Yom Rishon, 23 AdarI 5781
Sunday, 7 March 2021
Parashat Ki Tisa 2015

Parashat Ki Tisa
6th March 2015 - Rabbi Janet Burden

Starting Over

I remember once reading a section in a cookbook about making vegetable stock for use in soups and stews.· It was full of practical advice about what does, and doesn’t, make a good, full-flavoured broth.· The inclusion of turnips is key, if you want to know (amazing what you can learn from these bulletins, isn’t it?).· Yet the most useful bit of information for me was the simple statement that sometimes, even when there is no obvious explanation for it, a stock will come out bitter.· No sense worrying about it - when this happens, you just have to accept this cruel twist of fate.· You pour out the pot and start again.

This is a hard thing for most people to accept these days.· We like being able to control outcomes – we are used to being able to do so.· Everything around us perpetuates the myth that if you plan properly and execute accurately, the end result should be consistent. · Except that it isn’t.·Sometimes, even when all the various elements seem to be right, a spanner gets into the works somewhere.· Your project is spoiled, your work wasted.

One common way of responding to this experience is to throw a temperamental fit.· Do you have any friends or co-workers who do this?· I certainly do.· And, I suppose if I were to be completely honest, I would have to admit to throwing the odd tantrum myself, especially when I was younger.·It can be so exposing to fail at something.· Temperamental fits are often used subconsciously to deflect attention away from the failed project.· In our success-oriented society, we quickly learn that it is better to be a pain in the neck than a failure.· Sad, but true.

An alternative response to failure is simply to give up and to withdraw from making any further efforts.· “Why bother?” some people will say, “It’s all bound to go wrong, anyway.” It’s tempting to label such folk as the “half-empty glass” brigade – but I think the problem is deeper than that.· It’s more a case of, “It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty – you’re going to spill it anyway…”. · These people are even more afraid of failure than the temperamental prima donnas.·You can usually coax prima donnas to try again – they have enough ego to believe that their earlier failure was someone else’s fault. · This lot is much harder.· The risk is too great for them – but whether they fear failure more, or success, I’m not quite sure.

Success would mean that they just might have to get off their backsides and do something!· It is so much easier to walk away than it is to stay and try again.

Fortunately for the people Israel, Moses is not of the “quitter” variety.· He has just had to face up to a colossal failure.· It’s hard to imagine what this must have felt like.· Such a short time ago, he was up on the mountain, with every expectation that things were going to come good for the children of Israel.· As “project director,” he thought he had everything under control.· He had followed God’s instructions, led the people out of Egypt, and brought them to this place according to plan.· He left them under the leadership of his trusted brother Aaron.· What could go wrong?· As readers, we all know the answer to that is, “plenty.”· But the news of the corruption in the camp must have hit Moses like a thunderbolt.

To his credit, however, he doesn’t opt for the quick fix option that God places before him: “Forget them, I’ll make of you a great nation.”· Moses doesn’t go for it.· OK, so he had to throw his fit first, and then he can’t do anything about the shattered tablets.· Like the spoiled broth, they must simply be set aside, and the work begun again.·

I have always believed it was significant that while God provided the first set of tablets, Moses was commanded to carve out the second set for himself.· It makes sense when you think about it.·Rebuilding a relationship after a breakdown is always more effort than creating it in the first place.·There is often so much debris to be cleared away.· We have to call on our inner resources to find the faith to begin again.· Moses’ carving of the new tablets was symbolic of this faith.· He had to take the initiative to demonstrate the possibility of a fresh start.·

The point I am trying to make is simple.· Sometimes, with the best will in the world, things don’t go the way we would like.· Sometimes others let us down; sometimes we let ourselves down; and sometimes, things go wrong and there is no-one to blame.· But instead of staying with the failure and obsessing about it, it is better to let it go and begin again.· We all know that this isn’t an easy thing to do.· New starts can require a great deal from us.· Sometimes, we have to work to heal the hurts before we can start building afresh.· But the foundation will be stronger for our efforts.· So, whilst not advocating defeatism in any way, shape or form – let’s face it, folks, that’s just not in my nature – I would still counsel you not to be afraid to throw in the towel occasionally, and start over.·Often, it is the best and most productive thing you can do.·

May God grant us the wisdom to know when to hang on, and when to let go. Amein.