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Parshas Ki Sis - It's not a Crime to Fall, but it is a Sin Not to Get Up              17 Adar I 5782

02/17/2022 02:17:57 PM

Feb17

Being a Rabbi in a mid-tier city such as San Diego has many pros and cons. Although, if you analyze most situations, every pro can be the con and each con can be the pro. One of my standard quips when necessary to report good news and bad news to my class is to ask, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” In truth, it really doesn’t make a difference which one they pick.  For example, if they respond, ”We want the bad news first, “I reply, ”The bad news is I will be missing class next week…”Then they ask,  “So, what is the good news?” “The good news is I will be missing class next week!” In truth, this is consistent with any pro and con, both being  good and bad.

In many smaller Jewish communities, there are those who wear many different hats in the community. For many years I taught a mini class here and there in the local Jewish high schools. This year I was offered the responsibility of teaching a Gemara shiur/class in the local boy’s high school on a regular Monday to Thursday schedule. I personally feel a great sipuk/self-satisfaction from teaching these young men. They are all very bright, energetic, and best of all they laugh at my corny jokes! What more can any rabbi or rebbi ask for? Of the minyan, quorum, of boys in the class, invariably has someone either going out to the bathroom, being absent, needing to get a drink, studying for an upcoming test in another class, checking the inside of their eyelids, or actually focusing on getting a very up-close look at the page of Gemara being discussed. This list works on a rotating basis, with each student taking a turn here and there. There is an incredible commonality that threads its way through all these young men. They are mature enough to realize that I know what they are up to, and they feel disappointed in themselves when disappointing me. Mind you, I do not need to even say anything to them after one of them takes his turn selecting one of the choices listed above.  Invariably, the offender(s) approach me either after class or prior to the next day’s class earnestly expressing the consistent and identical message,  “Rabbi, I’m so sorry  for my behavior. Tomorrow I am going to do better!” They each recognize and admit to the fact that they’ve stumbled and fallen. I offer them encouragement by telling them it is ok, tomorrow is another day, and another opportunity. It is not the falling down or the failing that is the problem, rather the problem is if a person falls, he must get right back up. 

Another classic rule I have consistently offered to my students over the years has been after taking a test and then returning the test to each of them,  they had to review, study, and then return their test with all of the correct answers. Following that, they had to retake the exact same test so that they could demonstrate to me - and, more importantly, to themselves that they now had processed and truly learned the material. I am not interested in grades; my goal is to motivate every student to truly work through and understand the required material. Falling and erring is human; it is not a crime. But if a person does not correct himself, then that is sinful. A student who makes an effort to figure out what he or she is missing and chooses to learn and to ultimately master the information earns acknowledgement of that effort and growth. The Torah is replete with great leaders who have fallen but rebounded; the process of falling and then getting up is a major ingredient required for greatness. Probably the greatest of the many examples of falling and then getting back up found throughout all of Tana”ch occurs in this week’s Torah reading.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Sisa the Torah describes the unfolding events of the Eigel HaZahav, the sin of the golden calf. The Torah in Shmos 32:1 states: "וירא העם כי-בשש משה לרדת מן ההר, ויקהל העם על אהרן ויאמרו אליו קום עשה לנו אלוקים אשר ילכו לפנינו כי-זה משה האיש אשר העלנו מארץ מצרים לא ידענו מה-היה לו"  “Meanwhile, the people began to realize that Moshe was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aharon and said to him, ”Make us an oracle (god) to lead us. We have no idea what happened to Moshe, the man who brought us out of Egypt.” In order to more deeply appreciate this current situation, we need to look back and review how and what brought the Jewish people to this point. What was the reason that caused the Jewish people to gather around Aharon? What did they want from him?

There are two approaches and differences of opinion which explain why the Jewish people demanded of Aharon to produce “something” in Moshe’s absence. One opinion was that they were asking for an outright idol to worship - no what ifs about it. The second opinion was a simple request for a leader to replace Moshe to continue to lead them on their way. If you think about the two choices, who in their right mind, in the face of so much which has been done by Hashem for the Jewish people, would  not judge the situation favorably.The Jewish people missed Moshe; they only wanted a leader. Could we ever think they wanted to outrightly worship an idol after hearing the commandment “Thou shalt not have any other gods..?”. Because of this we are forced to say that the people who left Egypt and clearly witnessed the awesomeness of God just wanted a new leader. They wanted Aaron to make a way to replace Moshe; they did not want to substitute or to take away the place of God. Simultaneously, the Jews were constantly being drawn back to the culture and influence of Mitzrayim. Despite seeing the open miracles of Hashem, the people still considered the ways of the Egyptians - their witchcraft, sorcery, and their strange practices. This pull was so strong that  they turned away from their good ways, choosing instead to follow the bad ones.

Tracking the history, the Jewish people continued the pattern of flipping from believing to questioning. As we see from Moshe showing the people the signs with his staff, they  replied in Shmos 4:31 “The people believed”. Then, only a few verses later in 5:21 “Let God look at you [Moshe] and be your Judge”. Later, we find the Jewish people, freed from Egypt, openly believing, yet they again began to rebel before crossing over the sea. At the end of Shmos 14:31 “They believed in God and in His servant Moshe”, only to be challenged later in the quest for water in Shmos 17:7 “Is God with us or not?” The people were constantly questioning and doubting, recalling the strength that Moshe had performing all these miracles, while failing to give the credit to Hashem. The problem was that so long as Moshe was around, they didn’t have the audacity to challenge him, but now that he had seemingly gone missing they began to openly question the situation. Moshe had ascended the mountain; he should have come back down in a day, but he didn’t. To the Jews (being fueled by the Eirev Rav) Moshe was just a human being, a mortal who, they surmised, had possibly been burned in a fire,  was captured, died, or anything else. Now they no longer wanted a human being; they wanted something stronger and better - a God that would tell them the future and bring it about.

At the end of the day, Moshe returns after the creation of the idol. Three thousand Jews died in this episode. We witness the Jewish people falling to their Yetzer Hora and, finally, getting back up after seeing the truth. The Jewish people committed crime after crime by giving Moshe - and God - a hard time - (Hashem tolerated it). They believed that if Moshe were no longer alive, they had to take some action in order to reach God.  They were not yet able to understand that we each have direct access to God; there is never a place for an intermediary. They did not sin, however, because they did get back up and righted the path from which they had strayed.

 We all fall from time to time in our religious observance and avodas Hashem. We must always remember to get up, to address so that the falling does not turn into a sin. If and when we fail and fall, immediately rise up to correct the misdeed. Shlomo HaMelech says a person falls seven times and can always get up. Hopefully, I can take the lesson and learn from my students, about feeling bad when having fallen down to immediately correct it by saying tomorrow I will be better! 

Tue, August 16 2022 19 Av 5782