Ki Tissa: Shabbat – Antidote to Impatience

 
Parshat Ki Tissa contains the great biblical tragedy of the Golden Calf. Strikingly, this idolatrous debacle is preceeded by an injunction to keep Shabbat.1 It begs the question, why is the theme of Shabbat found here, rubbing up so closely to the Golden Calf?

 
The 19th century commentator, the Mei Hashiloach highlights the essential link between the two. He shares a vision of God and Moses atop Sinai engaged in the study of Shabbat. God reveals to Moses the nature of Shabbat as a replica of ''Olam Habah'', the World to Come, when all existence will be harmonious and completely good. Shabbat is the weekly taste of the ultimate redemption reserved for the future.

 
Simultaneous to the scene of God and Moses learning together, the people at the mountain''s base unconsciously feel the incoming vibrations of this Sabbatical promise of redemption. This intuition stirs in them an irrepressible eagerness for redemption''s arrival – now! Their impatience was holy-rooted-yet-poorly-executed, manifesting itself in a mad plunge into idolatry. It''s no wonder then that what emerged from the molten gold was a calf. The calf is, after all, an undeveloped cow, a keen representative of prematurity, of the not-yet-ness that defines so much our present reality. Thus, the greatest of Biblical sins is here portrayed as the deafening pulse of Impatience; a need to be or have something more than what is right now.2

 
And that is where Shabbat comes in. Perhaps the greatest spiritual-technology of the Bible, Shabbat encodes an antidote to impatience. For when the time for candle-lighting arrives, wherever we are, however many dishes still need to be washed, however much is left undone, Shabbat compels us to stop and simply accept what is, whatever it is. We light our candles and we sanctify the moment. We accept the present, no matter how imperfect it may be, and in that act our lives are made holy.

 
For we are all works in progress; more human becomings than human beings. Pop-eye misquoted when he said, “I yam what I yam.” Rather, the God of the Bible is named “I will be what I will be.” Our God is not a half-baked calf of gold-laden impatience. Our God is a long-suffering, patient process of becoming...an ineffable zephyr of growth, yearning and unfolding.
On Shabbat we are invited, compelled, to pause our busy goal-goaded lives. When we do that we taste the arrival of the mythic end of days, even amidst its delay.

 
This week, may we cease paying homage to our impatience. Let''s stop being run ragged by our unmet goals and nagging inadequacies. Let''s taste the sweetness of arrival and acceptance that God bequethed to us at Sinai.
 
 
A Prayer for Candle-lighting

 
Please God
Let me light
More than flame tonight.

 
More than wax and wick
and sliver stick of wood.
More than shallow stream of words
recited from a pocket book.

 
But rather with this touch of torch
and spell of prayer
let me light a way towards You
let me dare
to radiate
a rapt request
that with this lamp
the world will rest
a stilling hand on pounding heart
and take a breath
- a pause
- to start
to appreciate
the state of things
.just as they are

 
And spill this light
to stain the sheets
so feverishly inscribed
with what the future will be.

 
Washed away in what''s today
- present, patient, allowing space.

 
The ache for arrival laid to rest
our wreck unrectified...as of yet.

 
Yet rest us well
in humbling fact
that we are made replete with lacks
The future''s but an ornament
on bounding limbs of present tense.

 
All force and foist
of fists and fights
flooded out by candle-light
incandescent
with acceptance
allowance made for imperfections.

 
We offer up our Sabbath rest
Forebearance on our table set.

 
A chance for us to savor food
to honor all
to prize, to prove
that there’s matter higher
than a week of labor
than lofty goals and courting favor.

 
For a match-box and a bit of wax
can top and tumble all of that.

 
So as sun sets
we raise a blaze.
Resplendently
We offer praise.

 
As light leans in
and grips go lax
our ache for future
slips into past.

 
Arrival, a candle.
Impatience, in vain.
The World to Come
has come undone
by flame. 

*
1There are 5 mentions of Shabbat in the Torah and this is by far the lengthiest discussion of them all.

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"You must still keep my Shabbat. It is a sign between Me and you for all generations, to make you realize that I, G-d, am making you holy. [Therefore] keep the Shabbat as something sacred to you. Anyone doing work [on the Shabbat] shall be cut off spiritually from his people... Do your work during the six week days, but keep Shabbat holy to G-d... The Israelites shall thus keep the Shabbat, making it a day of rest for all generations, as an eternal covenant. It is a sign between Me and the Israelites that during the six weekdays G-d made heaven and earth, but on Shabbat, He ceased working and withdrew to the spiritual."
Shmot (Exodus) 31:12-17
 

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