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This week we read the Torah portion of Ki Tisa. Prior to Moses’ ascent to Mount Sinai, he told the nation that he would be gone for forty days. Unfortunately, there was a rather significant misunderstanding. The Jewish people were uncertain when the count should begin. Does that day count as day one or does the count begin from the evening?

Fast-forward thirty-nine days and the severity of this confusion would come to surface. A segment of the nation argued that it had been forty days and Moses was not back yet. After all, they counted the day of his ascent as day one whereas others began the count only from the first eve. As a result, they came to the conclusion that Moses must be dead and a new intermediary to connect to G-d was needed.

Indeed a midrash tells us that the satan showed them a vision of a dead Moses and as result they fell to despair. Despite all the signs and wonders that they had witnessed, they lost faith and as a result began the construction of a Golden Calf to serve as an intermediary in Moses’ place.

A mature reading of this episode brings out an incredibly important lesson. Unlike other religions that ascribe great power to the satan, Judaism, as seen in this midrash, reveals what the satan truly is. The human psyche is multifaceted. When one loses his hope or faith, and gives in to despair, depression and negativity result. This psychological condition is what we call the other side, or sitra achra. The Talmud tells us that this “other side,” the satan, and the angel of death are all one in the same.

A Jew, as an inheritance from our holy forefathers, is a believer. His natural state is one of positivity, belief, hope, and faith. Idolatry is the defiance of these fundamentals of the Jewish tradition. When one allows darkness or negativity into his being, this is akin to the construction of an idol. We as Jews are called upon not just to believe in the good, but to embody this belief to such an extent that we are a shining light and example to all those we encounter. May we merit to truly carry this mantle with strength and pride. In so doing, may we transform ourselves and all those we encounter to embodiments of positivity and faith, and thus correcting the root of the sin of the Golden Calf.

Shabbat Shalom

– Rabbi Liad Braude

Parshat ki tisa