One Minute Torah: Ki Tissa 5779

It’s in the moment before the moment, that we may be most vulnerable to our own worst selves.

This week’s One Minute Torah is from the archives.

It’s in the moment before the moment, that we may be most vulnerable to our own worst selves. How many brides or grooms panic and nearly cancel on the night before the wedding? How many relationships fall apart during the first pregnancy, or during the child’s first year. How many parents have seen hysterical, pathetic tears on the night before the first day of school or the big performance? And how do you make yourself show-up on the first day after a major promotion, or the first day in a new position?

The people heard God’s voice, but overwhelmed by the intensity they sent Moses up the mountain to bring the rest of the instruction down. For forty days and nights God taught Moses the secrets and the laws of the Torah. Then suddenly, in this week’s parshah, God breaks off the recitation to send Moses scuttling back down Mt. Sinai. The people are dancing wildly before a Golden Calf.

The reader wants to scream at the Israelites: “How could you? Here?!? The mountain is still aflame with God’s presence!” But a colder voice inside asks: “And have you never thought of abandoning it all, right at the moment before your greatest fulfillment?”

A similar narrative will repeat when we get to the book of Numbers. As the people are about to enter the promised land, they believe the bad report of the scouts. They start bawling and keening, pleading to return to Egypt, and God says, “To hell with you, your corpses will drop here in the desert.” The moment before the moment, it all falls apart.

Our rabbis taught that the people carried the fragments of the shattered tablets with them, hidden in the ark of the covenant. They lay alongside the two, new tablets, that Moses carved himself after the reconciliation. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once said that the shattered tablets were even more precious than the whole ones, because the breakage brought forth a new teaching, a second Torah, a new intimacy with God. The failure of the scouts brought forty years in the desert, from which a new, more mature Israelite people emerged. At the moment of breakage, it feels like all is lost. But Rebbe Nachman taught that growth is impossible without breakage.