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Posted on February 18, 2022
You broke it; you fix it. Ki Tissa, 5782
I am thinking of a scene that made a big impression on me in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Farmer Boy. (It has been many years since I have had occasion to read Farmer Boy, so forgive me if I get the details wrong; I am confident in the main point.) Ten-year-old Almanzo was helping with a major farm task that involved hauling logs (or something else unwieldy) on an animal-pulled sleigh. He made an error of judgment when another sleigh was coming towards him, and his sleigh tipped over, tangling the animal in the harness and spilling out his load. Almanzo had to dig the sleigh and the cargo out of the snow, get it back on track and continue with the job at hand. In the meantime, his father continued going back and forth on his own animal-pulled sleigh, stopping only long enough to sing out: “How’s it going, Son?” I was a child the first time I read Farmer Boy, but I remember being amazed at that scene. Wow! The father did not stop to help the child dig out of the snow? The father did not tell the child how to get the sleigh upright? The father did not send the child home and finish the job himself? Or yell at him? The father just left the kid alone to figure it out? And Almanzo did figure it out and got himself back on track.
Our Torah portion for this week, parashat Ki Tissa, includes Moshe coming down off the mountain and finding the people of Israel carousing with a Golden Calf. Moshe was angry, and he smashed the Ten Commandments that God had fashioned for the people. Parashat Ki Tissa also includes the redo: God said to Moshe: פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛ שְׁנֵֽי־לֻחֹ֥ת אֲבָנִ֖ים כָּרִאשֹׁנִ֑ים, you carve two tablets of stone like the first ones, Ex. 34:2. Rashi notices the seemingly unnecessary word לְךָ֛, “you carve,” or “carve for yourself” and explains that God is saying: “You, Moshe, broke the tablets, so you, Moshe, fix the tablets.” You broke it; you fix it. Your responsibility, not Mine. Sure enough, we read a few verses later: “So Moses carved two tablets of stone, like the first, and early in the morning he went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, taking the two stone tablets with him.” Ex. 24:4
One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to stand back and let a child struggle. But it is not only about parents and children. It is often true in our adult relationships as well. Sometimes we have to stand back and let those around us fix their own mistakes. And we have to let them do it on their own time and in their own way, without taking control of the situation, without doing it for them, even if we are better at the task at hand. They broke it; they have to fix it; we have to allow that to happen.
And, sometimes it is the other way around — we ourselves are the ones who have to be Moshe and get up in the morning and make good on what we did wrong, even when it is hard, even if there is someone offering to do it for us, even if there is someone who might be able to do it better than we can. We broke it; we fix it.
Only when we do that can the Tablets be made whole again.
Note that tomorrow’s Torah portion also includes the י”ג מידות, the 13 attributes of God that we sing over and over on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (among other times).
My sermon for tomorrow is about Moshe and self-confidence. You can find the source sheet here; please do not print it on Shabbat.