Ki Tissa: Shabbat – Antidote to impatience


Parshat Ki Tissa contains the great biblical tragedy of the Golden Calf. Strikingly, this idolatrous debacle is preceded 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. Popeye 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 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 bequeathed 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 bring.


Washed away in what''s today

- present, patient, allowing space.


The ache for arrival laid to rest

our wreck of yet.


Yet rest us well

in humbling fact

that we are made replete with lacks

The future''s but an ornament

onbounding 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

Forbearance 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.


We offer praise.


As light leans in

and grips go lax

our ache for future

slips into the past.


Arrival, a candle.

Impatience, in vain.

The World to Come

has come and come undone

by flame.

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

2 Shmot (Exodus) 31:12-17