Parashat Ki Tisa – Erev Shabbat 13 March 2020
Week of 8-14 March 2020
Torah portion: Ex 30:11-34:35 Haftarah: Ezek 36:16-38
Theme: Second chances

Though popularly known for the story of the golden calf, this Torah portion includes a lot of twists and turns that tell us not only about the lack of faith of “stiffnecked” people but also about the power of intercessory prayers. Most of all, it tells us to hope in second chances especially from God.

Before the golden calf incident, there was a census of the people and the giving of more instructions and details on the building of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was to be a holy sanctuary, a holy place where God could dwell among his people on earth. The instruction to build it ends with the additional command to keep the Shabbat. Etz Hayim says that the observance of Shabbat, to sanctity the seventh day of the week, is the eternal obligation of those who participate in the covenant with God. As stated in Ex 31:17, its observance is a sign of declaration of faith, an affirmation of several tenets that, among others, Israel is a holy nation by an act of divine will. Thus, the people were preparing to have God physically with them.

Moses was with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. He was delayed and the people were confused. They called on Aaron to make them a god to be their leader. Aaron fashioned a golden calf out of the jewelry he collected from the people and proclaimed a feast after building an altar for sacrifice. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the calf and the dancing, he was so angry, he hurled the tablets upon which the Decalogue was written and shattered them. This was not an impetuous act. In the Ancient Near Eastern legal terminology, “to break the tablet” meant to invalidate or repudiate a document or agreement. Thus, the hurling of the tablets signifies the end of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people.

Moses was not angry for long as he had to face God’s anger himself. He made a series of intercessory prayers first to convince God not to annihilate the Hebrew people and next to gain complete forgiveness for the people. In Ex 34, we read about the renewal of the covenant with the making of the second set of tablets, this time not just fashioned by God alone but as a joint divine-human effort. When Moses went to Mount Sinai with the new tablets, the Lord came down in a cloud and declared to Moses some of the eternal qualities of the Lord: a compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness (Ex 34:5-7).

Jesus Christ, in the Gospel of Matthew, taught us how to pray to God our Father. Today, when we recite or sing the Our Father during mass, as a community we ask God’s forgiveness for our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. We also thank God for his many blessings including the gift of forgiveness and second chances from him and from us to others.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you believe in intercessory prayers? 2. Have you offended someone and asked for a second chance? 3. It’s been said that forgiving is hard to do. What are ways to ask forgiveness from someone you have hurt or offended?

Bibliography: ETZ Hayim Torah Commentary (New York, 1990)

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