Parshat Ki Tisa is a loaded parsha, consisting of many vignettes that seem fairly disjointed. It begins with every member of Bnei Yisrael donating a half shekel coin toward the Mishkan fund and the appointment of Betzalel and Ohaliav to fashion the Mishkan’s vessels. Following the mitzvah of Shabbat is the most well known part of the parsha: Cheit HaEgel. While Moshe was up on Har Sinai getting the luchot, Bnei Yisrael were gallivanting around a golden calf they built to replace Moshe and act as their conduit to God. Upon seeing the chaos, Moshe smashes the luchot he just received, punishes the people, and begs Hashem for their forgiveness. He then ascends Har Sinai again to obtain the second set of luchot, which he brings down after engraving them himself.
I would like to posit that the common theme underlying all of these seemingly disparate topics is the idea of meaningful action. While Moshe is still atop the mountain, Hashem informs him of what is happening below with the egel, leading Moshe to plead with Hashem not to punish the people too harshly. Moshe descends Har Sinai and, upon seeing Bnei Yisrael worship the egel, he smashes the luchot to the ground.
Why does Moshe wait until he reaches the bottom of the mountain to break the luchot?
The Netziv suggests that Moshe’s breaking of the luchot was premeditated—not reactive. If he had acted impulsively out of anger, he would have smashed the luchot when he heard what Bnei Yisrael did; instead, he waited to break them so that all of Bnei Yisrael could witness his anger and immediately stop what they were doing. Moshe’s controlled response in this appalling moment is so incredible that Hashem later applauds him for it.
The rest of the parsha carries on this theme. At the beginning of the parsha, Moshe needed to count the nation. Instead of conducting a simple headcount, Moshe told each individual to donate half a shekel to the Miskan. Perhaps the purpose was not just to count the people but to show them that they each matter and that their actions can make a difference.
Additionally, the pasuk explains that Betzalel was gifted with Divine wisdom to create the vessels of the Mishkan and to make everything meaningful. Essentially, he turns the intangible into concrete action. Similarly, while we must believe in Hashem and that He created the world, we must also concretize this belief by emulating Hashem and resting on Shabbat as He did. Further, after the Cheit HaEgel, Moshe reascends the mountain to retrieve the second set of luchot. Unlike the first luchot that were engraved by Hashem, the second set, which Moshe engraved himself, ultimately lasts, demonstrating the eternal impact of translating ideas into meaningful action.
Parshat Ki Tisa teaches us the need to take meaningful action, to think everything through, and to respond, not just react. One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that it forced us to rethink our everyday behaviors. However, after doing so for the past year, Purim left us baffled: how could we have a fun and exciting holiday while social distancing? KOSL faced this challenge head on and gave us an Adar full of fun and meaningful activities such as silent DJ, dress up days, carnivals, and a hilarious Purim video. May we be zoche to have the capacity to deliberate our actions and make the right choices.