Parashat Ki Tisa 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
People value most what they make for themselves
This week’s parashah includes a very famous story: it is the making of the golden calf by the people of Israel. Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law and deliver them to the people. Because Moses had not returned, the people asked Aaron to build them an idol that would guide them. Moses, full of wrath at seeing that the people had removed themselves from God’s path, broke the tablets of the law.
This episode was, and is, extremely controversial. Why did Moses do such a thing? The people were wrong, but to break the tablets sculpted and written by God? Was that necessary? There are those who defend Moses, and there are those who condemn him.
Almost at the end of the parashah, we are told that God said to Moses: “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered” (Sh’mot 34:1).
God asked Moses to prepare two tablets, where He would write the laws which were written on the previous ones. One may wonder why God asked Moses to carve the tablets instead of doing this Himself, as He had done before.
Rashi answers with the words “You broke the first ones, so now you will carve the second ones.” Rashi understands God’s request as a punishment for the mistake committed or, in other words, as a chance for Moses to make up for his mistake. By chiseling the new tablets himself, Moses would mend his mistake.
An Argentinian rabbi by the name of Issac Nisenboim explained God’s attitude as follows: “You broke the first tablets because you didn’t have to tire or struggle to carve them. Now, you will carve them yourself and these you will not break.” According to this explanation, God could have carved them again but didn’t want to do it, not because He wished to punish Moses but because He really understood the nature of human beings.
When people receive something for which they have not struggled, they will not value it in the same manner as they would if they had made it. Now Moses had to carve the tablets of the law by himself and, with this action, he would actually understand the work and effort involved; thus, he would never again think about breaking them.
I believe this is a very important lesson, both for parents and teachers. It is normal for parents to want to give their children the best of everything, to try to give them all they need in order to be happy. However, we often do not realize that when we give them everything on a plate, children don’t learn to appreciate things as they should, nor to make the most out of them.
This lesson is not only useful for our children, but for ourselves as well. It is unlikely that we will break that which our own hands built.
In the words of Psalm 126, which we recite on Shabbat and festivals before the Birkat Hamazon: “Those who sow with tears, will reap with songs of joy.”
Those who struggle with the sweat of their brow will be rewarded later on: they will value the fruit of their labors and enjoy it, with much happiness, thankfulness, and devotion.