Chol Ha’Moed Sukkot • Parshat Ki Tisa • Exodus 33:12–34:26

Have you ever had a crisis of faith?

In Ki Tisa, found in the book of Exodus but read during the holiday of Sukkot, Moses emerges from the episode of the Golden Calf feeling lost. His fellow Israelites have just committed an act of total disobedience to the Eternal; having grown impatient and anxious, they created an idol as a supplement for God. Following that episode we recall as one of the most memorable in Torah, Moses pauses. Faced with tremendous doubt and internal strife, Moses seeks a sign from God to continue moving forward in their story. And so, God complies, choosing to show God’s back as God passes by. Moses emerges from this encounter glowing and radiant – and it is this sign from God that renews Moses’ faith. Shortly thereafter, the Israelites march onward.

I have always loved this Torah portion, for it portrays Moses as so distinctly, unabashedly human. Even more, this is an extremely rare occurrence of God manifesting in the closest thing to human form. And it is not insignificant that God shows God’s back to Moses; many Torah commentaries suggest that one’s back is a symbol of strength; their spine, like the central palm of our lulav, a symbol of conviction and confidence.

Who among us has not had their moments of doubt, or a feeling that perhaps that vision they were reaching for was suddenly out of reach? Who among us has not struggled; who has not been told “this too shall pass” by someone we love? As I read Ki Tisa this year, I cannot help but think of all the ways our world appears to be spinning and spiraling – and how many of us might feel overwhelmed at the mere mention of tikkun olam – the repair of the world. Repair? Me? Where do I even start?

Perhaps the enduring message of Ki Tisa this year is this – Moses is one man, one human being, with an enormous responsibility to humanity. But even Moses had his moments of self-doubt and of pause, wondering if he should even continue moving forward with this overwhelming burden. But Moses knows he must press onward, moved by the prospect of something greater than him alone. And, to me, Moses’ chutzpah in asking God to reveal God’s self to mortal man is inspiring, for it teaches us who reside in the present to believe in our convictions and – above all – to seek, to ask, and to reach out in order to move beyond.

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen