Parashat Ki Tisa: 40 Days
Have you ever been late? Just looked down at your watch and thought, “oh shoot I’m going to be late”? At some point in all of our lives I am sure each and every single one of us has been late. Of course I try not to be, but there are times when it just happens despite my efforts. I even set alarms extra early. Unfortunately I think being late is just a part of being human. However whether it is a human trait or not, being late makes people feel uncomfortable. The person who is running late is probably worried, antsy, and rushing to get there. The person waiting is uncomfortable waiting for the late person; wondering where that person is, how long that person will be, and how it will affect the rest of the day. There are a lot of things to worry about. People fear other people being late, and people fear themselves being late. When I was a little girl I was terrified that my mom would be late and would forget me at school. Now this was not a logical fear, it was not fueled by any experience I had. I was just worried. Like the wonderful mom that my mom is, she made sure everyday that she would get to me early or ontime so I wouldn’t worry. We are all a little bit like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late. For a very important date.”
Moses was no different than anyone else. In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, Moses was late coming down from Mount Sinai, “When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: "Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what has become of him (Exodus 32:1)." So of course what happened when Moses was “late”? The Israelites panicked, and tried to revert back to what they knew from their old life. What they had learned from the Egyptians. Praying to other gods that they could see. The Golden Calf. This seems to fall directly into the human pattern of dealing with lateness. Moses was gone for 40 days and 40 nights. More than that, he didn’t tell the Israelites how long he would be gone. The truth is he didn’t know how long he would be with G-d on the mountain, but to anyone's standards a period of 40 days and nights is a very long time. In this situation the Israelites have already dealt with the unknown, specifically suffering, being saved by an unknown G-d, and wandering in desert without knowing a destination. The Israelites left behind everything they knew, every experience they understood. Now with their leader gone, without his calming force, it is no real surprise they went to seek solace from something more tangible. Something they had a greater understanding of. The Golden Calf, an idol.
G-d and Moses were deeply furious with the Israelites for building the Golden Calf. G-d wanted to destroy them, but didn’t. Moses broke the stone tablets he received on Mount Sinai, and slew all those who did not believe in G-d. With all this in mind, the question I want to ask from all of this is, why did G-d keep Moses on Mount Sinai for so long? What was the significance of 40 days and nights? If G-d is an all knowing G-d, then G-d would know and understand why the Israelites reacted the way they did. He would know that in their still vulnerable state that they needed the presence of their leader to keep them strong. So, tonight at your Shabbat dinner table be curious, and ask yourself why G-d would keep Moses on Mount Sinai for so long? Why was it important that Moses was late?