Parshat Ki Tissa
Even though I have lived in California a long time I still sometimes stare at the palm trees in amazement that such a skinny tree can grow so tall, especially when the winds pick up here in Northridge and the palm trees sway in the breeze.
In this week’s parsha we read about the sin of the Golden Calf. After they have sinned, God says to Moshe that the Israelites are Am Keshey Oref, a stiff-necked people, meaning that they are stubborn. This is typically seen as an insult, but Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, know as the Mei HaShiloach, teaches that God also thought that stubbornness was a good quality. Because in other times the Jewish people stubbornly held onto their beliefs and traditions in the face of the pressures of assimilation.
And it is true, stubbornness can be both good and bad. In the Talmud Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon taught that “One should be flexible as a reed and not as unyielding as a cedar.” And it is true that while a cedar is strong, I have seen equally strong trees uprooted or snapped in half in a strong storm because they were not flexible enough. On the other hand, you probably would prefer to build your house out of cedar wood and not reeds.
So maybe the palm tree is the best metaphor. A palm tree is strong at its base, but flexible at the top. It’s roots and base, the fundamental principles that hold it up stay firm, but it becomes flexible as it grows taller, yielding at times to the force of the wind, but ultimately returning upright. And that flexibility allows it to whether any storm.