Reflections on Parashat Ki Tissa
by Linda Hoffenberg, Director of Institutional Advancement
To take a photograph is to preserve a fleeting moment. Time stops with each picture taken – and a unique feeling, sight, or experience is recorded. The photo is like a “pause” button, capturing a scene to save it and savor it.
A few years ago I took this photo of Nivonim (11th grade) campers on a Friday afternoon. With the sun low in the sky over Lake Buckatabon, campers and staff formed a circle to listen to a story, sing a melody and transition from hol l’kodesh – from the weekday to holy time. The photo transports me to the sounds and sights of the Ramah community coming together to welcome Shabbat.
In this week’s parashah, Ki Tissa, we read about the final steps taken to construct the Mishkan, a portable sanctuary the Israelites will take with them as they wander in the desert. Upon completing the construction, God instructs the people to rest. Just as God created the world and then rested, now the Israelites must rest. The commandment to rest is followed in Exodus 31:16-17 by these words we know from our Shabbat tefillah (prayers):
וְשָׁמְר֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֑ת לַעֲשׂ֧וֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֛ת לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃
בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ
V’sham’ru v’nei yisra’el et hashabbat, la’asot et hashabbat l’dorotam b’rit olam. Beini uvein b’nei yisra’el ot hi l’olam, ki sheishet yamim asah adonai et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz, uvayom hash’vi’I shavat vayeenafash.
“The Israelite people shall keep Shabbat, observing Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches,
“Shabbat is one of the greatest institutions the world has ever known. It changed the way the world thought about time. Prior to Judaism, people measured time either by the sun – the solar calendar of 365 days aligning us with the seasons – or by the moon, that is, by months (“month” comes from the word “moon”) of roughly thirty days. The idea of the seven-day week – which has no counterpart in nature – was born in the Torah and spread throughout the world via Christianity and Islam, both of which borrowed it from Judaism, marking the difference simply by having it on a different day. We have years because of the sun, months because of the moon, and weeks because of the Jews.”
“What Shabbat did and still does is to create space within our lives and within society as a whole in which we are truly free. Free from the pressures of work; free from the demands of ruthless employers; free from the siren calls of a consumer society urging us to spend our way to happiness; free to be ourselves in the company of those we love. Somehow this one day has renewed its meaning in generation after generation, despite the most profound economic and industrial change. In Moses’ day it meant freedom from slavery to Pharaoh. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century it meant freedom from sweatshop working conditions of long hours for little pay. In ours, it means freedom from emails, smartphones and the demands of 24/7 availability.”
Shabbat is our weekly “pause” button. It is a day to unplug from the demands of our lives and savor those things we hold dear – our family, our friends, our community, our traditions – and express gratitude for the gifts of life. It continues to be a sign for all time between God and the people of Israel as we pass the gift of Shabbat from generation to generation.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of participating in many camp reunions. I’ve heard friends reminisce about magical moments welcoming Shabbat by the lake, singing Shabbat z’mirot (songs) after dinner, and taking Shabbat walks with friends. Shabbat at camp exemplifies the joyful Judaism that is at the heart of the Ramah experience, generation after generation. Shabbat is the meaningful pause in the week – within the remarkable pause of a summer – that makes it an experience that lasts a lifetime.