 32:30) 

The Torah goes on to describe the dialogue between Moses and G-d.  Moses begged G-d to forgive the Nation.  He also requested that he be permitted to learn the divine essence of G-d.  

In the end, it all appears to have been pretty simple: 

G-d said to Moses, “Cut two stone Tablets like the first ones. I will write on those Tablets the same words that were on the original Tablets that you broke…Climb Mount Sinai in the morning, and wait for Me on the mountain.”  G-d revealed Himself in a cloud…and (Moses) called out in G-d’s Name…G-d passed before him and proclaimed, “G-d, G-d, a merciful and kind G-d, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth; He remembers kindness for thousands (of generations), forgiving sin, rebellion and error, and cleanses…” (Ibid, 34:1,2,5-7) 

The above phrase, known as the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy,” forms a major part of the pre-Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur liturgy.  According to the Talmud, (Rosh Hashanah 17b), G-d was teaching Moses how to achieve forgiveness for Israel when we sin.  “Whenever Israel sins,” He said, “let them recite these verses, and I will forgive them.” 

Sounds pretty easy.  Too easy.  Is that all it takes to be forgiven for sinning?  Did you worship idols and rebel against G-d today?  Maybe a little murder and adultery while you’re at it?  No Problem!  Take two Tablets, say thirteen attributes and a few “Hail Moses-es” and call me in the morning! You’re all set!  All is forgiven! 

Is that all that is necessary? Does G-d REALLY mean that all we have to do, as he said to Moses, is “recite these verses, and I will forgive them?!!”  Is that what Judaism is all about?! Do whatever you want, and then say a few verses and then everything is okay?!  Sounds like another religion! 

I believe that the answer to this question may be found in the Mechilta. At the Red Sea, we sang, “This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him.” (Ibid, 14:2) 

Abba Shaul interprets this verse as an obligation to emulate G-d.  Just as He is “merciful and kind,” so too must we be.  Just as He is “slow to anger,” so too must we be. 

The reason we read and re-read the “Thirteen Attributes of G-d’s Mercy” on Yom Kippur is NOT to serve as a magical formula to automatically absolve us from responsibility for our actions.  Rather, it is to teach us how to be G-dly.  

We have to learn to be like G-d.  We are asking Him to overlook our shortcomings; we’re asking Him to be patient with us.  G-d has a question for US: “You want to be treated kindly?  How kind are YOU?  You want Me to be compassionate? How’s YOUR compassion toward others?  How patient are YOU when someone wrongs you?” 

If you want kindness, learn to be kind.  If you want forgiveness, learn to forgive.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives 

“Fool’s Gold” (2010)

“The statistics linking smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and burn marks on furniture are inconclusive.”

“Seat belts are too restrictive. Many people have died because they couldn’t get out of their cars quickly enough.”

“I’m only going to taste one tiny sliver of this Double-Decadent Chocolate Cream Pie…”

“Honest, Mom, It’s only a date… ”

“Marijuana is NOT addictive! It’s not as if it will lead to taking something dangerous …”

“I don’t need to hire a Mohel. I can do it myself. I’ve watched it being done dozens of times…”

Do we really believe the lies we tell ourselves? …

Read more.

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 “Who WAS That Masked Man?” (2009)

 It was to be the very first Yom Kippur.   Moses was returning from the summit of Mount Sinai. He was carrying in his hands two blocks of sapphire.

 This was his second such journey. Last time Moses came down the mountain carrying stone blocks he was dismayed by what he saw… He discovered his People dancing around a Golden Calf…Moses smashed the Tablets; his People weren’t ready for them.

Now Moses was bringing a new set of Tablets. G-d had accepted Moses’ prayers for forgiveness for His People. Every year we commemorate that day as Yom Kippur, a day when G-d is prepared to forgive his People for their shortcomings.

 Yes, Moses was back. He had returned to his nation… But something was different… it was… his face!…

 Read more.

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“Hot Cash” (2008)

 The Children of Israel sinned.  They sinned egregiously.  They melted their gold and formed it into a statue of a calf.  They danced around that statue, referring to it as their god who had taken them out of Egypt.  This was a terrible sin.  G-d almost wiped out the entire nation as a punishment.

 They needed to atone for their sin…

 Simply put, the Israelites sinned against G-d by melting their gold into an idol.  They atoned for this sin by melting their silver into a Temple for G-d.

 …This is what they must give …a half-shekel… 

 There were certain commandments that Moses didn’t fully understand.  The Half Shekel was one of them.  The Torah says …This is what they must give …a half shekel… The Talmud says that G-d showed Moses a fiery half-shekel coin, and said, “It should be like this.”

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin asked why Moses was so confused.  Why did he need to see what a half-shekel looked like?  Had he never seen such a coin before?  And why did G-d show him a half-shekel of fire?  Wouldn’t a regular silver coin have sufficed to clarify the requirement?

 … Moses knew quite well what a silver coin looked like; that wasn’t his question… 

Read more.

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“‘Los ANGELES’ (‘City of ANGELS’) or San Francisco?” (2004)

 .. It is very important to defer to the protocols of the community you visit. Even angels do it for humans, and humans do it for the angels:

 “… He (Abraham) stood by them (three angels who appeared to be men) under the tree, and they ate.” (Genesis, 18:8)

 “… He (Moses) was there (Mt. Sinai/Heaven) with G-d for forty days and forty nights. He ate no bread and drank no water.” (Exodus, 34:28)

 Based upon the above two verses, the Talmud (Bava Metzia, 86b) advises us to respect local custom. Humans require food for sustenance. Angels, who are spiritual beings, do not. Yet, the angels, out of respect for Abraham, honored him by accepting his offer of food, while Moses had to adhere to the angelic way of life by engaging in a forty-day fast…

 We just read that one should follow the customs that are acceptable in the locale in which he finds himself. Does this mean that we should have one set of values in Jerusalem, Monsey and Boro Park, and a different set of values in San Francisco, New Paltz, and Massachusetts?!…

Read more.

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“How Do I Count Thee? …” (2003)

 … How did we get caught up in worshiping the Golden Calf? How could we have strayed so far from the Second Commandment …

Read more.

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“Cut Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning” (2002)

 G-d was angry… Moses said to the people, “… I will go back up to G-d and try to gain forgiveness for your crime.” …

Sounds pretty easy. Too easy. Is that all it takes to be forgiven for sinning? Did you worship idols and rebel against G-d today? Maybe a little murder and adultery while you’re at it? No Problem! Take two Tablets, say thirteen attributes and a few “Hail Moses-es” and call me in the morning! You’re all set! All is forgiven!… Is that what Judaism is all about?! Do whatever you want, and then say a few verses and then everything is okay?! Sounds like another religion!…

Read more.

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“Abs of Steel/Calves of Gold” (2001)

This week, it seems, is the “Week of the Cows.” …The Red Heifer is a Mitzvah that is, in all due respect, totally illogical…

Is there a link between the two colored cows in this week’s Torah Readings? Can we find a connection between the calf of gold and his crimson “mother?” … Is there any logical connection between the sin of bowing down to a calf-shaped molten image, and being sprinkled with a mix containing the ashes of a cow? …

 Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2015 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on February 27, 2002 at 6:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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