See For Yourself – Parshat Ki Tissa 5784

In a world with surveillance video, body cams, and 4K-capable mobile phones, it has become commonplace for news stories to be accompanied by video footage of every type of event, aired for the entire public to see. Before we had cameras everywhere, the only way to truly know what happened in a specific incident was through eyewitness accounts. We had to rely on people telling the story. That often left room for conjecture, embellishment, hiding facts, and other roadblocks in the way of the “whole truth.” The only way to have a complete story is to be fully (or at least virtually) present when something happens, and now that we have Ring doorbells and security cameras, it’s impossible to go back to a time of having to remember or guess what may have happened.

Despite the creative imaginations that have conjured up artistically rendered selfies of biblical characters (you may have seen these passed around social media), we don’t have the benefit of video footage of anything that occurred in the Torah. As we read the narrative of the Israelite nation, there are many times when we read about events that seem to only be possible outside the scope of rationality. If certain events in the Torah seem improbable, maybe that calls into question the entire document. Faith usually means believing without seeing. However, our Torah portion this week includes a commandment from God about the obligation to see things for ourselves.

Parshat Ki Tissa greets us in the desert, where the Israelites have received the Ten Commandments, and they are now set to continue on their journey, with Moshe and God leading the way. But Moshe is delayed in coming down from the mountain, and the people are scared, unsure of this God that they have yet to trust. So they gather their gold, make an idol, and turn their attention to something tangible.

While he’s on top of the mountain in his session with the Divine, Moshe hears from God about the Golden Calf and how the Israelites have already broken the laws they only recently received. Even though furious at their actions, God implores Moshe not to condemn them from afar, but to hurry down the mountain to see for himself.

Why doesn’t Moshe reflect God’s anger until he returns to the people? It’s because here we receive the legal and communal precedent to actually see for ourselves the entirety of the situation before rushing to condemnation. It’s human (and even Godly) nature to form an opinion based on the biases that we carry, but it is our duty to recognize those biases and fight against them rather than act without all the information.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

Source: See For Yourself – Parshat Ki Tissa 5784