Parashat Ki Tisa

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed: “The Lord! the Lord! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness…”

—Exodus 34:6

Compassion and grace are not easy to come by during a pandemic. Health organizations are advising people not to shake hands or hug as a way of greeting. A cough or sneeze in a public space yields glances and people stepping away in fear. Plans, programs, trips, and events are being cancelled or postponed and frustration levels are through the roof. Managing disappointment, controlling anger and ensuring that our children feel safe can be hard for some on a normal day, much less at a time like this. 

Thankfully, we are treated to a pep talk of sorts in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa. Moses and God have a face to face interaction and God’s attributes of kindness, justice, grace, and compassion – thirteen in total – are revealed. This phrase has become a touchstone of Jewish liturgy, recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days of the Jewish year, and during the Torah service on certain festivals. When we invoke these thirteen Holy attributes, we use a specific musical motif, one of urgency and request. We beseech God to be merciful and kind, to show us the grace we cannot always show ourselves.

As we adapt to our new reality of cancellations, enforced social distance, and general uncertainty, let us invoke the treasured Godly attributes that the Torah lifts up in Ki Tisa. More kindness and less anger and impatience go a long way during times of social crisis and disruption.   The more vulnerable among us will undoubtedly need assistance in weathering this period, especially if they are quarantined.  Reach out to the elderly, the mobility-challenged, those who may suffer dire financial consequences from shut-downs, and others who simply need a break from social and emotional isolation.  At a more basic level, thank a sales associate, or smile to acknowledge someone. We can’t unilaterally control the pandemic around us, but we can control how we act during it, trying to bring out our Divine sparks and sharing these attributes with others.