Parshas Ki tisa - How do we learn from old mistakes?

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama
-By Elisheva Maline

How do we learn from old mistakes? By repeating them over again.
Image taken from Jumpintotheword.
In this week's Parshat Ki Tisa Hashem reveals Himself on Mt. Sinai and gives over the ten commandments before asking Moshe to  ascend for more in depth instruction. Actually, Hashem only tells us the first two commandments while Moshe gives over the remaining eight. This is because every time G-d spoke, "I am the Lord, your G-d, there is no other but I," and "You should have no other g-ds before you," everyone dropped dead. Well, the situation was becoming a tad stressful so the nation begged Moshe to take over.

Moshe goes up to heaven for forty days while the Jews are told to wait at the foot of the mountain. The nation watches the sand in the forty day hourglass trickle to an end, or so they think (in reality, they were off by one day). Unease sweeps through the camps and where there is doubt, there is room for mayhem. The yetzar hara's (the evil inclination) influence isn't long in coming. He takes advantage of their vulnerability by creating illusions of the sky splitting, stars exploding, and the ground shaking etc. Then, the form of Moshe's coffin appears in the sky. This, more than anything, convinces the panicked people that the end of the world is nigh. Without Moshe who will connect them to Torah? Without Torah, the universe reverts to its state of being null and void. The people jump up, turn to Aaron, Moshe's brother, and scream "Get up! Make us G-ds that will lead and instruct us because Moshe, the man who brought us out of Egypt, we don't know what became of him" (Exodus 32:1). Several verses later, we are informed about a golden calf walking, lowing and eating grass. Bnei Yisrael celebrate their quick thinking while Aaron Hakohen Gadol covers his face with his hands. This is the scene Moshe returns to.  

What is the result of Bnei Yisrael's good intentions? Hashem is furious. After all, He has just told them not to serve any other G-ds and barely a month later, they are doing just that! The situation is comparable to that of a wife committing adultery before the last notes of her wedding ceremony have a chance to fade away. How could the Jewish people have fallen so low? 

The yetzar hara was created by G-d as an adversary for exercising our bechira (power of free will). He's quite the slick salesman. It's never a simple matter of two angels perching on one's shoulders while he tries to decide, "Will I do good or commit evil?" Decision making is a murky process. The yetzar hara packages evildoing as a chance to do good even as he wraps kindness in the illusion that it is an evil. In Hebrew this is called erbuvia, confusion. The Jews thought they were saving the world by dancing around a golden cow. In reality, they were disappointing Hashem. Hashem never gives us tasks we cannot fulfill. He had just given us the means to overcome the temptation of creating a golden calf yet we failed. 

Hashem expects us to use the tools He provided us as a means to foiling the yetzar hara's plans. What are these tools? Namely, the mitzvot written down for us in the Torah and passed down through the Oral Tradition
We can see this week's Torah portion as a paradigm on the subject of angering Hashem. We sin, Hashem gets angry, and uses the current world powers to prod us into repentance via threats of genocide. In the case of this week's Parsha, the threat concerning our national destruction comes straight from Hashem. But we do teshuva (repent) and recieve Divine forgiveness. Then the process repeats itself at some point later on in history. For instance, over two thousand years ago, the Persian Empire threatened the Jewish people with annihilation. Mordachai made us do teshuva and Hashem turned the day upside down

Eventually, Persian Empire was no longer a world power. The Greek Empire rose to loom over us next (this is when the story of Chanukah occured) with the Roman Empire following close after. The tortures of Spanish inquisition came centuries later and most recently, we had that horror, Nazi Germany, inflicted on us. The time period is always different. However, the story's formula rarely changes.

If the nations of the world made up characters in a classroom, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Jews would fill in for the role of 'kid most likely to get shoved in a locker.' Throughout the course of our existence, different people have come up with deductive reasoning for why the nations are continuously bashing us. Some of the ideas offtered range from: "it's because we flaunt our 'status as the chosen nation' in peoples faces" to "we're separatist and therefore, annoying." Jews have tried easing the nations' hatred by, among other things, assimilating. Unfortunately, as opposed to allowing us to fit in, the goyim (non jews) reacted by driving us into ghettos and even murdering us in cold blood. 

Basically, there isn't any logic behind the nations' attitude toward us. New age psychology in the form of the emotional awareness declares, "When something in your environment disturbs you, look at it as something that reflects yourself. When you point your index finger in blame at another human, notice the last three fingers are pointing back at you." In Isaiah 42:6 it says. "Be a light unto the nations." When we stop doing that, the goyim let us know. They don't let us forget. It's a blessing in the guise of a curse.

In order for us to distinguish between what is right and wrong, we need to engross ourselves in Torah and mitzvot and be guided by the righteous of the generation.  

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