This week in Parsha Ki Tisa we reach a low point in our origin story. Our people, so recently rescued from slavery, witnessing the miracles of the Red Sea, are now asked to patiently wait for Revelation. Forty days and forty nights Moses is at the top of the mountain, but the people below cannot wait. Though they witnessed miracles, seeing it with their own eyes wasn't enough. Perhaps it is the quiet of the desert, perhaps it is the stagnation in the journey, they turn together to build an idol – a golden calf.
This past weekend 30 6th and 7th grade students and family members traveled with Jaimie Shmelzer and me to Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and Atlanta on a Civil Rights journey. We reflected on the painful history of Black America from slavery to Jim Crow to imprisonment. We visited memorials, learned about power structures, domestic terror, fear, and torture. We met Joanne Bland who was 12 when she marched in Selma, and Bishop Cavin Wallace Woods Sr. We learned from Bishop Woods that it was his belief that God had sent him on a fight for justice that enabled him to fight for freedom his whole life. We learned from Joanne that we must be history makers, if we stand where they stood, we can do what they do. We learned above all that the work of justice is not quick, it is not easy, and it does not always feel good. The work of justice takes patience, it takes strength, it requires listening to others, forming deep relationships, and it demands faith.
This week our Torah portion, and the Haftarah which features Elijah on the mountain, teaches us that there is always a temptation to question faith. There is always an idol to worship, a golden calf to turn to. Being a good person is not enough, the laws that Moses received on Sinai demand that we pursue Justice, that we uplift the under-privileged, raise up the voice of the marginalized. This is more than just being good, this is doing good. The impact of our learning and the lesson of our parsha epitomized in this story by, a KI family that was on the trip.
The Sklar family the night after we returned home:
“I can’t sleep. My mind is racing, I’m just processing everything.” Sarah Sklar said to her mom. “Before this I had a bucket list of places I wanted to go but now it’s all different.
#1. Save the world #2. Help People #3. Help the world #4. Make a Difference #5. Be an up stander #6. Do a lot #7. Be healthy #8. Be a Social Justice Hero #9. Be awesome #10. Have fun.
So she and her family talked for a bit then her mom said, “It’s late and you need to try to sleep. “Ok”, said Sarah, “But will you tell me a story”. “Of course”, said her mom, “about what?” “Tell me the story of when you found your purpose.”
Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler