Parshat Ki Tisa

Torah Reading for Week of February 28 – March 6, 2021
By Rabbi Tsvi Bar-David, ’08
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
For over 20 years now, well before I entered AJR’s rabbinic program, I’ve been attracted to the possibility of the direct experience of God. That is why I leaped at the opportunity to write about this parshah, Ki Tisa.
For, in our sedrah, after the fiasco of the golden calf, Moshe Rabbeinu asks of God

Har'eini na kvodedekha 

Show me Your essence

To which God replies

Lo yir'ani ha-adam va-hhai 

A human cannot see Me and survive the experience

God nonetheless relents, instructs Moshe to stand in a cave which God will cover with God’s hand to protect Moshe from the lethal radiation of God’s presence. And tells Moshe that he will be able to discern God’s having passed in front of the cave.
So seeing seems to be prohibited as a modality of direct experience of the Divine. But, to play language lawyer (which our sages delighted in), all other modalities are permitted! Notably hearing – shema .
Why should you, the reader, care, even given that you are associated with a spiritual institution like AJRCA? For is not Judaism the religion of tikkun olam – social justice in this world? It is. It is also the religion of tikkun ha-nefesh – the repair of my soul. And I make the claim, echoing my teacher and friend Rabbi Steve Fisdel of blessed memory, that there is no tikkun olam without tikkun ha-nefesh. The two are one. And the soul is mammash part of God, as the Tanya teaches. And to heal the soul requires experiencing my own soul in its depths – be’umka de-libba. And to do that is one way of directly experiencing God, teaches Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his commentary on the Tanya .

Va'ani qirvat Elohim li tov! 

And as for me, intimacy with you, God, is so good, so healing, for me!
-- Psalms