Parsha Partners: Light on the Mountain (Ki Tisa)

Evening view of Ama Dablam on the way to Everest Base Camp - Nepal
Evening view of Ama Dablam on the way to Everest Base Camp - Nepal

This dual blog post was authored by Robert Perry and Aviv Siegel. Robert and Aviv started working on Parashat Ki Tisa a couple of months ago, and enjoyed working together, discussing, exchanging thoughts and ideas while finding inspiration to each create a personal work based on the Parsha.

There have been over 40 community contributors to a weekly Parsha interpretation as part of an invitation to from the Israeli Cultural Connection (ICC@JCC) to contribute to BaInyanim, the Israel community’s website in Silicon Valley. This week’s co-writing is unique and we hope to find other Israeli and American co-writers to join our community project. For more information, contact sackerman@paloaltojcc.org.

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Light is My Teacher

by Robert Perry

Robert Perry is an artist and poet, publisher and translator, and designer of books of poetry and art; he lives in Palo Alto and is a member of Congregation Kol Emeth. This poem is dedicated to Aviv Siegel, aptly named, for the light of Spring he brought to our havruta and the gift of Torah he shared with me.

See enough and write it down I tell myself writes author Joan Didion and that’s what I do because light is my teacher just as it was for Moshe Rabbeinu. As I’ve found my way up and down the mountain, wandering through the desert far more than forty years, I share with you some of what I’ve learned.

I have looked up into the sky, head back, life lessons of the utmost importance raining down upon the earth, my face now flush with the color of milk and honey.

And the voice of Moshe Rabbeinu speaks to me.

 

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light is my teacher

forty days and forty nights

on top of the mountain

for my restless

stiff-necked people chosen

for the hardest tasks

 

light is my teacher

to the full severity of compassion

so shall I lead them

and speak to them before my day is done

before we cross the river

into the land—I will teach them

to be a light among all nations

 

light is my teacher

the scarlet hand

I raised against the night

with banks of fires burning

high and deep

against my people dancing

around a golden idol

like flames circling

a cherished moon

leaving them

blind and lost

 

 

 

 

 

light is my teacher

my stone-white hand

holding the solemn silent

tablets of the Teaching

glowing throughout

the kingdom of night

churning like broken glass

around a false hope

instead of this gift of light

 

O my people Israel

be not afraid

so the light may dwell

in the sanctuary of your heart

 

light is my teacher

even in my fit of rage

hurling the tablets of the Teaching

into so many pieces

 

light is my teacher

learning to forgive

defend and comfort my people

crying out

in the wilderness

 

light is my teacher

as I crouch behind

the cleft in the rock

all the time longing to stand

before your face

in the grace

and glory of your light

 

 

 

 

 

 

light is my teacher

my face gleaming

upon my return from

the mountain

with the Teaching

the bliss

at being a vessel

of your love

 

light is my teacher

I am a mere drop of light floating

in the ocean of your radiance

infinite and vast beyond

what words can

measure or describe

you are my teacher

my light now and forever

 

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Parashat Ki Tisa

by Aviv Siegel

Aviv Siegel and his family have lived in the Bay Area since 2000. Having been a high tech entrepreneur for many years, Aviv is now pursuing Jewish Studies in the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR) in New York. He and his family are members of Peninsula Temple Beth El (PTBE) in San Mateo.

Parashat Ki Tisa is a very rich parasha and it was not easy for me to decide what to focus on. As I was reading it, I saw how the description of the relationship between God and Moshe can speak to me in a deep and personal manner.

This parasha ends the long stay of Moshe up on Mt. Sinai that lasted 40 days and 40 nights where he received the Torah and instructions from God. Just as God completes speaking with Moshe and gives him the stone tablets, we find out that the people of Israel waiting for Moshe were not idle all this time.

Unsure where their leader has gone for so long, they lost patience and ask Aaron to furnish a new God for them—and Aaron builds them the golden calf.

God is not happy with all this. Enraged, God tells Moshe of what happened and is determined to wipe out the People of Israel. God offers Moshe to replace the People of Israel with Moshe’s own descendants:

The LORD further said to Moses, “I see that this is a stiff-necked people. Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.”

Moshe responds by asking God to calm down and to not let the anger drive God’s  actions:

But Moses implored the LORD his God, saying, “Let not Your anger, O LORD, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand … Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people.”

God listens to Moshe and calms down:

And the LORD renounced the punishment God had planned to bring upon God’s people.

The people of Israel will be soon severely punished, but they will not be destroyed.

This is not the first time we see a leader imploring God to change God’s mind and be more patient and compassionate. Remember Avraham pleading and negotiating with God not to kill all people of Sodom.

For me, it is quite remarkable to see the special relationship God and Moshe have, and the greatness of Moshe. He is not tempted to have his own descendants be elevated to be God’s new people. And he knows how to speak with God in a way that God will listen and calm down.

Later in the parasha Moshe prepares the second set of stone tablets, and as God passes before him Moshe proclaims:

“The LORD! the LORD! a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and good faith, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin”

For me, this proclamation is surprising, especially after seeing what happened just a bit earlier: Didn’t we just see how God was willing to destroy the people of Israel and replace them with another people? (And we may also recall that God had a similar plan in the story of the flood in Genesis).

So how can Moshe call God slow to anger, abounding in kindness and good faith?

Is it that Moshe is just saying these things to appease God? Or is there something else?

As I was contemplating what happened here, I thought of the special relationship between God and Moshe here.

This story reminds me how I am sometimes quick to get angry, and I know all too well how easy it is for things to get out of proportion if I immediately follow my anger. I also know that if I let the anger stay inside, it will erupt at some point.

I learned that when I speak with someone who I appreciate and feel safe with—like a good friend or with my life partner—about what angers me, it really helps, even while I really want to react and do something rushed. It helps me to calm down and put things into perspective. Many a time, a good friend would also offer me different views and allow me to see I overreacted.

Isn’t this what happened here between God and Moshe?

If we look back at the first quote, God asks Moshe, “Now, let me be.” One may wonder, what does that mean? Does God need Moshe’s permission or action to let God be? Of course not.

But maybe, this is God’s way to tell Moshe “I need your help here: I am angry and planning on a harsh punishment, I need your help me see through it – let me be, hear me out.”

We can see that Moshe is wise and supportive in his response, not falling into God’s plan to make him greater, but really see what is happening and help.

This may explain Moshe’s proclamation later that God is slow to anger.

It is not that God is never angry—God is described as being angry more than once—but Moshe is saying here God is slow to anger.

One of ways to be slow to anger is for one to recognize the anger in them, to realize the need for help, to ask the help of a trusted friend or partner in working through the situation, and then to allow the kindness and compassion to emerge. This requires trust, courage, and humility.

Anger here is not negated or shunned but can be an opening to a more constructive action.

In that sense, Moshe’s proclamation is a beautiful tribute from a trusted friend who sees the truth inside and through and reminds one of their true nature. It is someone who is sensitive to what is happening within the other and is able to provide the right help at the right time, not letting their friend to continue on their path to a possible collision.

I am taking with me these contemplations from this rich parasha: how can I be slow to anger, see where I need help, ask for it, receive it, as well as being able to see and support the other wherever they are.

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Oshman Family JCC

Written by Oshman Family JCC

The OFJCC is a Jewish Community Center and a vibrant neighborhood in the heart of Silicon Valley where all are welcome. The OFJCC provides a common ground for Jewish institutions, other local groups, organizations and individuals to work, learn and play together for the betterment of the whole community. For more information, visit www.paloaltojcc.org.

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