Refreshing Yourself – Parshat Ki Tissa 5780

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I’m terrible at taking time for myself. So terrible, in fact, that unless I put it on my calendar, it won’t happen. I set reminders for self care, and sometimes I go so far as to ask others to remember not to email me on my day off, because emails will inevitably suck me in. It isn’t that I don’t find time away refreshing, or that I’m necessarily a workaholic; it’s just that I sometimes forget to stop and take a breath. I forget to look around at the world, my family, and my community and marvel in the gifts I receive from them. The one saving grace is Friday, when I tend to move just a slight bit slower for at least those two hours at the end of the week going into Shabbat. Sadly, though, the rest of Shabbat isn’t usually restful. Between the programming, the services, and the time chasing after my own kids, I’d say on average those two hours of actual “resting time” each Shabbat are about all I get. 

Throughout its text, the Torah reminds us of our obligation to ourselves and others to rest periodically. From the beginning, we have God resting at the end of creation, and there are similar reminders following, including in this week’s Torah portion. 

This week we read Parshat Ki Tissa from within the story of the Exodus. The Israelites are in the desert, they have received the 10 Commandments, and they are now set to continue on their journey, learning from Moses and God. When Moses is on top of the mountain, he’s delayed in coming down. The Israelites are scared, unsure of this God that they have yet to trust. They gather their gold, craft an idol, and turn their attention to something tangible. 

Interestingly, right before the saga of the Golden Calf, we are again reminded of our covenant with God for all time regarding the observance of Shabbat. These two narratives – the peaceful rest of Shabbat and the frantic rashness of the Golden Calf – seem vastly different from one another, yet they are linked through their parshah, Ki Tissa. We know Moses was on the mountain for 40 days, plus one extra day. However, we don’t learn much of what Moses did on that extra day, we only hear how anxious the Israelites were to have him back and move on with their journey. 

The proximity of these ideas in the timeline of the Torah begs the question of when it’s appropriate to be refreshed, following that commitment to God. Was the Israelites’ behavior really the best time for Moses to take a personal day? Perhaps Moses took an extra day so he could gain some perspective by taking it all in. Or perhaps the lesson is that had the Israelites actually taken the same opportunity to rest, they would not have acted out by engaging in idolatry. 

Whatever the reason for the extra day was, the message is clear. To be in covenant with God and community is to hold back, to slow down, and to take time to refresh and reinvigorate yourself. Take your “plus one” and I’ll try to do the same.

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