by Wendy Low
Parsha Ki Tissa is a well-known portion telling the story of the golden calf. When studying the portion, I was struck by an interpretation by Sarah Gershman in her video for G-dcast. She says that Parsha Ki Tisa is about the power of seeing things with your own eyes.
At the end of the video, she summarizes,
“It is really the act of seeing something with your own eyes that causes such a deep emotional reaction. It is the people not seeing Moses that makes them want to create the calf. It is seeing the calf that makes the people feel more secure and not need Moses anymore. It is God seeing the people dancing around the calf that makes god so angry. And of course, it is Moses seeing the people that makes him smash the tablets.”
Washington DC, like many cities around the United States, is a city segregated by race and class. Many tourists never leave Northwest, let alone the many residents who never leave their own quadrant. . When we only read about issues in newspapers, but do not see and meet people different from us, it is easy to not act.
Working and volunteering with Yachad means seeing another part of DC. Yachad means together and that is how we do our work—side-by-side with our neighbors, sharing stories, telling jokes, building relationships. With Sukkot in Spring coming soon, volunteers will descend upon neighborhoods of DC to repairs homes. Some who have volunteered before will meet their third, forth, or twentieth homeowner, while some younger volunteers may meet a Yachad homeowner for the first time.
This Spring, come see with your own eyes what our work is all about and all of the good that we are able to do.
Returning to the portion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, says that the incident of the golden calf was a reaction to the people who had felt God’s greatness, but not his closeness. The people needed to encounter God “not only at unrepeatable moments in the form of miracles but regularly, on a daily basis, and not only as a force that threatens to obliterate all it touches but as a Presence that can be sensed in the heart of the camp.”
And this is why the Mishkan was so important, because it created a space for God to dwell among the people. Rabbi Sacks concludes, “We cannot see God’s face; we cannot understand God’s ways; but we can encounter God’s glory whenever we build a home, on earth, for His presence.”