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Parashat Ki Tisa

03/13/2020 01:05:08 PM


       Shabbat Shalom. This week's Torah portion is Parashat Ki Tisa which contains one of the most famous stories in the Torah: the building of the Golden Calf. It also opens with some of the instructions regarding the building of the Mishkan and ends with a classic Moses-God argument. We will hear more about many of these things from Ben tomorrow morning, but this evening I wish to narrow in on a few verses from the beginning of the parasha.

      The opening instruction regarding the building of the Mishkan is to include out front a basin for washing (Exodus 30:18). The following three verses then reiterate in three different ways that the priests are to wash their hands in feet in this basin, this basin is for washing, and people for all time evermore shall wash before going into holy places (Exodus 30:19-21).

      Ramban, Maimonides’s equally cool but less famous contemporary, names that this requirement was to honor God, just as visitors to a palace would wash before entering a feast. In this time of global health concerns, we could all use this reminder to wash our hands a bit more, to honor God and the blessings of sustenance we receive. It is good to clean up our houses of worship and ourselves before prayer, our homes and foods before a feast, and our hands and face periodically throughout the day. 


      We also know it is not a possibility to keep our hands clean all the time. Life is messy. Building both the Mishkan and the Golden Calf inevitably dirtied the hands of all those involved. Especially in this time of heightened germophobia it is worth asking ourselves what is worth dirtying our hands in and what is not. What is holy work and what is not.

      When thinking about this parasha the Ani DiFranco song, "Looking for the Holes" came to mind. It is an anthem for our value of Tikkun Olam. In it she says, "I don't wear anything I can't wipe my hands on" as she sings about repairing the tears in this world, because repairing and rebuilding gets messy. Just ask all our members who have been helping with our playground repairs and come home from the synagogue covered in sawdust. She also sings, "We can't sit back/And let people come to harm/We owe them our lives/Each breath is recycled from someone else's lungs/Our enemies are the very air/Our enemies are the air" which may have less to do with dirtying our hands in holy repairs and rebuilding or washing them up as another act of holiness, but also felt pertinent in this time of a highly contagious respiratory flu pandemic.

      As tomorrow we welcome into Jewish adulthood a new child of the mitzvot, I'd like to take just a brief moment to commend Ben on already showing himself to be someone willing to get his hands dirty for the sake of our worship space and community. He aided tirelessly in Aaron's Aaron's mitzvah project in the fall with the cleaning of the indoor space at Ner Shalom and decided to extend the efforts with his own mitzvah project of cleaning the outdoor spaces at Ner Shalom, acts that are both cleansing and dirtying. And I am reasonably certain he washes his hands regularly.

     My hope is that all of you similarly know when to allow yourselves to get messy and when it is time to wash up. May you not be afraid to share space with those who uplift you and whom you can uplift as well, together rebuilding and repairing this broken world toward a cleaner and clearer future for everyone. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780