#Parsha #KiTisa: Our Cheat Code for The Divine

This week's Torah portion, "Ki Tisa", is a roller-coaster journey of human desire and yearning, Divine connection, separation and reconnection, and finally, the divulging of the "formula" for which the Israelite nation - and hopefully, human beings, can connect with the Divine in their lives.

It begins with a continuation of the previous portion, a series of spiritual technologies for which the people of the desert were building a Home for God, known as the Tabernacle. They're all collaborative, co-creative exercises: From the silver half-shekel that is collected from every adult-aged male (I know....) and then used to melt down and build sockets for the travelling Tabernacle / Sacred Space... to the copper washbasin, melted down from the mirrors of the priestess-women who held space at the gates of the Sanctuary. 

The portion describes the almost magical methods for creating sacred space: The unique formulation of spices and herbs used to create the anointing oil of the priests; and the incense burned in the temple. And finally, a commandment to celebrate Shabbat: The day of rest, of complete presence, of finally enjoying that space with the Divine we've worked so hard to build.

Then, like any Biblical tale, it's time for us to learn from it how humans get involved, and tend to mess things up. We learn about the Golden Calf, aka the Most Glorious Act of Self-Sabotage ever enacted by humans. Frustrated by the departure of their leader Moshe (Moses), who's gone up the mountain for a Forty-Day-and-Forty-Night intimate retreat with the Divine, they are in search of something - ANYTHING - that can bring them back that sense of connection, of presence, of Oneness.

So they build for themselves a molten calf of gold - not unlike the big Charging Bull we worship on a street dedicated to money here in New York City - and celebrate with a wild party that is definitely Not what Moshe's "Call Me If You Need Anything, Aaron" had in mind when he is forced to interrupt his rendezvous with God to look after his misdirected flock.

There's a lot we can pick apart about how Moshe goes about processing his rage (smashing the tablets!), disappointment (a plague breaks out and many people die), frustration (arguing with God about how these people are and have always been obstinate and difficult), and then finally, defensiveness - letting God know that even though the people pretty much suck right now, they really deserve a second change. It's a fascinating view into leadership, from how a middle-manager might argue to defend their entry-level team from the big boss, while also telling them off and ensuring they never make the same mistake again.

In Moshe's standoff with God, pleading for the sins of the Israelite people, he asks the million dollar question:

God, Show us your ways!
Tell us the secret, the panic button, the cheat code.
We're in this relationship for good.
It's going to be rocky at times.
Ultimately, it's amazing and we want to be in it.
What can we do?
How can we make sure that no matter how much we mess up,
no matter how far we go from what You want from us,
no matter how frustrated we are with one another
That we can come back?

Now, for the Torah's image of God as an angry dad of temper tantrums, this is one of the spaces where the magic shows up. Moshe is told to go stand in the cleft of the rock, deep down into the darkness.

Into his own darkness, his own humanity.

And there, as the Divine Light passes over him, he can look up and see the back of God's head.
The Divine that can never show itself to us fully, but shows us its own work from the back, all the time.

And in that magic moment, we hear the words that become the magic words, the cheat code, the panic button, the safe word, for our Divine relationship from hereon out. Known as the "13 Attributes of Mercy", we chant these worldwide on the High Holidays, we sing them in our Tachanun prayers of supplication, and we know we have them at our disposal whenever the going gets tough:

Adonai, Havaya: The four letters of the Divine Name, that connect heaven and earth
Compassionate Chief; Benevolent, Slow to Anger, Replete with Generous Kindness and Truth
Who Preserves Kindness for Thousands of Generations
Forgiver of Transgression, Sin and Error, and who Cleanses
Healing Trauma from parents to children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation
( Exodus 34:6-7)

These attributes are ours to call on, ours to emulate. They are a chance for renewal, for reconnection. And for the spiritual technologies of earlier in the Parsha, from sacred incense to the day of Shabbat, to fully entrench themselves within us as a Divine right, a chance to bring the Infinite into our Finite world.

May we all truly incorporate these traditions and rituals into our lives, creating a dwelling place for the Infinite Mystery well beyond life as we know it, in the world we live in.