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Having an Antidote on Hand

03/09/2023 01:40:41 PM


As we read Parshat Ki Tisa this week, we find ourselves in an interesting section of our Torah. For the past couple of parshiyot, we’ve read the instruction God gives Moses for the building of the portable sanctuary and the clothing the priests wear while officiating the tabernacle service. Moses records the dimensions of the furnishings and the colors of the threads of the curtains/walls, and all of the numerous minutiae for each and every sacred vestment of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan. It’s a lengthy list of details and takes up two portions of our Torah reading cycle. But recording these details for construction and assembly just once is apparently not enough because we get all the details for every furnishing and sacred vestment again in the final parshiyot of the Book of Exodus when they are eventually constructed and crafted. Commentators wonder, why does the Torah present these detailed descriptions twice?

Moreover, as Moses stands on top of Mount Sinai receiving these instructions from God, the text of the Torah has shifted from the narrative story of creation, the patriarchs, slavery and the exodus, towards a more legislative text. With the giving of the Ten Commandments, the reader encounters a slew of moral and civil law as the narrative stalls on Mount Sinai. Interestingly, the narrative won’t really pick up until the Book of Numbers! The exception to this is the interruption of narrative between the giving of the instructions for the Msihkan and the same details of the construction of the Mishkan, where the Torah presents the narrative of the sin of the Golden Calf. What does this story of the Israelites abandoning God for a golden idol have to do with the construction of the Mishkan?

Our sages posit that the answer to these two questions has to do with the purpose of the Mishkan and the needs of the people. Through the sin of the Golden Calf, the Israelites signal that they need some sort of physical outlet for their spirituality. However, instead of an appropriate outlet for their spirituality that is directed towards God, they build a golden idol. Our commentators suggest that anticipating this need of the Israelites, God gave the instructions of the Mishkan to Moses as an antidote/remedy for their sin, so that the Israelites will have an appropriate recourse for their actions. In other words, the story of the construction of the Mishkan is the more appropriate outlet of the Israelites' needs for physical ritual than the construction of a Golden Calf. Thus the two elements of the Torah – the construction of the Mishkan and the sin of the Golden Calf – are inherently linked, and the attention to detail in the Mishkan’s construction are more preciously recorded; twice. 

In our own experiences, we can similarly reflect on how the experiences of our lives interconnect. What were the “instructions” we received that helped us navigate difficult chapters of our life? Who were the people who surrounded us that provided the remedy for when we were feeling stuck? What was the advice that we remember so thoroughly and maybe even written down more than once so that it is readily available in our lives? What were the Tabernacles that can be a remedy for our mistakes? Sometimes when we are in the thick and thin of life, we get so absorbed that we can only see the giant golden calf in front of us. If only we were able to take a little step back and see how the chapters of our lives interconnect, we can better understand how each experience can help shape our individual stories and help us steer the course. 

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784