Ki Tisa: The God of second chances
I once had a colleague who used to say “I believe in the God of second chances”. If ever there was a parasha to support this idea in a Jewish context, it would be Ki Tisa, in which a second set of tablets bearing God’s own writing is given to us after the most shocking betrayal of loyalty to God and Moshe.
However, a close reading of the verses doesn’t show a gentle and forgiving God throughout. Instead, at the epic moment of betrayal that is the golden calf, God is furious and ready to destroy the Jewish people. Moshe successfully appeases God, but when Moshe sees the calf with his own eyes, flies into a rage of his own and smashes the tablets (or for Chizkuni, felt too faint to carry the tablets, and drops them).
It’s a familiar scene for parents - in my own home, the dynamic of din (judgement) and rachamim (mercy) swing back and forth daily in terms of how tough we want to be on the values we hold dear. Sometimes parents clash and sometimes, like God and Moshe, they take turns to blow up.
And as is sometimes the case in life, monumental blow ups lead to unexpected intimacy - the shock at potentially losing all leads to reappraising all that is valuable. And here, the intimacy that results is one of the most striking and stunning passages in the Torah (Shemot 33:18-34:7) in which God reveals God’s “back” to Moshe in the cleft of a rock, while God’s “face” is still too much to be seen.
And right in the middle of this scene of incredible closeness, as both God and Moshe reel from the shock of the golden calf, the second set of tablets is written. From blow up, to intimacy, to an astonishing second chance.
The Gemara in Menuchot riffs of what is sees as an extraneous word “אֲשֶׁר” suggesting that God said “yasher koach” (or shekoyach as we’d say) to Moshe for breaking the tablets, because it was the foundation of the Torah that we end up with today. “Shekoyah for smashing them, Moshe!” is an audacious idea but one which speaks volumes.
What’s more, God instructs Moshe to carve the second set of tablets himself - the words are still God’s, but this time, Moshe is empowered to be a part of them himself. Perhaps this is the start of a long chain of powerful human voices adding to God’s in our tradition.
So shekoyah for those moments where things break in the best sense - when the breaking leads to greater closeness, when the breaking leads to more empowerment and more voices being heard, and ultimately, shekoyah for breaking which leads to second chances.